The following is an extract from The Flowers Sleep Tonight, one of the twelve short stories in Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel.
THE FLOWERS SLEEP TONIGHT
Finding her was easy. Approaching her was not.
We made “friends” on the night we met, thanks to an Internet connection and an app on our phones. Like me, she has people that she needs to keep in touch with, so I was able to keep my eye on her from that moment onwards. And when I felt the time was right, I made sure I saw her again. I didn’t even have to change my plans much. I was back in Europe. She was just a flight and a little organisation away.
I was called an “old romantic” seven times today as I flashed her photo in the faces of hostel owners. Yet none of them would tell me if they’d given her a bed to sleep in. None of them even seemed that keen to help me, despite my wide smile and clean shirt.
Foiled and frustrated, I began walking back to my hotel so I could go back to the Internet for answers. With each step, I felt Barcelona’s late summer heat rise through its pavement and bursting bubbles of sweat quickly dirtied my shirt. I started thinking that I would never see her again and that I would never get to finish this. It was then that my old friend Fate stepped in, as he often does.
There she was, literally crossing my path.
She walked out of a shop door ahead and sauntered away from me. I checked for the skinny ankles, the silver bracelet on her left wrist and the bouncing blonde hair. It was her.
El Born’s narrow alleyways allowed me to follow at a short distance. I watched her meander without a map, her pace slow and her feet happy to pause in front of graffiti-covered doors and shop windows. When she reached a square and looked around her, I hung back in the shadow of a shop awning and lit a cigarette. She eventually sat at a table and that was when I started to notice the changes in her.
When we first met she sat in on herself, folded arms and downward eyes. Back then, she was still finding her feet as a solo traveller; she didn’t yet know the liberating power of time alone in a foreign land. You can’t teach people that joy; that pure pleasure of taking time to roam the world by yourself, doing exactly what you want, what you please, what you love to do. But now she knows. Her back was flat against the back of the chair and her head was tilted up to the sun. She was in no rush. She was content. And she was very much in public.
Maybe this was going to be harder than I thought.
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.
"This collection of stories is like a blanket woven from 100% wanderlust under which you can hide as Frances M. Thompson tucks you in with her words and keeps you warm with her descriptions of characters you'll love and places you can tell she knows by heart." Gesa Neitzel, www.bedouinwriter.com
Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel is a collection of twelve quirky, charismatic and touching tales of travel.
The inquisitive Ruth tells the story of The Lost Children of Gatwick Airport and in Max's Holiday we learn what a seven-year-old boy considers a "proper holiday" to be. In The Flowers Sleep Tonight, we meet Thomas and Carly, two solo travellers whose paths keep crossing... because that's exactly what Thomas wants. A spontaneous plan to elope is revealed in The Runaways and Homes from Homes is about the lessons Patricia learns from the hotel bellboy she has a fling with. Oh, Henry is the story of how a dream holiday can mean two different things to two lovers and Katie's Maps is an offbeat love letter to a vast collection of maps. Extracts from a travel journal tell one woman's life story in All the Beaches are Made of Pebbles and find out what Australia and underpants have to do with Claudia wanting to leave her husband of forty years in The Road is Long.
From the unforgiving Australian Outback to the jagged beauty of the Amalfi Coast, along the pebbled beaches of Brighton & Hove and down the busy streets of late night Barcelona, this collection of short stories highlights how travel intersects and enriches all of our lives, often without us realising it...
"Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel transports you to exotic locales without leaving your armchair and leaves you wanting more... Frances M. Thompson has a novel in her and I can't wait to read it." Nathalie Harris, www.acooknotmad.com
Genre – Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG13
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