God, youre here. I cant believe youve made it.
Youre actually here in New York. Let me look at you.
Joel stood at the door of his loft apartment on West 43rd Street.
He stepped back so that he could admire her, obviously happy to
see Belinda standing there in front of him.
I told you Id come. And here I am. she said, smiling
at him, waiting for a hug.
They had met
on safari in Africa almost two years ago . Joel had offered the
usual if youre ever in New York, look me up
line that one does after spending an amazing time together and
as usual with such invitations, neither of them seriously expected
to see the other again. It would have been difficult not to get
involved, living in such close proximity for six weeks but it
was when their raft capsized on the river Zambezi that their friendship
was affirmed. They floated down the river, crocodiles on either
side, and it had been Joel who had come to Belindas rescue
and hauled her back into the boat. After such a near death experience,
their intimacy had been inevitable. But it was their shared sense
of humour - dry, witty and sarcastic, that made sure their friendship
There had been tears when they said goodbye at Nairobi airport
- but they always knew that their romance would end when the trip
finished. They both had other halves back home, and
once they parted they were catapulted back to reality, to the
status of just good friends.
Joel was going home to Emma, his fiancé and Belinda seemed
destined to be with Tim, her long-standing boyfriend. Africa had
just been a last bite at independence before they settled down.
They kept in touch - the occasional e-mail, Christmas cards, the
odd chatty postcard from some distant corner of the world with
the words wish you were here written boldly on the
top, but nothing more.
When Belinda broke up with Tim, she decided that the best medicine
was a trip to the Big Apple for a large dose of retail
therapy. She e-mailed Joel and asked if she could stay with them
for a few days. Belinda knew that a few days with Joel and his
wicked sense of humour was exactly what she needed.
Joel replied immediately: Id love nothing more than
to catch up. Stay as long as you like.
PS. Emma and I are no longer together - we broke up a couple of
weeks ago. Youre welcome to stay, but only on condition
that you dont ask me to explain. Love Joel.
Belinda, although intrigued, was also relieved; being completely
selfish she quickly realised that she wouldnt have to listen
to him complaining about his break up. She would have his total,
undivided attention and full commitment to a much more important
matter - cheering her up. The perfect friend, she thought.
Arent you going to show me this wonderful city of
yours? I thought this was the city that never sleeps! Belinda
was naturally filled with excitement. After leaving Cornwall that
morning it really did feel like bright lights, big city,
which of course it was. She felt as if she had arrived in another
world, one full of people, life and action. New Yorks buzz
had been apparent since the moment she arrived. Crossing the Brooklyn
Bridge lit up at night with the view of the Manhattan skyline
behind, her spirits had lifted at once.
Whos Tim? She said under her breath as the taxi
sped towards Downtown New York.
It was great to see Joel again, but when she looked at him while
he gathered his coat and keys, he looked different somehow, not
the happy-go-lucky chap that she had known in Africa. But then
everybody looks different when they are tanned, relaxed and on
holiday. Tonight he looked tired and stressed, with a sadness
that she hadnt witnessed before.
Belinda, being naturally gregarious, decided that it was fate
that had brought her to New York; her job was to cheer him up
and put a smile back on his handsome, rugged face.
As they stepped out onto the street, the place was busy, people
still milling around. Lovers walking each other home, another
three people jogging. Belinda glanced at her watch, her body unsure
of the time. Jet-lag affects everybody differently, however one
thing remains the same - your watch says one time, but your body
feels another. It was 3am.
My God, I cant believe how many people there are wandering
around the streets. Its the middle of the night. Belinda
said, as she linked her arm through Joels.
But this is New York - the city that never sleeps. Lets
go and get some coffee.
Will there be somewhere open at this time of night?
Joel laughed. To him it was the most natural thing in the world,
to go and get a coffee when you wanted it, day or night. But Belinda
lived in Cornwall, where its impossible to get anything
after 8pm, and then only on weekdays.
I think I love it here already, she said as they walked
along to the coffee shop.
When they reached the tiny coffee shop, the smell of freshly baked
pastries was gently drifting out onto the streets, obviously designed
to lure any wandering insomniacs inside. Belinda couldnt
believe how many people were having trouble sleeping on a Monday
night in early December. New York gets really cold during the
winter months; it was a welcome haven to go inside the warm, snug
Hiya Joel, the small man behind the counter glanced
across at them when they entered, and gave a small salute as they
Luigi, Joel nodded. Two lattes.
Coming right up,
Do you come here often? Belinda giggled as she realised
what she had just said. It was a silly question, but she wanted
to know about Joel in his home town. How did he spend his days,
where did he hang out, who with, and what did happen between him
and Emma that was making him so reluctant to talk about it.
Belinda was determined not to ask about Emma. In one way she didnt
want to know, but in another, because she was naturally nosy and
female, she did. When they were in Africa, he had seemed besotted
with her. She was the girl of his dreams, he said. The wedding
date had been fixed for Spring. They were, he said, perfect for
one another. She was from a rich family who owned an art gallery
on the Upper East Side. They had a weekend house at the Hamptons
and a town house over by Central Park, the adjacent building to
the Dakota where John Lennon was shot. Joel had explained that
Emma was witty, intelligent and not the air-head that one normally
associates with old money from the East Coast. Emma
had sounded too good to be true, but Belinda had conceded; she
made Joel happy and that was good enough. Belinda knew that whatever
had happened between them, it had obviously been something very
serious. When Belinda split up with Tim, she knew exactly why
and it was easy to discuss. The guy was an arsehole; always had
been and always would be.
