Darren Colquitt of Plano, Texas felt good. Jolly good. His hostel in Camden Town was tolerable, no worse than a frat house in College Station. Never mind the jetlag, it was morning in his first foreign country and Darren had plans. First: a walk in Trafalgar Square. Next, he’d find his way to the Changing of the Guard. Lunch? Authentically English fish and chips and if he felt like it, a beer.
Breakfast was a Mars Bar, selected over other local fare including Ribena, Weetabix, and Smarties. The newsagent at the till bantered with Darren as he paced back and forth, asking him ‘are you looking for a proper sweet?’ Ten minutes later, half of the Mars Bar was tucked in Darren’s pocket, sharing quarters with a disposable camera and a pack of traveler’s checks.
A bus to Trafalgar Square arrived. Commuters and tourists filed in. Darren gave the driver a five-pound note and got his change at the next stop, Pratt Street. As he walked backwards, Darren thought the pound coin in the change he had received was unusually thick. A sort of metallic pound cake with a sickly color.
Turning over the now familiar portrait of the Queen, Darren gawped to see an image of a strange root vegetable bursting through a crown. On the side of the coin was a bizarre inscription-PLEIDIOL WYF I’M GWLAD.
‘What the hell is this’ Darren thought. He murmered the words on the coin, muttering ‘ple-di-oil Wife I’m Glad, ple-idy-ol with I’m Gwa-lad’, trying to make sense of them. A young woman dressed in a jean jacket with a picture of Paula Abdul on the back sidled over to Darren and asked, ‘are you alright?’
Darren opened his palm and showed her the coin. ‘What do these words mean’ he asked. The young woman winked and said “Cor, you’ve found the golden leek coin. There are only five of them in the entire realm. Don’t tell anyone.”
Darren smiled and found himself saying “mum’s the word” in a Cockney accent he had practiced for a high school production of Oliver Twist. Later that day, he would replay those words in his head, regretting that he had broken his promise to himself not to pretend to be English.
Soon after, jet lag set in. Predictably enough, the skies darkened. An Australian rugby team took all the good spots at the Changing of the Guard. The fish and chips at nearby restaurant were unremarkable.
Darren kept the coin in his wallet until the day he noticed a pawn shop while picking up lunch at Carl’s Junior in Arlington. Sitting behind a display case of geodes and antique guns, a balding man glanced at the coin’s Welsh inscription and snorted. ‘Every couple of years, English pound coins have the symbols of Wales on them. Wales, then Scotland, Northern Ireland, England. It’s called the United Kingdom, remember? Your coin isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.’
Two months later, the young woman found a similar coin in the floorboards of her flat, scuffed and scratched. She briefly remembered her words to the American lad but pushed them to the back of her memory. Exhaling deeply, she smoked a cigarette. ‘Forget the things not worth remembering’ she repeated to herself. Twice.