“I think I’ve adapted to the roadie life, you know. Like my body has adjusted to just not really sleeping and being drunk all the time and eating crap. I feel like I could just keep going at this point.”
“I’ve got, like, three brain cells left, boys. And they’re all dancing a jig.”
“Yeah. I think that’s why I feel so happy.”
Nursing a hangover that, in all fairness, ought to have been far more severe, I woke up at half past nine in Charlie’s flat. We’d all agreed the previous evening to set our alarms and be up at dawn’s awful crack for a hike. At 9am however, four alarms had rung out, and four alarms had been judo-chopped into silence.
I watched telly and ate pensive beans on toast, and by noon everybody had risen and stumbled in bleary eyed and wild haired and farting. When we were all human once more, dressed up in warm coats and jumpers, Charlie, Christian, Annie and I climbed in the car and drove out of Manchester.
We spent the afternoon walking around a deer park, looking at the great horny stags that grazed just off the path. At the park’s coffee shop I ate a Cornish pasty, and I bought Annie a green tea and some ice cream. We looked at some cows, and I climbed up an old fence, and an aeroplane flew low overhead through thick clouds, with its fog lights casting spooky great beams ahead of it like a UFO.
Annie fell asleep on the car ride back, and the sleepy quiet of the drive home reminded me of being a kid after a long day out, when I’d nod off and dream gentle dreams and my parents would carry me inside and drape me on the sofa like a flannel.
Back at the flat, Annie napped while Christian and I put a film on, and Charlie – culinary Merlin that he is – cooked us all a divine vegan roast from scratch. The evening was drawing in, and after we ate I invited Charlie and Christian to join me and Annie in heading out to a Wetherspoons – thereby fulfilling Annie’s self-imposed challenge to have a drink in one in each city she visited.
“I think we’d rather let you two have this last night to yourselves. So you can have your deep chats and goodbyes.”
“To be fair, it might get a bit soppy.”
“Yes, I know what you’re like.”
I am saved in Charlie’s phone under the name ‘Train Wreck’.
For our final outing, Annie and I decided it would be fun to dress in each other’s clothes. This meant that, when we strode out on the streets of Manchester together, Annie was clad in an old Hawaiian shirt I bought from a stall in Kathmandu. In return she gave me her black turtleneck, which I complained about all night because the collar felt like somebody was very gently choking me and it made me anxious. Sometimes I think about joining the army.
“Alright, Spoons shuts at midnight, so we’ll just have one or two and take it easy. You’ll need to leave for the airport at around 3.30am, so if we’re asleep in bed by 11 we’ll be alright.”
“Boys, c’mon. We’re not sleeping. It’s our last night.”
I don’t know where the girl finds the will. On our last legs we shambled through the city by night, like a pair of corpses taken from the morgue and zapped back to animation by a mad scientist. Near the centre we found a Spoons called The Moon Under Water. Despite it being a Sunday night, the usual nutters were in attendance, flinging pints about and hurling one another into the jukebox.
We bought drinks and took a booth away from everybody else. I wanted to be out of earshot of any tough looking men, because I’d brought a gift for Annie.
When I left Berlin back in March, 2018, Annie wrote me a wonderful farewell letter, which she read out to me on my last night. Three and a half years later, I’d decided I’d return the favour: I’d composed a letter a few days earlier, and had been waiting for the ideal moment to read it out. When our second round of beers were done, I took the letter from my pocket.
“I think it’s the right time for this now, old bean.”
“Oh god. Am I gonna cry?”
“I certainly hope so.”
I was nervous to read it out. Annie came and sat beside me while I read, and recorded the audio on her phone. We shared a long hug after.
To make it even, we then dug out Annie’s letter to me from 2018 and she read it again – as best she could in her rasping, sickly voice – and we recorded that, too. I’m happy we each have one now.
By last orders we’d had several pints each, and when we were slung out into the street we trundled home together and bought a bottle of wine from the only off license we could find. I was convinced this was a terrible idea: the notion of navigating an airport trashed and on zero sleep petrifies me. I would not be able to function; I’d miss my flight and be found gibbering in the broom cupboard two weeks later. Annie, however, wasn’t arsed in the slightest. She was so nonchalant, in fact, that before leaving Wetherspoons she informed me she still had a small amount of nefarious substances leftover from a previous party, and would I like some?
“I’m going to be so damn healthy this next month.”
“I can’t wait to get smart again. I feel like my IQ is like… eight.”