I know we said that we wouldnt talk about Emma, but
what did happen between you two? Belinda couldnt help
herself, she had to ask.
The minute Belinda mentioned Emmas name, she watched Joels
entire body stiffen. He folded his arms and ran his hand through
his dark, curly hair.
I really dont want to talk about it. Lets talk
about you instead; tell me about Tim. Its much more fun
to listen to you.
Joel was a master at changing the subject. He had learned in Africa
that with Belinda it was easy, particularly if he asked about
her favourite subject - herself.
The man turned out to be a creep. No, actually I think he
was always a creep, I was just blind, and stupid. It took me a
while to see it, but I got there in the end. Do you know the jerk
had the nerve to ask me out again after we broke up. And after
I caught him kissing my flat mate in my flat. What a bastard.
I hate men. She looked across at Joel, waiting to see his
reaction, but he was still staring into his coffee cup.
No, thats not true. I hate most men, present company
excluded of course. I think youre an okay guy.
Joel smiled, Maybe it was fate that brought you here to
visit me. God put you on this earth, I swear to God, so that you
could cheer me up.
They sat sipping their lattes, reminiscing about Africa,
and finally Belinda, still no wiser about Joels love life,
began to feel tired. They ambled back to Joels loft and
he showed her to her room.
Im really glad I came. Its great to see you
again. Thank you for letting me bend your ear about Tim. Sleep
well, see you in the morning. Belinda kissed him lightly
on the cheek.
Goodnight. Sleep tight. Joel said, as he stood watching
her close the bedroom door.
early, her body still confused by the time. She could smell freshly
brewed coffee wafting through the loft. She walked into the dining
room and Joel was putting out the fresh pastries that he had fetched
Sleep well? he asked as she scratched her head, dazzled
by the bright low winter sun shining through the window.
Mmm, not bad. And you? Belinda walked over to the
pastries and bit into the pain au chocolat while Joel poured the
Ive got the whole day planned. We are going to shop
until you drop for the whole morning. Then I thought wed
take the helicopter and do the birds eye view of Manhattan.
Lunch at the Waldorf Astoria - Ive made a reservation for
2 oclock. Weve also got to do the Empire State Building,
and Wall Street. And tomorrow, well do whatever we dont
do today. We are going to do New York City. So eat
quickly. Theres so much I want to show you.
Joels spirits seemed much higher this morning. Perhaps he
was just tired last night, Belinda thought.
Belinda felt like she hadnt been to bed. Too much coffee
late at night, coupled with the excitement of being in New York
with Joel, now single, she had lain awake for hours just thinking
and now she felt like death. But there was no way she was going
to miss a moment of fun in New York just because she felt tired.
to be the perfect host. Not only did he pay for everything, but
he also made her laugh all day. She couldnt remember the
last time shed had so much fun - probably in Africa, the
last time she was with him.
I wish today could never end, she told him, as she
lay exhausted on his massive cream sofa.
All good things must come to an end, sadly. I wish today
could last forever too. Joel sat on the floor beside her,
his hands resting gently on her knee, a sadness welling in his
like Belinda had just that minute fallen asleep when the sound
of banging woke her up.
Open up. Police. Open up. This is the police. They
were hammering on the door, shouting loud enough to wake up the
whole of Manhattan.
What the hell is going on? Joel asked, as he staggered
to the door in his boxers.
We have a warrant to search your apartment Mr Nash.
The policeman thrust his way into the apartment, while Joel stood
in the doorway rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
What the fuck do you think you are doing for Christs
sake? Joel asked, as the policeman shoved him out of the
Whats going on Joel. Whats wrong? Belinda
stood in the middle of the room looking across at him. It was
odd, Belinda thought, as she watched his reaction. He didnt
seem shocked, or surprised - it was if he had been anticipating
it. Perhaps not tonight, but he had definitely been expecting
Check the bedroom, the plain clothes officer shouted
to the gorilla in the uniform.
Ive found it. Youd better come in here and take
a look at this. Belinda, Joel, and the four cops went into
the bedroom. Inside the bedroom cupboard, there were three large
bags of white powder. Belinda knew nothing of drugs, but knew
that Joel wouldnt keep that much talcum powder in a bedside
cupboard. He always smelled nice, but that was going too far.
Besides, Belinda was not naive enough to think that the police
would be interested in such vast quantities of talcum.
Joel, whats going on? Suddenly, Belinda was
beginning to feel scared as it dawned on her that she was in a
strange country, staying with someone she thought she knew and
the police were reading him his rights, telling him to remain
silent and if he didnt, theyd use it against him.
Im sorry Belinda. I didnt mean for you to get
involved in any of this. Sorry. Joel was being handcuffed
to the policeman and the officers were leading him towards the
Weve had him under surveillance for the last six months,
maam. Your lover is one of the biggest drug dealers in this
goddam city. I swear to God Im going to nail this bastard
if its the last thing I do. The police officer was
grinning at her, enjoying every minute of arresting Joel, the
Belinda stood there, stunned, watching her friend being led away
by the police. He seemed so nice, she thought. If my mom could
see me now. Standing here in this gorgeous apartment in my pyjamas,
the friend of a drug dealer. Belinda began to laugh as she thought
about what her mother would think. Her laughter grew louder and
louder as she stood there, suddenly all alone in New York.
©YVETTE BARNETT 04/2000