By Stephanie Sanassee…
Union Street was dizzying and she hadn’t prepared for it when she rode the train from San Francisco airport. Anna had been lulled into a dream state as the rail meandered into the city, humming Are you going to San Francisco in her head, thinking of wearing a flower in her hair. But when she was thrust into the twisted streets of the city, it seemed she couldn’t find herself.
She snagged the wheels of her suitcase on people’s feet, stopping at every corner to check the poorly printed map she had run off from the computer at her last hostel in LA. The Londoner in her had fled, leaving her without her confident stride and an aura shield to protect her from hasty city workers on their way home and the audio assault of loud American accents. But it was pleasantly sunny and she was grateful for that, it helped to see the street names a little better.
Along with two months’ worth of possessions, she dragged with her thoughts for the man she had left back in The Big Smoke. They had parted ways and she had decided to replace convention with adventure. When the sun rose on her first morning on American soil, she sat on a bench with a strong coffee, watching a US flag gently dance on top of the building across, thinking that it was the first time in her life that she didn’t have to answer to love.
It was a strange feeling to only think of herself and decide only what she wanted; Anna realised now that she had never really been good at that. On that morning, she only wanted what was before her: a fresh newborn day, the peak of a mountain peeping through low, sun-soaked buildings and silent, warm air cradling her in a new, replenishing space. But sometimes, she thought, it would be nice to have someone sitting next to her, looking at the same beauty.
“I love Londoners, you guys are ballsy,” – the girl in her dormitory said after Anna introduced herself.
The room had two bunk beds, it was small but comfortable and cleaner than the last one she had been in. The halls were awash with German, French and Italian chatter, some backpackers on the pay phones, passing on regards to their families. Anna enjoyed the European solidarity that occurred in other continents; she found it so easy to start a conversation away from home. If she walked up to someone in London and asked, “Where are you from?” she’d be shot down with a look that says, “I don’t know you, so go away.” But the girl from Chicago, who was stood before her now, was chattering about the hippy movement in Haight-Ashbury. She had taken to Anna and that sort of thing didn’t happen often.
The daily morning fog hangs low over San Francisco, descending as if it seeks to play with you, to ruffle your hair and cover your eyes and trick you into tripping over yourself. So early in the morning it isn’t yet clear that the roads swoop down almost vertical, Anna wondered how people don’t just tumble down them.
She took the tram up to the bay and sat there for sometime by the water, waiting for the mist to run away in defeat, revealing the Golden Gate Bridge which she wasn’t particularly interested in, but thought she should see. Alcatraz was just ahead of her, its walls cloaking the darkness inside. Anna thought about how much anger and despair had permeated the air in there. She’d noticed how loud the city got at night, it was restless and irritated. She had seen a woman pacing up and down Greenwich Street crying and talking to herself, she had seen a man scratching his torso and humming.
Perhaps Alcatraz was giving off negative waves to the city, affecting people on the streets like radiation on the mind. She was then reminded of her own breakdown. The screams and slaps she had assaulted her ex with. She hadn’t meant to get aggressive. As she lashed her curses at him, she had thought that the voice escaping her mouth didn’t sound like her own. Some other woman had possessed her, some heartbroken ghost playing out her vengeance. Anna hoped that it worked in reverse, perhaps she could send her darkness back out there to the old prison where it belonged.
Alina, the Dutch girl in her dorm room seemed to be a nice girl to talk to. She sat on her bunk in the evenings and read interesting novels, giving a soft “how was your day?” whenever Anna walked in. But before Anna could settle down after her heady day, Kelly from Chicago insisted on taking her out. She wasn’t sure she was up for jovial company but there was something incredibly charming about Kelly, she belly-laughed often and said things like “rad” and “barf”. Kelly was open about her relationships, her exes and her flings and Anna found herself purging her own stories. Kelly always agreed with her, interjecting with uplifting words like a true American but with a European taste for experience.
They covered the city together. They teased each other down squiggly Lombard Street; they ate deep fried shrimp on Pier 39, their jokes and banter bouncing off into the sea. They took pictures of the pastel licked houses on Pacific Heights and tumbled about in Golden Gate Park. Had Kelly been a man, it would have been the perfect romance. But why can’t I have romance with a woman? Anna pondered. Kelly’s last words to Anna before she left for her plane back to Chicago were, “Anna, you’re amazing,” and these words rolled over in Anna’s mind as she walked on from the train station alone. The lights were coming on in Chinatown and Anna headed towards them. The sky was beautifully clear, but the fog would be back tomorrow.