A Young woman running from her past. Can she find her way home?
|Chapter 1 of a novel I am working on:
1 – Blundering on
I found myself in that blissful state of half sleep. The drone of the airplane engines had turned into my new silence, a distant call from the real world humming in my ears. But for the moment, in my mind’s space and time, my body was reclined on the off-white cushion of a sunbed, next to the pool at my home in England. The alluring azure blue of the rectangular swimming pool, contrasted against the cool white paving stones that surrounded it, pierced my senses with a gay and light mood, which apart from the vague sounds of my real surrounding, was what made this even more unreal. A true dream. A sudden pinch of cool water drops on my legs threatened to pull me from my revery but stubborness, and possibly some desperation, kept me in my make believe world, until finally, a gentle hand touched my shoulder, and brought me reluctantly back to the grey fiberglass and plastic interior of the aeroplane. The smell of heated savoury food and a wif of toilet were the final smelling salts needed to wake me to full conscience.
“Madame, madame?” I felt a feathery stroke on my arm. “Please mam’, you need to bring your seat back upright, we will land soon.” Her rolling Western american dialect floated over me.
“Let me help you,” said the elderly gentleman next to me. He reached one of his wrinkled hands over my waist to press the button on the armrest. He then took his other hand and pushed my seat back upright, the effort making his arm shake ever so slightly. I felt my body revolt against the uncomfortable position it was forcibly place in. I mumbled a low thank you and leaned against the cold plastic of the airplane’s inner wall, the cool surface feeling wet against my check. Through clenched eyes, I looked out of the window and saw the sun setting in the horizon and the purple and blue curtain of night being slowly pulled down over the sky.
At that moment it was as if I could have been anywhere on earth, or outer space. My face felt puffy and dry. The electric static in my red wavy hair made me think that my long curls likely conjured the image that I was on fire. I had already taken two flights before this one, long walks in anonymous airports, being shipped from one country to the other, like a bottle floating at sea.Through all the hours of half sleep and tedious passing of time I had fought an inner civil war. The arguments for taking this trip were still outweighing the reasoning that I should have been on a plane heading home. The guilt I would feel when sending the message to my parents once I arrived would just have to be my war wound.
As the plane started its descent I felt an acid burn in my stomach. The nausea was overwhelming and I breathed hard and slow to keep whatever little there was in my stomach down there. I felt the jolt of the landing, opened my eyes and stared out into the dark. The pilot told us that we were “welcome to Bozeman Galletin Field Airport”, that it was a cool forty-four degrees Fahrenheit, “or eight degrees for you Europeans”, he added , and that it was eight in the evening.
I sat and waited until everyone around me had leaft, then pulled my exhausted body up and grabbed my rucksack out of the overhead locker. I took my book, bottle of water and plastic bag in my hands and moved towards the side exit. My legs were tingling from having been still for too many hours, making me fumble forward in the tight space between seats and walls. Sleep crept into my head, pulling my eyelids over my eyes. I clutched my belongings to me, like a refugee holding on to the last reminents of her life.
As I turned the corner at the end of the front row of seats I walked straight into the mass of a human being, bouncing my head against the person’s chest with the force of impact. From the size of the the human wall, it was obvious it was a tall and broad man. The impact made me drop the book, water bottle and bag onto the floor. I expelled a big sigh, having no energy left to look at my accidental assailant. Instead I started bending down to pick everything up. The man bent down at the same time, his head close to mine, and helped me gather my belongings. The smell of musty and crisp aftershave enveloped my face and made my stomach turn. We were both apologising simultaneously.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, his voice hoarse and dark. “I thought I was the last one to leave.” He gave a cough clearing his throat. He’d obviously just woken up as well.
“That’s ok, I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.” I mumbled.
“Wow, British,” he said in a whisper. Then more loudly, “with that accent I guess you could get away with walking into anyone.”
The comment just made me sigh. I had gathered my things, he had passed me my water bottle. I looked up at him and gave him a bland stare. It was dark in the small exit area of the plane with very little light coming from outside to help my eyes see his features more clearly. My impressions from the impact were confirmed, tall and well built. I felt that he was young, partly from his voice but also because of the way he was holding his body, very upright and broad. There was dark hair and angularly features with slight shadows down his cheekbones. A warm wide grin and dark eyes that sparkled with small refective specks of the blinking lights outside.
“Thanks, again”, I said looking at him with a frown. “I’m sorry for not seeing you.”
“You can bump into me anytime,” he replied, his voice husky.
