Scene One: In the Vintage Cafe

Pink lamp shades clutter my vision, gleaming too brightly in the corners of the room. The heat and the sun that pours into the place raise the temperature, it makes me sweat. Another thing clouds my vision: rain, water, falling from my eyes. Lost in the cascade that drowns the breakfast plate in front of me, I fumble with my coffee cup. Hiding behind the yellow rims of my dark glasses, I choke on the happiness that is a sunny morning in Madrid.

“I am not leaving you, I am leaving Madrid”

The vintage café on Calle Espiritu Santo is a beautiful place for a break up scene. Decorative patterns tile the wall, locals come pulling rowdy dogs behind them, intellectuals sulk over their laptops in the corners. All enjoying the peace and tranquility that I now regret. This calmness does nothing but expose me.

Michel sits opposite in his usual scruffy bike wear and repeats the heart felt line above. His black mountain bike eagerly awaits outside, securely chained up, while inside his spirit wishes to be free and decisively Unchained once again.

We had wandered the winding alleyways of the city contently, without reason, objective or desire, finding all the personal secrets of the neighbourhood for ourselves but now, because of his itchy feet, the weeks of happy ramblings would end.

Out on the cobbled road we walked in silence for a few blocks. I am tied to this town, he is tied to the breeze, the air and the unending camino. In a deserted street he decides to leave, without even a soul in sight for support. The connection snaps. I am tossed aside, alone again and a cave carves deep inside me.

“Why do you have to turn a simple goodbye into a break up drama!” And in a huff he left me.

The only reaction I can muster is a stunned stare straight into the sky, the only words that pound through my head, the only sentence I may form, “ I can’t believe he left me”

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Scene Two: Under the Arch

The new scene brims with distant, unknown exoticness. The unfamiliar letters on the wall intrigue me and scare me simultaneously. A sprawl of houses, alleyways and lives awaits me.

I ponder the feelings and the moods of strangers that file through this place. I will never decode their messages however, as I speak not a single word of Russian. And as the high arches of the Moscow Metro crowd around me, I admire the daily but spectacular setting with its marble arches and golden chandeliers. Its the perfect place for an encounter with a familiar but old acquaintance. He will come to take me on an evening stroll to show me his bubbling metropolis.

And somewhere along our city trek we would maybe discover a friendship that, over kilometres and hours travelled, had been forgotten. Tall, blond, he emerges from the crowd, easily recognizable amongst the cramped picture.

I laugh a bit as we exchange a hug to greet. It is simply great to meet again. He quickly takes charge, directly me swiftly out of the busy metro, and onto a quiet side street, leading me, he says to his favourite café. Unintentionally I forget my foreign surroundings and get lost in the rapid exchange of recent news. As the evening moves along different scenes are framed within my lens; an Italian café with round tables and a dark wooden finish, a park street stall selling sweet treats, colourful hot air balloons falling from the roof of an elegant shopping centre, it all seems so easy and comforting.

And finally the focal point of our personal paseo through the city, the golden topped cathedral standing high above the river. Backs to the cathedral, we stride out together across the bridge; one, two, three paces, turn, strike a pose, enjoy the view. That moment turned the line of our conversation to our previous meeting, 10 months ago on a platform under the grey English rain, “sorry I let you down” I muttered, “Thats ok” he said, knowingly, “ we can start again right now”

Chloe: Rusty Stars.

This time she was feeling broken, not elated, in the streets of a sprawling, foreign city.

The pavement beneath her soles was worn, full of holes, covered in puddles. She looked up; the sky was bright, full of air and free. Her body wanted to fly away but her feet were tied to the earth and what was about to become her new and normal life.

She’d spent the last 6 years gallivanting around the globe, working as a tour guide for an independent travel company; visiting 23 countries, learning 3 languages and thinking only on such trivial things as monkeys, cocktails, mountain trails, exotic scenes and smiling faces from all around the world.

But now, after so much fun and flying about her tired body had decided it was time to rest a short while. It was in Madrid where her bones had chosen to pause, a pause mind you, this was certainly not forever.

There was a list of sound points; necessary things to be done in order to build a new life. Buy washing powder, find a local library, open a bank account, register with a doctor. It was time to build a life that was a little reluctant to be lived, how would this work? Hopefully she would find some way to be entertained.

Life on the road had been more about reading maps, not reading phone bills, watching tribal dances, not watching soap operas, riding elephants or camels, not riding the metro. If clothes needed to be washed then something would just turn up – a friendly Turkish shop keeper or a shy Romanian mother would offer up their services with a cheerful grin between broken teeth. There had always been unexpected good luck on the road. While searching for a local bus to the port, a golden finger, a winking eye or a reliable word would find this girl and guide her there. Under the solemn skies of the real world, would this luck make another appearance? Or would the clouds let flow all the inconveniences and bad luck that had been back logged over the years?… cramming the system.

Sitting on the metro, travelling on into the centre of the city, Chloe felt surrounded by skeletons. A disease was spreading, crawling, slipping through the cracks in the carriage, up the hand rail and slowly over the seats. This disease was comfort, safety, security; three little words that sent nightmares through her dreams. The minutes dragged on as the carriage plodded along between stations. She smiled, her mind collapsing inwards, peering back through a kaleidoscope of memories and experiences. A collection of rubies in a treasure chest. The milky waves of memory had been very kind to Chloe as she had plenty of thoughts from the past to distract herself with:

“I was sat on a grubby, white, plastic chair under a wooden canopy, 2 years and 3 weeks ago when a thrilling moment came to me. After a political discussion with the shop keeper, (using gestures no words), I realised that I was completely and utterly happy. Totally in my element, out in the Turkish middle of no where. I had finally found myself. My life was on the road, exchanging foreign currencies, words, gestures and smiles.”

