“Just for one?” queried the gentleman booking my reservation.
“Yes, it’s only me,” I assured him. His question lingered in my mind long after I hung up the payphone and continued to explore Nottingham.
For two months I had crisscrossed England on my own. While other exchange students had traveled in pairs and small groups during spring break, I had gone solo. It was a deliberate choice. Still, no one had been clamoring to join me on this mid-April visit to the legendary home of Robin Hood. I bustled through my solitude by touring the places I wanted to see and eating lunch when and where I desired. I kept the meal light in anticipation of that evening’s event, and I cut my sightseeing short so I would have time to change.
It was early evening when I departed the hostel for the centre. My destination was across the street from a homeless shelter. Having already been accosted for change once that day, I gave the queue of bedraggled men a wide berth. I wish I had someone to walk with, I thought.
I entered the dark foyer of The Sheriff’s Lodge. As my eyes adjusted, I was greeted with, “You must be the American lady who is by herself!” Obviously, one does not attend a medieval banquet by one’s self.
I had arrived early, yet the staff welcomed me. Since the main space was still being set up, I was escorted to the bar. As I nursed a mug of cider, various costumed employees stopped to remark, “I heard you’re here by yourself,” and “You must be the American lady who is alone.” If they had time, they paused to ask me I was from and what I was doing in the UK.
When a large corporate group arrived, I assumed there would be no time for the singleton. Instead, a hostess brought a local couple over and introduced me by saying, “This young lady is by herself.” I was seated with the pair at one of the long wooden tables in the main hall.
Once inside, the shtick began. I was no longer a single American woman but a lady amid a hundred guests of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. In addition to the ill-tempered lawman, we dined with his lead henchman, several guards, and the sheriff’s lady. We only had our fingers and a dagger with which to eat. Serving wenches delivered soup and bread, followed by meatballs. To receive the next course, the sheriff demanded, “Are ye still hungry?” We had to respond “Yea! Verily, yea!” Then we yelled, “Bring forth the third remove!” If we didn’t, the grumpy sheriff threatened to throw us out before the roast chicken and potatoes were served.
Minstrels and jugglers entertained us as we ate. Early in the evening, the lead henchman grabbed me off the bench to help him lead a dance. Then the jester came to visit “the American girl on her own.” The next thing I know, the henchman revealed that I was, in fact, Maid Marian. I was just about to be beheaded when one of the guards shed his disguise, swung down from the rafters, and announced himself as Robin Hood.
The rest of the evening passed in a merry whirlwind of jousting, dancing, ax-throwing, and fire-eating. My cider mug was never empty.
Neither was the space around me. The staff at this cheesy tourist spot went out of its way to make sure that being alone didn’t mean I was lonely.