Definitely time for me to leave, I thought. I was in no state to deal with some American jock who wanted to live out some English school-girl fantasy. I just gave him a quick sarcastic smile, which was gone as soon as I turned away, and walked through the arched airplane entrance into the gangway leading to the airport building. I could hear his footsteps echo behind me and felt a shiver along my spine and a dread that he would try to pick up the conversation again. Just then, a middle-aged, short and rotund man came skuttling down the gangway.
”Mr. Taylor…” he said puffying from breathlessness, “Real sorry for being late, follow me please.” I heard no response from the young man I had bumped into, and as I turned left towards bagage claim, I heard their footsteps fade into the distance behind me. ”Phew,” I said to myself, and relaxed.
Shaking my head to refocus I went to collect my larger backpack. By now it was easily recognisable as the most thread bare luggage to circulate on any baggage belt, ever. It looked like I felt, a stray with no home. Moving on automatic, I took myself to the airport hotel. At the reception I asked for a room for one night, meandered in a daze to the lift and once in the room, I just dropped everything on the floor. I never registered what the room looked like. I never even turned the lights on. I stripped off my clothes, cuddled into the bed and felt the cool touch of the newly washed sheets carese my vulnerable body. In one sigh I was asleep. It must have been the first time in nearly two years that I had not tossed around forever before sleep found me. Too bad I had to put myself through a thirty hours flight for that to happen.
The next morning, I felt very small, yet calm, surrounded by the peaks of Gallatin Mountain Range. The sound of the motor purring like a large cat had a meditative effect and distracted me from the nervous tension that always invaded me when I arrived somewhere new. More than two years of globetrotting had not removed the inherent shyness inside me. I looked out of the windows at the vast stretches of nature and blue sky. It felt as if I was travelling through an enormous canvas. The nature here was overpowering, harsh and unforgiving. It was never just a field of green grass, with a hill or a little river gently trickling through a quaint valley. Everything around me made docile and delicate rose covered, English countryside seem like a child’s playground. The luscious green meadows were framed by towering and majestic mountains with snow covered tops. You somehow knew that it all lured you in but in a second could shift in shape or temperament and harm you - even end your life - before you had time to blink.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen impressive nature before. My journey around the world had exposed me to amazing scenary. This, in a way, was just another place to add to my travel log. I was turning into a personalised guide book. Three continents. More countries and cities than I could keep count of, but it was the nature that took the strongest hold, especially the mountains. Kilimanjaro, the Andes, Ayers Rock. I had meet hundreds of people as but only a handful that made me think; this is what humanity should be made of. The mother in Kenya that stayed happy and positive, pushing her sons through school when all around her feel apart in illness and crime. The farmers in Ecuador who despite cartels and financial pressure, insisted on organic and fair trade farming. But nature was always strong, stronger than man, and always reliable, in its unpredictability.
The road map spread on the passenger seat, seemed a bit simplified. I was worried that it was not detailed enough to get me where I was going, however, it became quite apparent after some miles that there were just not that many roads out here and the few squiggily black lines drawn on the otherwise green, yellow and grey paper, were the actual roads that existed, and surely enough, like an apparition in the desert, a sign appeared informing me that I had arrived at Big Sky. A towering mountain rose behind the sign, patches of snow still clinging its north face. As I proceeded on the road a few wooden cabins and more robust houses rose out of the surroundings like lone mushroom. Then the road was suddenly lined with wooden buildings housing stores of various kinds, some with porches out front. I slowed to a crawling pace, looking at the scattering of people walking about, carrying out their daily routines.
Stopping the car outside the a building with a sign declaring Boarding House, I took a deep breath of anticipation. Two people starred directly at me as they walked past. I shrunk a little in the seat, and had to wrestle with my shyness to sum up the will to get out. I took the map and my small wooven green bag were I kept my wallet and passport. A quick flash image of the wooden stall on a red dust blown road in a small town in Kenya came to me when I blinked. Lusette, a mother to one of the boys I had in my class, made and sold the bags. I gave off a small shiver of surprise at the clarity of her presence in my head.
Trying to put this aside, and with a deep breath I stepped into the dimness of the house. Like most hostels I had stayed in over the last couple of years, it was basic, but with its own cultural identity. The interior was dark but comfy with wooden panelled walls, framed photographs of snow covered mountains hanging in no particular order. A long reception counter to the left of me with a board of keys on the wall behind it indicated where I needed to go. A middle aged women looked up from her typing on the computer keyboard. Judging from the strings of grey which ran through her hair, she was probably close to fifty, but her face was round and smooth with cheeks tinged with a homely pink. She gave me a welcoming smile, like a mother would give her child at the breakfast table. "Well howdy there! Can I help you?"
A little unprepared for the hearty welcome, I approached her and placed my bag on the counter. "Uhm, yes… do you have a room available?"
