Raindrops fell on the pavement like fat toads. It was one of those hot, heavy summer days where from nowhere it had started raining. It was the day it all began.
I had been teaching for the last few months in a university campus in suburban London, cleared for the summer. Full of bored foreign teenagers now, resentfully sent to learn some English, shivering under the slate-grey clouds. I had seen her first walking round the quadrangle’s corridors, surrounded by these lumpen Italian teens, loafing Saudi oafs, bovine Colombians. She looked impossibly small and sweet, and lost, as she carried her books from the staff room to the teaching block. It was her first teaching job in England. The charging kids bowled past her, shouting and scattering. She had an unhappiness about her that almost broke my heart.
So I’d fallen in love. And I’d worked all summer to attract her attention, or even just to spend some time with this beautiful Greek girl. I’d made it to her room now at least – a tatty under-graduate’s bedroom – and I was still working hard. But everything seemed to be slipping through my fingers right here at the very last. I searched for something, anything, to say.
“We could go round the world. Teaching. You and me. We could teach around the world…”
I was talking without thinking, saying the first things that came into my mind, but for some reason this had seemed to get her attention. She sat on the miserably thin mattress, arms folded, and turned her face up towards mine.
“What did you say?”
“Just then. What did you say about going around the world?”
“Oh. Well, you know, I thought maybe we could go round the world. Get away from boring old England. Teaching. Like, I don’t know, we could teach around the world in 80 schools…”
There was a pause. I must have blown it for good now.
“Yes,” she shifted “Yes… I like the sound of that. Travel. I’d love to travel.” This previously melancholy Greek girl was suddenly off the bed, dancing quickly around the room on the cigarette-scarred carpet, under the pin-marked walls. She picked up her rucksack from the corner of the room. “I haven’t been anywhere. Just Greece and London and this miserable little room. So… where would we go first??”
I was shocked. She’d taken to this ridiculous idea, that I hadn’t really meant, straight away. But I also thought to myself how it showed she must like me. She wanted to go round the world with me! And I thought, as I looked at her standing in the middle of the room, clutching her bag, her hopeful face turned towards mine, how I really wanted to go with her too.
We spent the next days walking around and around together, hatching plans of where we would go. The idea was to vaguely follow Phileas Fogg’s route eastwards from London, stopping at different places to find a school to teach in. The resolute Englishman and his small, loyal, lively foreigner: his Passepartout. In Greece they call a girl who likes to wander, to travel, to go adventuring, a Giristroula. My Giristroula was as keen but also as nervous as me. She gripped my hand as we stood on St Pancras station and told me we were doing the right thing with a small kiss as we boarded a train for our first stop towards a new world for both of us.