Cocooned in an expensive, beige coat, adorned with enough gold to make a Christmas tree happy, and masked with the perfect colour palette for my skin tone, I almost laugh out loud at the absurdity of each tear that drips down to my Jimmy Choo ankle boots.
No one seems to notice as I stride through the heaving crowd over the bridge sheltering the river. The water glistens as every ray hits it.
The scars beneath my clothes. Imperfect lines burnt into my skin from the months of growing a baby. Boobs shrunk to the size of flying saucer sweets from the months of that baby sucking every last drop from me. Legs unshaved from the months of silence in my marriage. Fat clinging to my stomach from the months spent stress eating.
I look like a woman. I look like a beautiful woman. I look like a wealthy, beautiful woman. I look like a happy, wealthy, beautiful woman. I feel like a sad, ugly person who hasn’t felt like a woman in years.
‘’Scuse me?’ a hoarse voice startles me.
I smell her before I see her. ‘Yes?’ I move closer to the side of the bridge where she’s standing and notice the stained sleeping bag and the holes in her socks. ‘I’m sorry.’ I brush the tears from my face and delve into my deep pockets for any spare change, but I know I don’t have any.
The woman is shaking her head at me, but I can’t imagine what else she’s getting at. Her thin, mousy brown hair is tugged back with an elastic band, and her eyes are glassy, drawn down by purple bags. She smells like a rubbish bin.
‘I saw you crying,’ she says, frowning, and shame fills my stomach.
‘I’m fine, honestly.’ I smile confidently.
She places her cold, unwashed hand on mine, and as our eyes meet, I sag like a weary beggar, unfolding all my secrets in front of her.
She pulls her hoody around her bony frame and rubs her red ear. ‘Beauty is in the heart, it’s not around your neck. It’s inside you.’
‘You must think I’m an awful person,’ I reply, feeling even uglier for burdening her with my silly problems.
‘Just because you have money, it don’t mean you’re free of problems.’
I clutch my gold pendant and drop down beside her sleeping bag. She slouches next to me, a waft of alcohol hitting me. We say nothing for a while, listening to the click-clack of shoes, all eyes burning through us.
As the crowd thins, I get up and take off my coat. ‘Please, have this. You’ve given me a sum far greater.’
She stands up and smiles, glistening like the water. ‘No one has been that kind to me in a long time.’
I glance down at her socks. ‘What shoe size are you?’