What, asks the Swiss girl, pausing from her hair-straightening operations to stare openly at my bag, is that?
I freeze guiltily in my attempt to squish Eeyore more tightly into my bag in order to make room for the towel that once fitted in but now seems to have doubled in size and be reluctant to return to captivity. The Swiss girl is cool – funky, short bobbed blonde hair, perfect skin, perfect figure, and wearer of clothes I could never afford and those little crocheted beret hats I so desperately want to be able to wear but can’t, owing to the fact that they make me look more grandma than chic. She smokes weed as if it is mild tobacco, sips drinks I’ve never even heard of, is always surrounded by admiring men, and has graceful poise and elegance that make me think of a beautiful, magnificent swan when I look at her.
I guess that makes me the ugly duckling. However, there the analogy ends, as we are about the same age, and let’s face it, I am unlikely to discover at this point that I am actually a swan, and that it’ll just take a bit of time before I suddenly and spectaculary shed my geekiness and transform into something breathtaking and generally less awkward.
The Swiss girl continues to stare at Eeyore, who is staring gloomily up at her from between a sock-stuffed trainer and a bag of plastic forks. Eeyore’s presence in my bag, and indeed in my life, knocks at least another 10 Cool Points off my already quite dismal score, and yet I can’t quite seem to resolve this by just getting rid of him. When I moved away, I left the Eeyore decision until the very last minute. I even put him into the suitcase of Things I Can’t Bear To Throw Away, to be stored by The Parents. He looked sadly up at me, and I firmly closed the lid and walked away to do something else. I only made it about four steps away before I turned and retrieved him from the case, in much the same way that I lifted Teddy down from the wardrobe all those years ago.
And so Eeyore is my only travelling companion. I sneak him out of the bag at night when the lights in the hostel dorm are out, and hide him underneath the sheets so that no one will see that I am a 26-year-old Eeyore cuddler. In the morning, I throw a t-shirt over him and furtively escort him back to the bag. It is embarrassing to realise just how attached I am to something that is really nothing more than some fluff wrapped in ragged material. But there’s something so comforting, when I’m feeling tired and maybe a bit frightened and lonely in a new city, about being able to clutch the familiar little figure and bury my nose in his threadbare “fur”.
Eeyore has only been a part of my life for about 8 years, but he’s put up with a lot in that time. He was with me when I moved away from home for the first time – 18 and all grown up, I smiled bravely as my emotional parents left me all alone in my tiny, bare room in the halls of residence, and then burst into tears as I watched them walk away. Eeyore was a silent source of comfort, and has been ever since. He absorbed countless homesick tears in Glasgow before I became accustomed to being away from home. He was subjected to hours of mockery by Red and Dougal, who made him play air guitar and set him in silly poses for “amusing” photos. He survived a vicious attack by Penny, my dog, who mistook him for a chew toy. He soaked up even more tears when Red and I broke up and I adjusted once again to being alone. He was with me when I shakily but determinedly started out again on my own, renting a dismal little house in Cullybackey and lying in bed that night staring uncertainly at the bare walls, wondering what the next step would be. He put up with countless clawings from a jealous Kat the Cat. He sat in on all the late night talks between The Sister and me. He has been clutched tightly as I’ve lain awake in new city after new city, grateful for his familiar presence in the darkness, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds.
The Swiss girl repeats her question. What is it? she asks, a tinge of disdain in her voice. Flushing, I push the towel down on top of Eeyore and force the zip closed with a great deal of effort.
Oh, erm, nothing, I say breezily. Just a gift for a friend’s kid.
The Swiss girl would never understand the Eeyore thing. I don’t want her super-cool gaze pitying me or turning into a sneer. But tonight, when I open my bag, I’ll feel inexplicably guilty when I remove that uncomplaining little squished-up figure from underneath the towel…