There’s no place like home…
Five figures stand on the horizon, silhouetted in front of a burning sky and facing the setting sun with a confident stance. The city lights are spread out at their feet and the line of the approaching clouds rumbles in the distance. I loiter behind them, inadequate and slouched. I am not part of this circle. The bonds which join these five are strong and will not budge for a sixth. They will not be weakened for me and I will not be the one to weaken them.
The trees behind me beckon with green fingers on lightly swaying branches. I take a step backwards over the uncut blanket beneath my feet. The speed of the air whipping in from the North is increasing and a storm is coming. I watch the five of them watching the clouds roll over and I disappear into thin air – into the darkness between the trees. I slip through the fingers of the tree trunks with a well-practiced, loping gait. I am nothing but a shadow moving in the night, and when I arrive at the edge of the forest, I know that no one will have seen me.
Under cover of the storm I will return home; dashing through the city streets when all the people are gone. Taking to the blackened alleyways and hopping through dark tunnels. When I reach the right street corner, I’ll slip out and down the edge of the spot lit boulevard, watching out for the spillages of harsh orange light under the sentinel streetlamps and stepping around them carefully.
Then I’ll step into a dead-end alleyway and
I am invisible. When I need to go, I can click my fingers, tap my heels together and evaporate like a drop of liquid on a hot day. This is the gift I was born with and a curse which deprives me of the friendships I might have had. Some days I am glad of this ability: when a room suddenly floods with people or when my tongue slips up and a stupid sentence flutters out. Other times it feels like a box I am trapped in: when I go up to the shop assistant to ask for help or when I meet someone by chance in a quaint little café and we begin to talk. Suddenly I’ll be whisked away into nothingness and they’ll go back to whatever they were doing before, they’ll turn away and walk off and I’ll be alone again.
So I spend my days at the back of the room or hidden on the edge of the pavement. I check my escape routes twice and constantly watch for new developments in the scenarios I find myself in. This is how I avoid situations and survive each challenge. This is how I exist.
When I get home at the end of the day, I’ll flick my witch’s hat to the side and hang my silver cloak by the back door. The red shoes will slide beneath the coat rack and all my warts will vanish in spectacular unison. When I have passed through the dingy corridor and arrived in the main room, I will fall down on the sprawling sofa and empty my chest of the smog and disappointment that the day has provided.
There’s no place like home.
When my eyes open, it will be morning and the light of a new day will come crashing in through the blinds; pinning me down with expectations and the weight of reality. I’ll struggle to get up and get dressed and stagger out into the world for another shot at what I should have done yesterday. I’ll fail, of course, but at least I’ll have tried. No one will be able to say that I didn’t try.
This is how I exist. Just.
I’m worried about you.
They say as we’re walking lazily back from lunch. The centre of town was loud and crowded – far, far too crowded. I couldn’t hear myself think, couldn’t breathe. Somehow a pasty from Gregg’s ended up in my sweating palms and we found our way back to the campus. I thought I’d feel some relief at leaving the city centre but the situation is still too cramped and the atmosphere too close. The five of them are like seagulls looking down on me, surrounding me – swooping down and skimming my ears with their persuasive pity.
You should leave town this weekend, relax. Maybe take a holiday?
Yeah, a holiday, that’s what you need.
Is it? Why do I need a holiday? Surely nobody needs a holiday. They probably didn’t mean it. It’s probably just something they’re saying to get rid of me. But then again, there is a break approaching in the lectures and my cluttered head could do with a clear-out… I drop the last of the pasty in the next bin I see. Maybe I don’t need a holiday but maybe I’ll go anyway.
Maybe I will…
I open my mouth to say as much but they’ve gone – or I’ve gone – invisible once more and alone on the pavement as the sounds of cars whizz past my ears. Maybe they were seagulls after all- just after the pasty.
The train station is all echoes and small orange numbers flashing on floating screens. I dance hopelessly among the crowds in search of a way forward. The bright glass ceiling seems miles away and with it any hopes of my escape. All the trains are running late and already there’s a build-up of tired and weary travellers behind each gate. A couple enters the station, their kids start screaming and an old man is having an annoyingly loud argument with himself by the exit. My throbbing brain cannot handle this level of ordinary at this time in the morning.
I join a queue and wait with the masses as the hours tick by.
Someone close by sneezes into my hair and I shudder away.
