Away

Three vignettes about distance and togetherness.

Thomas Parts with Jane

Jane likes Thomas better when he’s away. She’ll pout and tell him not to go, but once he’s gone, she breathes easier. There is pleasure in the solitude. Sometimes she drinks half a bottle of wine, and smokes cigarettes in their tiny studio apartment while listening to Björk. She might lip synch in front of the mirror, imagining she’s been abandoned by her lover, though she has not; she just enjoys the melodrama in her head.

Her man will return, but for now there is no agitation, just pure peace, and room for fantasy. She knows his leave is temporary, and that he will soon be back again, filling up the vacant space on the sofa, at the table, in the bed. There will be excitement anticipating his return.

When he is away, Thomas is Jane’s ideal lover, attentive in his daily phone calls and text messages, and free from those flaws that are “typical Tom”, “always the same with Tom”, “what else would you expect from Tom.” When he’s not by her side, she sees only the things that first drew her to him, and this is bliss, because when they are together, he so quickly becomes just that fella she’s shackled to, and obliged to be present for.

Thomas must travel, the hunger for sights-yet-unseen must be sated. His late aunt left him an inheritance, so he has coin to play with. He is compelled by departures and landings, and the need to feel his feet on new soil. Before he leaves on his adventures, he imagines what the new city will look like, how its locals will sound, the temperature of the air, how the food will taste. He imagines the colour of the sky in that faraway place. These scenes always look more invigorating than the routines of home. He likes underdeveloped cities, places where people are poor, crime is high, and the sewage systems precarious. A little civil unrest adds some extra spice to his excursions. He says such places make him feel alive. When Jane asks him why he chooses Libreville over London, he says, “If you go to the amusement park, would you go on the corkscrew or the carousel?” Jane gets what he’s saying, but she prefers carousels.

The moment he arrives at his destination, he feels lonely, uncomfortable, and a little nervous. He worries that he’s packed the wrong shoes, and that his feet might blister.

His feet do not blister. Nothing too scandalous happens, the locals, who are not as wild as he hoped they might be, gawk at his freckled face, crisp polo shirts and batik bandana. His adventures are never what he imagined they would be. He returns disappointed, off-kilter, with less money in the bank, but plenty of impressive Instagram photos of exotic-looking people and places.

After a month at home with Jane, he yearns to see someplace new. He tells himself this will be the last of it. Soon, he will travel less. Perhaps he should save some money. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll consider that ring she’s been asking about. But not today.

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