This was the least exciting thing to happen to Alicia in the past 48 hours. If she hadn’t just woken up from a nap, she probably would have fallen asleep. She was sitting in the store waiting for the customer service representative to activate her new cell phone, or whatever it was they do when you get a new phone. This was her first errand since crossing the ocean and it was just as mundane as the process back in the United States.
The upside was that it was giving her time to mentally process everything. The downside was that she had promised to call home as soon as she could and her parents were probably a nervous wreck waiting to hear from her. And there was still so much she needed to get in order back in her dorm room. She had hoped to make it into town to buy some food, but it was getting late in the day. The sun seemed to be setting even though it was only 3:30. Strange. It was strange how some things were so different and others so familiar.
“How long have you been waiting?” A blond, tanned girl sat down next to her, interrupting her contemplations. She had an accent, but it took Alicia a moment to focus and place it as Australian. She was a world away too. “What do you think takes them so long?”
Alicia smiled, “No idea.”
“You’re American,” the girl said. “I thought as much. Something about the way you lot carry yourselves. So you are studying abroad too! When did you get in? I got in yesterday.”
Alicia wasn’t sure how to take the comments about Americans and felt herself bristling a little. What did that mean? And she had hoped it wouldn’t be quite that obvious, that she might be able to blend in a little. But the girl seemed to be friendly, so she tried to shake it off. “I got in this morning. What is your name?”
“Oh, sorry! I should have started with that! I’m Emma. What’s your name?
“Alicia. What dorm are you in?”
“Orwell, 208. Rumor has it it was modeled after a women’s prison. But I won’t be spending a lot of time there, so no matter. You?”
“Same, 325. It is small, but seems nice enough.”
“The girls around me are all a bunch of giggling first years. But I have already met two other Americans - one from Ohio and another from New York. Where are you from?”
“So it probably only took you a flight or two to get here, right?”
“Two. It felt like a long time, but it was fascinating. I met a lady from Istanbul on my first flight, and then a law student here named Mahmood on my second. He and his friend gave me a lift here.”
“Sounds like some good luck.”
“I guess it was,” Alicia agreed. Then she remembered the unpleasant surprise that had greeted her when she unzipped her luggage in her dorm room. “You know what wasn’t good luck though? The shampoo that exploded all over my clothes.”
Emma wrinkled her nose. “Yuck. That’s why you are supposed to put things like that in a plastic bag. Did you get it all sorted?”
“I cleaned out the suitcase and tried rinsing out the clothes. They are still in my sink.”
Emma was about to say something else when they were interrupted by the customer service representative calling Alicia back up to the counter. They finished setting up her phone. As she turned to leave, Alicia looked for Emma, but now she was finishing up with the other salesperson. Alicia contemplated interrupting, but decided to go outside and call her parents. It was misting outside so she decided to stay under the shop’s awning as she dialed their number.
It was morning there, so her father was at work, but her mother picked it up on the first ring. She has probably been nervously sitting by the phone all morning, Alicia thought. Her mother was obviously relieved and Alicia told her all about her adventures and experiences on her flights and at the airports.
“I felt so sorry for the woman from Istanbul,” she told her mom. “Her son moved to America and married a woman who hates her and so she is estranged from her only family.”
Her mother murmured her sympathy, but was clearly more concerned about her daughter’s well-being. She was thrilled to hear that Alicia had gotten a ride to campus, until Alicia told him the law student’s name. Alicia had to remind her mother not to judge people based on ethnicity. She also had to remind herself to be patient with her mother. Alicia knew she tended to be too trusting of others whereas her mother was too suspicious. Life is about finding the balance, she reminded herself. She couldn’t afford to be stupid, not here where she had no allies, no one to watch her back. But then again, she had to give others a chance. Like Emma. She should wait for her and make plans to go to orientation together tomorrow.
Her mother was just wrapping up a lecture on all the things Alicia needed to do when Emma came out of the store. Alicia was only half paying attention as her mother had drilled this list into her head repeatedly before she left.
“Mom, I should get going,” Alicia interrupted.
“What are you eating for dinner? Have you gotten to the store?” her mother demanded.
“No, I didn’t,” Alicia admitted. “But I have that jar of peanut butter. I’ll just have some of that and run to the store after orientation tomorrow.”
Her mom was not thrilled by that response, but that potentiality had been why the jar had been packed after all, so after some grumping, she said goodbye and Alicia promised to call again tomorrow.
When she hung up, she turned, scanning the distance in the direction of their dorm for Emma, intending to try to catch up with her. She didn’t see her, but when she turned back toward the store, she jumped. Emma was standing under the awning near her with her arms folded and a stubborn look on her face.
“Peanut butter?” she demanded.
“What?” Alicia asked, confused.
“Did I just hear you say you were going to eat peanut butter for dinner?”
“Um, yes,” Alicia admitted.
“Do you even have crackers?”
“That’s a choking hazard you dipstick.” Emma rolled her eyes. “I’m making a beef pie for dinner. Two local boys are coming and now so are you.”
“You don’t need to do that. I’ll be fine,” Alicia protested.
“I do. And you are coming. Do not make me come find you. I will if I have to. 325.”
“Okay, I’ll come,” Alicia agreed, overpowered by her new friend’s confidence. “Do you want me to come help?”
“No, you need to take care of those shampoo-covered clothes. Just be in the second floor kitchen at 6:00.”
“I will,” Alicia agreed as the two new friends walked through the light rain back to their dorm, discussing the local boys and the escapades they hoped to have in their new home.