We arrived back at Charlie’s shortly after midnight, clattering across his kitchen into the guest room. We poured the wine and popped a bag of crisps, and inspired by our earlier letter-reading session, we spent our final hours together engaging in one of our favourite pastimes, the thing we first bonded over in the autumn of 2017: swooning over the Beats.
I showed Annie one of my most beloved video clips – Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, reading the last few pages of On The Road. I’ve watched it so many times over the years I know his intonation by heart – even his gesticulations as he reads. However, I’d forgotten how the reading begins, and was amused to hear it:
“So in the last page of On The Road I describe how the hero Dean Moriarty’s come to see me all the way from the West Coast just for a day or two. We’ve just been back and forth across the country several times and now are adventures are over. We’re still great friends, but we have to go into later phases of our lives.”
I met Annie’s eye at this, and we shared a smile.
We watched a film called Howl, with James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, both of us pausing it every minute to discuss another Big Idea. We smoked a joint outside in the night, and all the while time ground onwards, and I watched the clock creep towards 3:30.
“I don’t want you to go.”
“I know, man.”
But there’s nothing you can do. And in truth it was the right time for us to part ways: we’d achieved everything we set out to and pushed our bodies as far as we dared. It was time for calm – at least for a little while.
“I don’t know how I’m going to go back to normal life now. Back to London, working from home, Billly-fuckin-no-mates all over again.”
“You do have friends, dude.”
“Yeah. Not like this though.”
“Hey, I have an idea. Do you want to make a pact?”
“Get out your phone, and go onto the calendar. Make a reminder for exactly one year from now.”
“The 17th of October, 2022.”
“Right. And now type this in. ‘Are you settled? Do you like where you live? If not, call Annie’. Then save it. I’ll do it too, so now in one year’s time we’ll call each other up, and if you’re still not settled in London or I’m still figuring shit out over in Cali, we’ll move in together somewhere. We can go to a new country or I’ll come to the UK or something and we’ll be roomies.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“Alright. I’m in.”
“Okay. It’s done. One year from now.”
“Maybe we could tour America together.”
“Definitely. I’ve never been to New Orleans. I’d love a rager down there with you.”
“Yeah. And then Mexico. We could drive all the way down. Music blasting, windows down. Can you imagine the chaos?”
“Boys, I’m totally down.”
“We’ll make it happen. That’s what we do, isn’t it? We make things happen. I know we’ll do it.”
“We will. I promise.”
We shook on it.
And we drank our wine and listened to Duke Ellington and showed each other interesting things on the internet, and then, with a lurch of the stomach, it was 3.30am. We booked the taxi. I carried Annie’s heavy suitcase outside, and in the cold street we stood and waited, and neither of us knew what to say.
A minute later, yellow headlights swept around the corner. I looked at my friend, victorious and almost dead: her vocal chords shredded, her neck bruised with lovebites, her skin pale, her merch bag half emptied, her eyes red. We’d made it to the end.
“So… this is it then.”
“I love you so much dude.”
“I love you too,” I smiled. “Ride safe.”
Annie kissed my cheek as our hug broke apart, and with a last look back she climbed into the taxi. In a moment she would be carried on into the night, to Manchester Airport, then on to California and the other side of the world. I didn’t watch the car as it reversed and straightened up; I turned my back 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 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.
A week later, after a period of quiet recuperation at my mum’s house, I was feeling healthy and strong again. Annie was recovering back in California, and we spoke every day as the sun set in Leeds and rose in Berkeley. I headed back to London when I felt healthy enough, and upon my return I found Annie had left my bedroom in sparkling condition, along with a bar of chocolate and a thank you note. Bless her. I went out that evening and bought a fresh fridgeful of salads and salmon and cholesterol-lowering yoghurts, I threw my remaining tobacco in the bin, and I messaged my piano teacher to let her know I was back in town.
A month has now passed, and life has returned to normal. I speak to Annie two or three nights a week still, though our conversations have gotten shorter recently, and I know that soon they’ll cease completely and we’ll return to our quarterly video calls and that’ll be it. We’re no longer sharing a bed, cooking dinners for one another, and zipping across the country on trains. The Atlantic Ocean now lies between us, and we have big dreams and busy lives, and often there’s just no time. But that’s no matter: the love is still there, and it won’t go away. I really don’t believe it ever could. I know Annie has my back, and I’ll always have hers.
It’s impossible to know when we’ll next see each other again, or which continent it’ll be on, or what state we’ll both be in when we arrive there. It’s a prospect in equal parts daunting and thrilling, because although our English adventure is finished, there’s no telling what strange silhouettes might soon crest the horizon. We’re still young, and there’s a lifetime ahead of us. And what a life it’s going to be with a friend like Annie Kissiah.