“But we’re not getting any closer. We’ve been walking for hours and it’s not getting any nearer. I can’t help but wonder: could we have died? Maybe on the train yesterday? What if it crashed, and this is purgatory – just us here, with Budgens on the horizon, forever and ever and ever.”
“No dingus, we haven’t died.”
“But it’s getting further away with each step we take. I’m freaking out. I’m freaking out.”
“Look, it’s fine, we’ll be there in about ten sec-”
“There was this story I used to like when I was a kid in Cali. There’s a boy, and his best friend is a tree.”
“Shut up. And every time the boy needs something, the tree gives him it. Like when the boy needs to eat, the tree gives him fruit. Then when he needs to build a house, the tree gives him branches for wood.”
“And then by the of the book, the boy is an old man, and the tree has been all used up by the boy, so all that’s left is a stump. And the boy asks the tree for somewhere to sit, and the tree says ‘you can sit on me’. And he does.”
“Huh. Unsure how I feel about that one.”
“Right? When I was a kid I loved that story. I thought ‘aw, what a beautiful kind tree’. I thought the story was all about giving everything you can to help others. Then I got older and I realised the kid’s an asshole.”
“I don’t really understand what the story is meant to represent. Like maybe the tree is a parent and the kid is their child. Or maybe the tree is a good friend and the kid is a bad friend. Or maybe they’re both bad friends, in their own way.”
“I think the core of it is that real friends should help each other grow.”
Annie kissed my cheek as our hug broke apart, and with a sad smile she climbed into the taxi. In a moment she would be carried on into the night, to Manchester Airport, then on to California and home. I didn’t watch the car as it reversed and straightened up; I didn’t trust myself. I turned my back, upset, and lit my last idiot cigarette. I heard the wheels roll and the engine hum, and at the last second I changed my mind, turning just in time to see the taxi round the corner and disappear. And then the street was empty – no cars, just traffic lights changing from green to amber to red in the silence – and now I won’t see my best friend again for a year, or maybe more.
And as the taxi vanished I felt something leave me, rising from my shoulders and neck and head like smoke into the sky. It was 3:30 in the morning and there was nobody around to sigh to, so I went inside, and I looked at the two empty wineglasses on the dresser, and I went to bed.
London, I’m learning, isn’t any one thing. Other cities I’ve lived in have been mostly one thing. Berlin: dark artsy Neverland. Sheffield: grungy student paradise. Melbourne: affluent hipster metropolis.
My little brother has been helping me a lot recently. Dealing with the break up, plus starting a new job, settling into a new city, and adjusting to the unavoidable loneliness of London, there’s been a lot to think about, and at times… (deep breath; understatement of the fucking century incoming) I’ve struggled.
The train from Marseille to Avignon was a pleasant 90 minutes. The south of France looks like Spain, and reminds me of family holidays when I was a kid – walking along in flip flops and baggy shirts down to the beachfront restaurants for an evening meal, the night air warm, crickets chirping in the bushes.
I met Seth at the station. I’d been running late, and when I found him outside he was leaning on a railing, shaven-headed, grinning at me through a pair of dark sunglasses.
I’m on a train rocketing across the south of France, and from the window I can see the ocean and hills and a rusty abandoned car with lime green paint. Daniel Bedingfield has come on shuffle somehow, and it’s making me feel like a wide-eyed young girl on a 1990’s road trip.
On my first weekend in London I went to Alexandra Palace. This was with Sam, his girlfriend Christie, and Sam’s flatmate Lydia. The four of us piled into one of those cars you can hire for something like £7 an hour. It was a one-hour drive through central London, and Sam got all flustered driving while the rest of us talked and drank pink gin and tonics out of little cans.