It was a cold day. It had been snowing for most of the night and by the look of the sky there was more snow on the way.
As she came out of the front door of the basement flat that she shared with her husband Dave, Flo pulled her coat tighter around her. She would have to be careful as the pavements in the little cul-de-sac where she lived looked slippery. The cold made her eyes and nose run and she felt in her coat pocket for a hankie and mopped up as best she could. Clutching her neighbours' fences and gates to stop herself from falling she moved slowly up the street. Flo uttered a sigh of relief as she reached the main road where conditions were slightly better. From there it was not far to the tube station. Would the tubes be running she wondered. If not, how was she going to get to work? Today of all days she needed to get to work!
The platform of the tube station was packed when she got down there. From conversations around her she gathered that some tubes were running but these were late. When the tube arrived the press of people almost knocked her off her feet. Not that there was much to knock over as she was small and thin with short salt and pepper hair and dark brown eyes. Her husband Dave had always joked that a puff of wind would blow her over! He was probably right. He usually was. The press of people propelled her into an already overcrowded carriage where the smell of wet coats was overpowering. She was crushed against a smart suited man whose strong aftershave nearly choked her. The umbrella that he clutched was sticking into her ribs. She thanked her lucky stars that she only had a few stops to go.
Getting off at her stop was like breasting a tidal wave. Strangely enough she was helped in her efforts by the sharp suited man who pushed them both forward and used his umbrella as a weapon. They made it safely to the platform narrowly missing the closing tube doors. Taking a deep breath Flo headed for the exit.
It was snowing hard when she reached the street. She extracted her folding umbrella from her bag and having seen the queues at the bus stop, she decided to walk. She finally reached the company offices where she had run the small canteen for thirty years. She slipped into the canteen where the catering firm that were to replace her were doing a reasonable job, she grudgingly admitted, but they lacked her personal touch.
Today was Flo's retirement day. She had been asked to come in to collect all the necessary paperwork. Anyway, she wanted to say goodbye to them all. Thirty years had created strong bonds between her and the staff. She would miss them all but with Dave retiring too in a few days time it would be good to spend time together doing the things they both enjoyed. She bought a cup of coffee and went and sat at one of the tables. Strange, she thought, some of them should have arrived by now, but with weather like that and some living quite a distance away it was hardly surprising. These thoughts chased through her mind as she sat and waited to be called to the Personnel Department.
Suddeny the small canteen was filled with noise and smiling people. "Never thought we'd make it. Travelling was diabolical" they chorused. The youngest member of staff, a pretty girl called Sabine, handed Flo a large bouquet of flowers. Champagne was brought from the Director's office together with his best crystal glasses. Assorted cheeses and biscuits appeared as if by magic, together with large slices of pizza. Different kinds of nibbles filled the tables with wines and soft drinks on a side table. Everyone sat down each clutching a glass. Flo was astounded. She had expected a handshake from some and a peck on the cheek from others, but this!
When things had settled down and everyone had equipped themselves with food and drink the Director came and sat beside Flo.
"Flo, you have been one of the mainstays of this firm for thirty years, keeping us fed and watered. You will be greatly missed, believe me. I know that you and Dave have carefully planned your retirement, however a little bird has told me that you have a dream" he said.
Flo looked at him, puzzled. Yes, she did have a dream, an impossible dream but one she cherished none the less, even though it would never come true. She had shared this dream with very few people. The Director placed a large envelope in Flo's hand.
"For you, for your dream, for it to come true" he smiled at her.
Flo opened the envelope wth shaking fingers. There seemed to be a lot of pieces of paper. When laid on the table these turned into two airline tickets for New York, the confirmation of a hotel reservation and her breath caught as she gazed at two tickets for the Metropolitan Opera. Flo struggled for breath and words at the same time.
"How, how did you?" she gasped.
The Director beamed at her, "I understand that you have long been a great admirer of this famous tenor whose farewell performance this is. Your dream was to attend his last performance. Dear Flo, please go with Dave and enjoy!"
Flo's stuttered thanks were drowned by applause. She was hugged and kissed and requested to send them a postcard and to come back on her return and tell them all about it.
Her head reeling with shock, amazement and champagne, Flo slowly walked back to the tube station clutching her flowers. The precious envelope had been securely zipped into the inner pocket of her handbag. Flo found a seat in a practically empty tube. She smiled to herself. No way wasDave going to believe this great adventure that awaited them. No way! When she got out of the tube station, it had stopped snowing!!
Copyright Jacqueline Hastings 2010