"Why sure, just for yourself?" She glanced behind me at the door and out through the window before looking back at me.
"Yes, just me." It felt as if I was apologising for being on my own.
"For how many nights?"
"Oh, I am not sure, maybe three?" She grinned with a curious but kind expression, I had made it sound as if I expected her to know how long I'd be staying. "No worries my dear, we are not too busy now with the winter season ended so I have enough room for whatever you need. I hope you didn’t come for the skiing, cause the snows mostly gone now."
"No, I had not planned for that." I looked out the window with a sudden stab of memory of the clean smell of snow, the crisp mountain air, and the feel of aching thighs.
"I'll give you a nice room out towards the front, just above here." She raised her hand above her head and lifted her eyes towards the ceiling. She then pushed a form of some kind, and a pen, towards me. "So, why have you come to our small town?" she asked as she entered something onto the computer.
I was not sure what to answer, whether I should mention Max or not. I looked down at the form and lifted the pen, giving myself time to think. My deliberations, and her expectations, were luckily interrupted by the sound of a car coming to a sudden screeching halt outside on the road. We both looked through the window and I could make out a large pickup truck behind a cloud of dust which had been blown into the air by the breaking tires. A group of young people noisily emptied out of the car at the same time as another jeep stopped just behind it, ejecting another load of men and women. The heavy beat of music poured out of the second car and then ended abruptly as the the car battery was turned off.
"Umph.” The receptionist seemed none too pleased at the scene outside. “It’s all good and well that they are bringing in business to the town. I shouldn’t complain, but they bring with them the attitudes of the big city. That has no place here.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re making a movie, here, in town. Some old Western.” She took her attention from the computer and leaned over the counter in a secretive manner, as if confiding a terrible truth. “Sorry my dear, I should not be negative but I just like the way our community values what we have here and I don’t like seeing those that run this town sell it to the highest bidder. I worry that our youngsters will get grand ideas… and then get disappointed.”
Seeing that I was lost for a response to this, and that she had possibly opened herself unecessarily to a complete stranger, she turned quickly around to take a key of the wall behind her. As if blocking off the scene outside, she turned taking a quick glance at the form I had filled in, straightened her back and indicated to me to follow. I walked behind her up the stairs and into the room. It was decorated in the similar basic manner as the reception, comfortable for its purpose of sleep but not overly inviting for you to stay forever. A large bed with a high mattress and a puffy cream colored down duvet was placed in the far right corner of the room. The large window facing onto the road outside and framing a much larger, ranch like building on the opposite side of the street, made up the most dramatic feature of the room.
“The movie people have occupied the big hotel across the road. A few stragglers, those that come and go, stay here with us.” I couldn’t note if she was disappointed or relieved, her tone was just flat. “Great,” she finally sighed as an end to her unspoken thoughts. “Sophia, you need anything, just come down.”
“Thank you, I will.” I said, initially surprised at hearing my name but realising she must have seen it on the form. She left me alone in the middle of the room and I stared out of the window.
The crowd of people across the street had moved to the entrance of the hotel, although one person from the group was still hanging back by the cars. It looked like a man, tall and well built. He was wearing a dark hooded jumper with a bright red padded vest. He seemed to be staring off at the mountain range far off behind the hotel. To me, it felt as if he was reluctant to join his friends and for a fleeting second I wondered curiously why. I had once had strong ties to a group of friends, and although severed from them by my own choice, I missed the companionship of people who know you well. A noise from the group made him turn his attention to them. He pushed himself upright from the car on which he was leaning and strode to join them. He had a well paced, athletic walk. Proud somehow. I watched them disappear into the hotel and turned my attention to bringing my things from the car, a slight tension in my spine the only reminder of the memories married to what I had seen.
That evening, I strolled along the highstreet, taking short, inquisative detours down the side streets here and there, although I never got far as the wilderness was always close at hand. There was a definite small town feel to Big Sky. All was quiet by dusk, I guessed most people were home eating dinner with their families. Lights came on in a few windows above the various stores on the main road but mostly the houses were dark and shut for the evening, and their proprietors seemed to live elsewhere.
The air was crisp and clear, the evening dew having bound all the dust to it leaving the air clean and smooth. The idleness of having no purpose and the solitude of not knowing a soul gave my mind a dangerously free rein to remember. The taste of the air conjured a strong déja vu and memories of ski trips to the Alps with family and friends. They were bittersweet memories now, remembering such jovial and loving events, knowing they would never happen again. I was still completely unable to look back and only cherish the warmth of those moments. Angry at myself for not following the many brilliant congnitive behavioural techniques I had learnt to nudge my mind to neutral, and able to function like a partly normal human being, I took myself back to the hostel.