Patched, Retreaded and Approved for the Road [Short Story]

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“I’ve met this girl and she’s moving to Mexico soon.

So what happens next?”

He turned to look at her, unsure yet quietly sure enough to ask this question.

They were sat side by side, passing a joint between each another, with a view of the valleys dipping before the horizon, cupping the light and drawing it into golden pools. The sight gave her an unnatural surge of affection for this, her home county as the sun sank behind their backs. Even she, such a strong desire to escape coursing through her veins, could not deny its splendour that day.

Laila had met Benjamin nearly a month ago. She was still unsure as to why she had agreed to meet him. She did not want anything remotely similar to a relationship; loneliness was a relief at that moment. A healing that she was rediscovering and claiming for her own. Yet something still pushed her to ssay yes. Maybe it was the mind-numbing predictability of summer in her home town, the need for something different in a place that was startlingly similar to the state in which she’d left it five years ago. Or maybe it was simply that he had just returned from Scandinavia, an intriguing part of Europe that she wanted to hear more about. Either way, their paths ended up crossing for one reason or another.

The first rendezvous was saturated with travel stories as they shared their wanderings with one another. Five hours of reliving the precious moments, dreaming of the places waiting to be explored, dreaming of escaping, running into the unknown. The greyness and grime around her coloured a little. The soul-draining town momentarily glistened with promise, as its streets became open roads that met the oceans joining the boundless vastness of this wonderful earth, a fraction from their fingertips. It was exactly the reminder that she needed, and maybe, unknowingly, that is why she said yes.

It was also the night that she heard the news she had long been waiting for: she had succeeded at getting a job in Guadalajara. That evening, her daydreams finally began to shape into some sort of reality. It meant that, within hours of meeting one another, they were in the unusual position of knowing the exact date that it would end. End what, she didn’t know. But it was clear that something worked between the two of them from the offset. She had thought it would make everything a little simpler. She thought it would make the inevitable goodbye a little easier. She wasn’t sure how he felt about the situation.

Benjamin had a kind face, that was her first thought when she set eyes on him. He was gentle, slim, tall. His voice, soft and well-pronounced, made her feel like he wanted to understand. And she felt like he succeeded most of the time. He listened. Properly listened, instead of waiting for his turn to speak. A subtle difference, yet one that was instantly noticeable. It made her feel self-conscious at first. She would start an anecdote, only to hear her voice fade into a trail of uncertainty as she looked up, mid-flow, to find his unwavering gaze upon her. But he was patient. And his lips, skin, touches were soft. She waited to find this out until a couple of weeks after meeting as she was in no place to be forward and he seemed to be naturally shy. But that suited her.

It was a gradual process of getting to know one another. And that suited her too. Her heart was still healing. Not hurting or clinging onto history, but also not quite ready to open up again to the world. Even to this boy with his calming eyes and attractive smile. She liked the way he laughed, especially if she provoked it. She liked how he gently took her hand in his when he first kissed her. She liked it when he said afterwards, “we should do that more next time.” And she liked how easily she agreed with him. She liked how he didn’t tell her to get home safe once the evening ended, because he understood that she could look after herself. She liked it that his favourite book was The Bell Jar. She especially liked how he didn’t fill the silence with pointless chatter, that he valued silence rather than fearing it.

>The two of them lost track of time together. A midday meeting would suddenly become evening as they watched the sun set and the light fade from the day. An early evening drink would see Laila creeping into the house at 2am. Her days had been passing sluggishly throughout the summer, as is always the way whilst waiting for the next chapter to begin. So it was a welcome contrast to see hours, days, evenings effortlessly pass whilst in his company. They only saw one another once or twice in a week, and they rarely spoke through texts and social media in between. She liked that. She still had ample time to herself, which she both needed and wanted. And when they did see each other, they were able to talk about their days without already knowing everything from their little pocket screens.

And again, as the light sent shadows lengthening and leaping across the hills rolling beyond eyesight, Laila was surprised to find the day already ebbing away as evening closed in.

He was still watching her, patiently waiting for her reply. She looked away. She had no idea what to say. She knew that he wanted answers and she also knew that she couldn’t provide them. In truth, she wouldn’t try because she didn’t want them. Great joy was being taken from the fact that she couldn’t picture her life on the other side of the flight. The uncertainty that would soon fill her head to toe was something she relished. She wasn’t about to ruin it by making any commitments, no matter how small, how insignificant. It was selfish, she knew that; clinging onto her need for the unknown despite his acceptable request for a clue in the path this was taking. But she didn’t resist. These youthful years were the time in which to be selfish, a time when selfishness is not a sin.

Saying goodbye was harder than she expected. Laila had never felt comfortable with goodbyes; she too often found herself filling the silence with promises of next time, focussing on future agreements rather than the aching pang of separation. This was a trait of hers that she did not like. She knew deep down that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the sadness of a farewell and embracing the pain, for it will not last forever. But she continued to do it all the same, and no matter how many times she said it, goodbye continued to be the hardest word.

He had parked on her street, their lips were pressed to each other’s, her hand curled up in his, and she was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sadness that made her want to stay in this safe box with this gentle boy for longer than she had. She didn’t want to leave him in this moment, and the depth of this feeling surprised her. She pulled away, an attempt to run before she had time to acknowledge the unexpected pain of this farewell, but his hand remained wrapped around hers. “When am I going to see you again?”, Benjamin’s eyes searched Laila’s for his answer. And she understood his need more than ever, his wish to quell the sadness with the promise of next time, as she was forever guilty of doing. But not for this goodbye. Promises get broken and there was something so sweet, so endearing and innocent about their time together, that she couldn’t bear to tarnish it with a commitment that may never come to be. She touched his lips with her own, finally gave her answer and opened the door to the biting, wintery air of the real world.

“I’m afraid I don’t know how that story ends.”

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