Stella occupied the department store like a solitary starfish, moving with the eddies and currents of perfume vapour from the ground floor and the waft from the haute cuisine on the 5th. With an intimate knowledge of every recess of the glittering Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, she would swim in the stream of well-healed shoppers along the marbled lobbies, whooshing up the gold-encrusted escalators. She could be found spinning in little whirlpools of excitement around the latest promotions and the end-of-season sales.
But Stella was different. One would have really look, like at a small rare creature in a tide pool, to register her singularity. Her chameleon couture glistened and shone like the setting and like those around her with their gem-encrusted handbags and platinum credit cards. If, like a scientist you could take and dissect this unique aquatic life, what would you find? You’d find the muscles, the sinews, the heart, and the nerves would be tougher, more highly strung than the bloated Belugas and the puffed-up Tiger Fish that lolled alongside her in the nutrient-rich currents.
Where the others would squirt off to their multi-coloured seabeds nearby to repose, this little creature was in no hurry to get home. Stella’s abode was no more than a small notch in the undersea cliff of a tower block in the chilly waters of Avondale Square in Bermondsey. Her true habitat was amidst projecting shards of stone, and twisted steel strung about like dead seaweed. The expanses of barnacled plazas, the overhangs sheltering shark-like drug dealers and little torrents of juvenile piranhas hardly seemed to share the same world of Knightsbridge and its exotic heady flows.
Stella was a cleaner, working overnight at the world-renowned luxury store, vacuuming up the waste, the by-products of opulence on the floor in the darkness like an efficient little bottom-feeder. At opening time, she would not rush home, but linger. Linger in the luscious shoe department, briefly attach to a plum-coloured pair of designer high-heels, detach, manoeuvre. Manoeuvre through the glassy displays perfectly familiar with the architecture. The circular stairwells and endless rooms were cochlear compartments forming an exquisite spiral that occupied a considerable section of the Belgravia district. Stella was a migrant, and was at an age where her offspring had floated away, Stella’s previous mate had long since been unaccounted for, circling she believed in a still of vodka on the other side of the Ural mountains. So she had made a claim for this space in this warm microcosm lodged within the concrete jungle of West London. This solitary soul continuously scanned the carnival shoal of bejewelled visitors looking for the one, the one like her, the one who would understand her, a soulmate. A soulmate spawned in these sheltered spaces…
Protruding like the top of a coral reef upon the surface of the sea is the 5th floor of Harvey Nichols with its restaurant and terrace. She would once a day wash up upon the spikey artificial turf of the rooftop bar. She could be observed gingerly nudging a Baby Spice cocktail, her passport to this elevation, complete with its infantile little pink bow. There she would sip, and search and scan. Patiently.
Stella resisted, for as long as appearances would allow, the process of leaving the store. She would bundle up in her dull defensive disguise. She travelled in her old raincoat topped by a grey umbrella, moving like a dislodged limpet falling down to the shivery depths. Here she was free only in her mind. Stella pirouetted in temporal space with exquisite grace around the halls of that other place with her imaginary shiny soulmate, swishing around in eternal synchrony.