This is a small excerpt from the short story The Flowers Sleep Tonight, available as part of the book Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel . Her
There is only so much travel a girl can take.
I felt it grow inside me like a tumour; the realisation that I don’t want to travel anymore. It happened gradually but now I am swamped with symptoms. Everything I hear is tinged with a high pitched shrill and my insides ache from too much alcohol, too much sugar, too much too much. Seventeen months, twenty-eight countries, one hundred and twenty-seven different beds; it’s too much and I give in. I fold. Travel has lost its spark, its charm and its preciousness.
I am full of experiences, but I am empty of energy.
Thailand, Cambodia and Laos you were a trio of goodness to me, my mind and my bank balance, but you were lousy for my liver.
China, you blew my mind, not always in a good way.
Japan, you kept me longer than you should have. That’s a compliment.
India, you ruined my insides but enriched my soul; I’ve never seen colour or chaos like you.
Brazil, you were a welcome detour, opening doors to the continent that changed my understanding of passion. For passion is not just what happens when the lights and your clothes go off, passion can and should be found in the everyday things that enrich your life; the wine you share with a friend, sitting down to a family meal or singing along to your favourite song, no matter how badly.
In Mexico, I rediscovered the calming sensation of sand between my toes and sun on my back. Your beaches were beautiful but your nights were boozy and I have the awkward memories of a German guy - whose name I forgot - to prove it.
Europe, you felt like home, but a more mature version. It’s you who made me start to slow down. Trips went from days to weeks and I followed my dreams without consideration of the cost. I climbed your Alps in Switzerland, I saw Greece’s infinite islands from the side of a boat and I ate Italy’s sun-blessed food with delicious abandon.
And now I’m drowning in the noise and smells of Spain, a country I thought I’d love but am struggling to even like. But I know it’s not Spain, it’s me.
Surrounded by the bustle of Barcelona – an unforgivingly alive city - I feel at peace with what I must do. I can feel the pull. I must return to my little big island on the other side of the world.
I needed calm and quiet to come to these conclusions. The hostel wasn’t a bad one. It was clean and my earplugs kept me asleep, but this morning I waited many minutes before opening my eyes because I didn’t want to wake up and see another stranger. Instead, I lay still, praying for solitude and letting a few tears slip down onto my musty pillow.
It took me twenty minutes to pack up, pay up and leave. An hour later, I was lying on the cool cotton sheets of a four-star hotel bed. Apparently privacy costs 150 Euros a night in this town; the same price as three weeks in a Thai beach hut. I handed over my credit card without blinking.
The room wasn’t perfect but once the door was closed, it was paradise.
I’m not sure if I fell in love. I don’t think so. I’ve been in love before, when I was eighteen years old. It was wonderful and horrible. I couldn’t see straight for weeks after it ended. I said never again. But as soon as I saw this woman with wild hair and a curled smile, I felt something wake up inside me.
The moment she went cold on me is a vivid, frozen memory. I was inside her and I was so aware of it that I couldn’t catch a breath, let alone move with any grace or tenderness. I knew what was wrong; I cared. I cared for her and I didn’t know why. I barely knew her. How had she tricked me into caring?
It left me stilted and almost paralysed. She turned her face to the side and didn’t look back until it was over.
The following morning she was gone. Nobody knew where or why. I spent the next few days searching other hostels and hotels. It’s maddening that I had to use the same photo and broken Spanish today. It shouldn’t have taken me that long to realise she’d left to escape me.
That was when I got angry and I knew I had to find her.
I chose an empty table and waited to find out which of the square’s restaurants was going to look after me. A waistcoated man with a dark frown eventually approached and I ordered quickly. The Rioja was fiery, the patatas bravas left my lips tingling and the chorizo was beautifully blood red.
My plates removed and my belly full, I started to daydream about the ocean and how its cool spray would linger on my face when I walked my mother’s dogs along Curl Curl beach. I imagined my sister up on the Central Coast, raising chooks and children against the soundtrack of the kookaburra. I could return to either of these places to reclaim a life, or I could set up in a place of my own. Melbourne or Perth, perhaps? On my own. I was starting to think I’d be okay with that.
My thoughts were interrupted by a foreign voice speaking English and I assumed it was the waiter offering me coffee. But when I looked up, there was the shock of a familiar face.
Read the rest of The Flowers Sleep Tonight and eleven other stories inspired by travel in Shy Feet available on Amazon (ebook and paperback) or Kobo (ebook only, suitable for iBooks and Nook. And you can add Shy Feet to your Goodreads bookshelves . Thank you for supporting my writing and books.
Photo by Osamu Kaneko
Frances M. Thompson
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