The Runaway Chronicles Part Three

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to get back to England. It hit me out of nowhere. Leafing through diary entries just now I found the one I wrote sitting at Heathrow, waiting for Maddy by a cash machine. I’m fluttering on about how, a few minutes earlier, I’d walked through W.H. Smith running my fingers over book spines and gaping at everything – pens, chewing gum, the apples in a bowl by the counter. I can’t really explain why those things felt so precious, I guess they were familiar motifs after a month of being a visitor in other people’s countries. But that was how I used to feel every day in England. I had crossed an invisible line, and the strangeness now felt like home.
After another half day in London (double decker buses and streets swarming with people, things that didn’t always feel this familiar) we caught our train out to Bath. I was sad. It was our last stop together, and everything was drizzly as a reminder. My thus far unused blue tartan coat was fished out of the bottom of my luggage, shrugged on to combat the cold. Things were starting to catch up with me. I was still grateful to be there, but things were going to have to come to an end soon and no matter how tough I like to play it these days, I’ll never be good at goodbyes.

It was a rainy Tuesday and Bath was quiet in terms on nightlife, so almost relieved, we huddled together at a table in the hostel bar grabbing at cheap pints and talking like our fast forward buttons were being held down, we didn’t have much time. Because Maddy was leaving and I was leaving and you can’t always hang onto the things you’d like to the most. Heaven isn’t angels lounging around on cotton wool clouds like an ad for cream cheese, with clean skin, with silky hair, with wings made of feathers bought in a craft store. Heaven is all the people you love in the world, together. You’re all standing around in a room filled with skylights. You don’t have to leave them to live. 

lThose days were beautiful and strange. We found ourselves immersed in one of the most picturesque little cities I’ve ever seen or imagined, and walking down cobblestone streets I felt myself light up in neon. This was how I had imagined England to be like. I wrapped all the things I saw up to myself tightly, and before I knew it had transported to some inner world of polka dots and umbrellas, of frilly clothing and second hand books. I mostly hate the heat, so the extra layers suited me just fine. I collected trinkets for M’s birthday present and set to work in writing a long, elaborate message on her card, filling up the entire thing from corner to corner. Sneaking away from her to arrange this was, with a few exceptions, the only time we spent apart all trip. I would turn around to point things out to her and find no one behind me. It seems silly to say that now, sitting at a computer with an unreplied to message from her sitting in a separate tab. With love just as deep, but with no way to convey it except through a little green dot on the internet.

We stayed up late drinking one night with hostel staff then dragged ourselves into bed, snatching one or two hours of sleep before a huge Stonehenge tour we had booked for ourselves in the morning. I don’t think I’d ever felt so tired. I sat slumping in the back of the tour bus, listening to my headphones and smoothing down my favourite floral dress. We had long, whispered conversations and fell asleep on each other’s shoulders. When we got to Stonehenge it felt surreal, and now when I look back on it I’m half convinced I only ever dreamt of going there. The stones were incredible, but in the end my hangover won out, and we drifted away from the masses of tourists to lie down in the grass. So much hype surrounded the place that I had no idea whether I actually liked it or not. Whether I just thought it was ‘amazing’ because I was supposed to. But it’s impossible to see the world with fresh eyes, really, we just expect that travel will be fabulous and everyday life, monotonous. Most of us make our minds up about almost everything before we leave high school and never really stop to reconsider.

Something shifted in me in that city, though, and as we said our goodbyes and hopped back on another train I felt like I was tearing off little pieces of myself and scattering them around on the platform. Not necessarily in a bad way. Just in that I wanted the streets and the people to remember me. To have some of my experience for keeps. I wrote in my notebook at high speed and listened to What Katie Did by The Libertines, and the train doors closed, the heaters whirred, the windows grabbed a hold of each new scene before flinging it away.

All I will say about putting M on the Heathrow Express is that it was sad. Our friend from home had come to see her off as well, and as she disappeared down the line I grabbed his hand tight, burying my head into familiar shoulders. He was good to me, and kept holding on through staircases and tube journeys until we were at Victoria, and my train to Brighton was about to leave. It was the last destination, but my first alone. I arrived at night and made my way through side alleys, feeling self-conscious. The pubs were warm and inviting with good music leaking out of the windows, but I had nobody to go with. After checking into the hostel I walked down to the pier and sat smoking on the beachfront, taking in the iconic signs and flashing lights. The beach was pebbled, as promised. A boy skateboarding down the promenade almost knocked me over. I’ve grown rather fond of being alone since I moved to the countryside, but this time it shocked me like a bucket of cold water. Embarrassed and angry with myself, I sat down on a park bench halfway back to the hostel and cried in total silence.

Strange how it happens, though. My first few hours in Brighton would have never given it away, but within a matter of days it had become the place I would choose for my next home. Upon returning to the hostel I sat in the bar replying to emails, then inevitably found myself drawn into conversations and striking up friendships as if by accident. After that I went out every night, and filled my days with trying to see as much of the place as I possibly could. Brighton is cool and rugged. A bit like Melbourne, only more British people and by the sea. I had always thought I’d move to London, but the streets were magnetic and I found myself falling in love with them, dreaming of what it would be like if I didn’t have to leave. Although I’d gotten into the cheesy habit of buying a magnet from each destination I visited, I never did get one to commemorate my last stop. I couldn’t have known that it was futile at the time though, that I’d be back before barely more than a month.

But when my time in Hertfordshire came to an end, things started falling into place. Onwards and upwards seemed the only logical option. I know I could have stayed but slightly out of reach lay inviting strings longing to be tugged at, pulled, tied around a finger and followed into the dark. New opportunities were beckoning. Wherever my proverbial hat was hanging, I was going to pluck it up and start all over again somewhere new. It was time.

1 comment

  1. I love how you write, it says so much about the human heart. Also, What Katie Did is a favorite song of mine.