The Runaway Chronicles Part One

“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”

Anaïs Nin

This time one month ago I was on a city bound train, catapulting forwards into all things good. My dear friend from home, Maddy, was waiting for me in an East London apartment. My suitcase was light, preempting the street vendors and marketplaces of Europe. I had with me my favourite shade of lipstick and a big, leather bound notebook, and Joanna Newsom whispered lullabies into my earphones as afternoon turned the fields and trees a deeper shade of green. My head was a tangle of ivy, reeling with doorstep conversations, but the countryside flew by and calmed me. I found myself exactly where I’d aimed to be all along, a girl on the road. Stepping out into the world completely. And the things that followed have tugged on my sleeves so adamantly since my return that I cannot resist pinning them down here like butterflies mounted on a board. 

ii. After a weekend in London with a man who is like our big brother, we said sleepy morning goodbyes and hopped on a plane to Amsterdam. Everything was shiny and thrilling. Maddy and I hadn’t seen each other for half a year, and we found ourselves falling comfortably into a shared universe. A cosy space that only we inhabited. With clasped hands and souls leaking out of their boundaries we rushed to our hostel in the heat, smiling quietly at the towering buildings and canals but not letting ourselves take them in quite yet. That night we found ourselves swept up in the city straight away, with its indoor smoking rooms and illicit coffee shops, the lycra girls beckoning from windows, the exotic smells lingering in the streets. We found a local gig and spent all night letting the drums wash over us, the lights, the DJ’s, the way that bodies move when they are self-conscious and liberated all at once. It was a thrilling combination. And with tingling skin we ran ourselves rugged into the early hours, passing some invisible point after which everything is morning and the sky is streaked with cherry red. Went to sleep when the sun woke up. Steady, rinse, repeat. 

One afternoon, three of us were looking for the zoo and instead, came across a park by the river. Almost collapsed at the sight of freshly cut lawn and stone water features. We lay about for what might have been a few hours but could have been forever, clicking on our lighters, laughing ourselves into pieces. Trees reached over the sky, cutting into our vision. There were groups like ours unfolded all along the waters edge, relishing in the novelty of public nonchalance. Allowed to flaunt things that were usually secrets. And we grinned at each other as the air around us started to fog up like an old rusty kettle, as our eyes sank back into their respective beds. Sneaking glances every now and then. Later that night we continued our conversations in an underground poolroom that sold coffee and forgetfulness, the entire place full of smoke although tobacco wasn’t allowed. Our friend lead us stumbling through the red light district and we peered past him into the illuminated rooms, silky beds and bellybutton rings promising a heady release to passersby. Half the girls looked bored, talking on their phones. Perhaps it was a fetish, M and I whispered to each other, these girls providing their customers with the opportunity to walk in on something. Push, even. To disrupt the everyday routines of a woman lounging about in neon lingerie, to be a hurricane, flood waters, a crash test car. The stopper instead of the door. We could hardly tear our eyes away in time to be ushered on. And that was everywhere you looked in the city, opposite forces sitting comfortably together instead of fighting for bed space. Maybe one day the rest of the world will look like Amsterdam. Not necessarily with riverboats atop of winding canals or skinny cream apartments, but with history and revolution intertwined, growing together. We had a strange but wonderful couple of days on those streets, in those basements, and whenever people on our travels mentioned Amsterdam we’d smile at them knowingly. Oh yes. We’d been caught up in that whirlpool. But we packed up and left before the spinning came to seem normal.

In Spain we drenched ourselves in sunlight like lizards. Drank sangria on the street and slept in far too late. There was a sense of laziness, of everything slowing down to the point of lethargy. We read our way through books with corners dipped in seawater and each night, dismantled the sand hiding all over our skin. Had long conversations over dinner that sometimes left us laughing, sometimes, close to tears. We stayed in Barcelona for a one-night stopover after Amsterdam and found it empty, more haunted than either of us had experienced before. The streets around our hostel were central but ghostly, and the fleeting friends we made while mixing drinks in the dorm room seemed to drift off to some unknown location, a bar whose name we forgot, so we wandered about trying to pinpoint the secret ingredient that would seep colour into everything and shake the city alive again. Eventually, we crawled into a taxi that took us to one of the super touristy beach clubs. We got out, assessed the line. Oh well. Good enough. It was a night we could have given up on so many times, but we didn’t. And for those last few hours of flashing lights and exploding skin, for the people spilling out onto the beachfront (the exact same one I’d sat on a few months earlier) and the weary satisfaction of the sun rising while our blood alchemized into gold, it was worth it. We made friends with some Belgians and laughed as members of the Netherlands football team tried to invite us back to their hotel room. Lit each cigarette off the last, sprawling back deliciously into the sand. Crossed our hearts and ground our teeth. We could have stayed on the beach all day playing cat and mouse with the first trickles of morning, but our eyes were weary and our feet threatened to grow so heavy that we’d never be able to get up. I’d loved this city so hard in the past that I wanted to inhabit it as long as I could, a quiet tribute to the person I’d been last time. Only a few months ago. But Maddy was tugging at my fingers and sleep was tugging at my toes. Eventually we trailed our way home in the heat, just in time for checkout.

San Sebastian was more of a blur. If you asked me where we spent most of our time I’d have to say the beach, gathered out on cheap striped towels with sunscreen applications each half hour. The sun was unyielding. It beamed down hard on earth, throwing rays like unstable movie villains throw knives, thoughtlessly, in a rage. Having had a lovers quarrel with the moon. Probably jealous that we worshipped her and the delights of the nocturnal world instead of waking up early to see his sunrise. We were easily the palest people on the beach, and everywhere we looked there were leathery backs and half empty bottles of olive oil. And breasts. The Europeans are far more liberal with their bodies (flaunting them the way a sentence flaunts a question mark) and public nudity is much more desirable than an uneven tan. One day, lying on our tummies, Maddy and I hesitantly undid the tops of our bathers. Lay there for a while, shifting around as to not expose anything. I glanced over questioningly and M, knowing what I meant without hearing a word, shook her head and laughed. No, not me. I buried my head in my hat and stifled a giggle, determined to come back a little more liberal, nonchalant, free. On a beach in Spain I felt the warmth on my back, wriggled my toes in the sand and wondered what it would feel like to do something totally uninhibited for once. I inhaled quickly, exhaled in a rush. Then I turned around bare skinned to face the sun.

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