So why exactly was Chloe stood on this rocky grey pavement in that dusty old street or sat on this  metro? Hair full of raindrops and eyes full of mist. Well, the chaotic line of her life, that had climbed  mountains, jumped on so many buses and got soaked in rain storms, had suffered a rather severe blow 3 months previously:

It was July 30th, 2011. It was 08.12am and I was in a hot, sweaty office in the old town of Istanbul. I had just bought myself a beautiful print of a giant white flower from my artist friend around the corner. It was now wrapped in brown paper and stuffed under my arm. Opposite me, through the misty heat of a typical Turkish morning, sat my tour manager, Michel. He also happened to be my long term travel companion and the man that I had been infatuated with for the last hundred, thousand years. He was exotic, adventurous, mysterious and brave; a toxic combination. We had ventured throughout the wildest places together, researching new destinations for our company. We had climbed snowy peaks, camped out in the wild, photographed tribal ceremonies for the catalogue, surfed the biggest waves in Hawaii, Portugal and South Africa. We had climbed to the top of the highest mountain in Africa and skied down at sun rise. It was a battle to see who could be craziest, most daring, or who could secure the most fantastic scoop for the company magazine.

We were the perfect travel companions. I was the linguist, he was the negotiator, I was the navigator, he was the baggage handler. But the perfect connection over our perfect passion did not seem to equal the perfect relationship, as I had struggled with these feelings of pure admiration, romance and infatuation, time and time again. Feelings that Michel did not seem to want to reciprocate, leaving me with such a sense of fright and longing. I was never good enough for him, no matter what I did. And in that hot and sticky hour of Istanbul life, my disappointment was about to become so painfully clear.

I hadn’t seen him for 4 weeks as I had been taking a group around a new circuit close to Bodrum, but now I was back at HQ ready for my next briefing, or so I thought.

“Oh Chloe! I missed you, I’ve been meaning to call for ages!”

“No problem, it’s fine. What’s up?”

“Wait, firstly how was the new tour?”

“Went perfect, you know”

“And that sweet little guest house in Gumusluck? How did it go down with the group?”

“They loved it”

“Remember when we found that place? We had just been snorkelling off the coast and seen those amazing Roman mosaics under the water. And then we missed the last bus back to town! We were crazy! But what amazing luck! Right?” He smiled broadly and enthusiastically.

I nodded, smiling, something was up, he never babbled on like this. I wanted to know what was so important that I had been dragged on the first plane back from the south.

“Yeah, was a great time Michel. So whats up?”

“Ok,…well” He fumbled with a pile of papers, shuffling slightly in his seat, his eyes looking to one side, “…I am leaving the company”. His voice was uncomfortably stilted. Silence filled the office.

An instant knot of confusion was tied across my brow.

“WHY!” I hastily shuddered a few moments later.

“The day after you left for the tour I bumped into Jenny over in Samos” Was he feeling guilty? His usual confidence had faded.

“Jenny…” I was searching for some type of recognition.

“You remember…that girl from uni who I did my dissertation research with over in Jordan”

“Yeah…And?” I was starting to get worried,

“I joined her hiking party, she was leading a group over the main mountain ridge. It was a fantastic trip,” He was stuttering slightly, “And,…we kinda ended up…” He did not even have to finish the sentence, I knew exactly what he was about to say.

The next few moments hung in the air, passing by while I was caught in a daze of unconsciousness.

My mind floated out of my body, up, up and up, out of the window and over the Bosporus. But then I stopped floating and started talking, reacting in the worst way possible.

“WHAT!” I exploded,

“Chloe I just had to tell you, I am going to join her hiking company over on Crete. It’s going to be great. I know I am leaving you, I am sorry but nothing lasts forever, right? We can’t carry on messing around here forever, can we? We are all growing up”

I felt tears getting ready to fall. My eyes were already puffing. Cheeks as red as strawberries, a great stabbing jolted me, deep inside my chest. I hugged him, made excuses and left. So the last 6 years had just been messing around for him? I could not believe it.

Later on I wandered the streets alone. Despite my bravery on the road, mixing with strangers, facing wild beasts, I had never found the courage to talk to my best friend about the most delicate subject to me. Emotions and feelings were not a significant item on my repertoire of skills. Making lasting and meaningful connections had never had been as easy as making smiley first impressions; I was always passing through, who cared what happened next.

And now it was too late. He was leaving, his decision was made.

At the market buying supplies for my next trip to Georgia, I felt a pang of guilt, I had to be happy for him, he had made the choice and it had clearly not been me. Congratulating him, I felt humiliated so I then disappeared, back to the place where I least wanted to be but the place where I knew I would be able to rest.

England, that wet and safe country where people spoke honestly and clearly, things ran on time and no one slept in. Getting off the plane in Manchester I happily thought of the time in Kusadasi when I had taken a group of 15 to my contact at a local bike rental place, only to find him passed out on the doorstep, a bottle of Efes beer in hand. My love of the people in that area of the world had led me to forgive any inconveniences of their character but somehow I could still not forgive the inconveniences of life in my own country – so that is why after two weeks and a bit of crying, I found myself on a plane south, to Spain, and to the capital, Madrid. Feeling an extra weight in my bags as I hauled them through customs, I knew I needed a change of scenery, a new life to forget my broken conscience.

A life that had spread over continents and time zones was now being condensed down into one small city. I had a lot of work to do to sort out my sort of life mess. And that is how I arrived at the start of this story, on the broken pavement, full of wholes and puddles, with a blue space above me, full of freshness, full of blue, full of possibilities…