A small child is pulling on the hem of his mother’s skirt and dragging her jowls and wrinkles down with it. Still she drops a long-suffering smile down to this creature she brought into the world and a sweet fragment of a question flutters down with it:
What is wrong? Why does my head feel like it’s about to collapse? It’s like it wants to implode and pull the crushed fragments of my skull around it like a shattered blanket.
Too long, this is all taking too long.
The large, fluorescent man operating my gate wipes the tears of a thousand travellers from his receding hairline when I finally pass him and shakes them onto the ground in salty droplets. I look at him and am blinded by the light glinting off his lilac nose.
I’m tired and the train is drifting away. I suppose I should get a move on.
When the doors finally arrive in front of me, I manage to squeeze on and catch a break in the crowd by the restaurant car. I nearly buy a bottle of strawberry liquid but falter in my intentions when the nice young lady behind the till turns around and I realise that I will have to speak to her to purchase the drink. In that instance, a million social faux pas and awkwardly phrased sentences clamber onto the train of thought and their combined weight manages to pin my tongue to the floor of my mouth.
I move into the next carriage.
This train is bound for some obscure town in the middle of nowhere so of course it’s nearly empty. The countryside and fresh air… Who needs that when you have strange towering blocks of hard, grey concrete to keep you from harm’s way and millions of buzzing supermarkets to keep you fed? Who needs peace when you can have chaos?
There’s a window seat near the far end which is close to the luggage racks and the door. I stumble along down the narrow isle, shove my bag into the hole and dive into the seat. I have to be quick to avoid being trampled by an eager family behind me – charging onwards in search of a table to occupy and heavily armed with snacks and drinks.
I hurriedly shift as far into the corner as I can and hold my laptop close. They forge on through, dragging a trail of annoyed passengers behind them – all suddenly trying to find table-space too.
The wait is long and I feel like a zoo animal, safe but trapped in my enclosure. All the while I am listening out for the storm of the masses to pass. Eventually, and in excruciatingly slow fashion, the train jerks into motion.
On the way out of the station we pass pillars and bridges. At the first tunnel, my ears pop and the noise around me becomes muted and bubbly – as though I’ve dived underwater. I’d like it to stay like that but I fear I might drown so I close my eyes, pinch my nose and swim to the surface, feeling my ears clear as the water leaves them. When I open my eyes again I see that the roof of the tunnel has scraped away the remains of the city and left the surroundings clearer and greener. Relative peace…
But it’s not over yet.
Still to come is the long assault of hairs prickling on the back of my neck; an itching scalp and clenched fists. Every time there’s a draft, I’m sure that it’s the breath of the person behind me and I shudder in disgust. Every time the train stops, even though there are plenty of other seats to choose from, I still expect someone to sit down next to me and drag me into the terrors of small talk. I don’t know how to reply to questions about the weather when we’re on a train and the weather is in a constant state of change. I don’t even know why anyone would want to talk about the weather when they live somewhere as rainy and depressing as here…
I turn my eyes to the outside world and I practice the art of ignoring. It’s uncomfortable and I know I won’t last long. Immediately the anxiety begins to drift in and pool around my feet. I’m not counting but somehow I know that it takes only seven seconds before ignoring it becomes impossible. Is anyone looking at me? Is the person in front of me still asleep? Are there any people queuing by the restaurant car? Once I have scanned the whole carriage to make sure everything is in order, I return my gaze to the glass but the images flashing past have flattened a little and seem to repeat themselves in waves of fields and forests.
End of the Line
By the time the tape reel of endless scenery has run out and a nasally voice has sounded the arrival at my stop, I have nearly lost it. In trying to get out, aided by my relative closeness to the racks, I realise my mistake in embarking early. My bag is dead and gone, buried under six feet of pink wheeled suitcases and dodgy black rucksacks. The air begins to get stuck as it claws its way out of my lungs and I jump back into my seat to dodge the people now congregating by the luggage.
An obscenely long and frustrating period of time passes in which the rack with my poor, trapped bags remains hidden behind layers of tourists and travellers. A little bubble of air from my chest finds its way into my skull and I can feel my head beginning to float away.
Crushing, pulsing and twisting movements are happening all around me, echoed by the tightening of my chest cavity. The people leave but the feeling doesn’t. I scramble to get my hands around the handle of the bag and it takes two attempts before I can snatch it from its snare and make a clean get away.
I step out onto the platform and the bubble pops. A stream of people ambushes me from the left and I spin around hopelessly on the concrete, growing steadily more annoyed. I am irritable, I am irrational and, as the fifteenth and sixteenth consecutive passengers bump into me simultaneously, I realise that I am invisible once more.