thoughts

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

“A brain overcharged by absurdity; a soul starving for something real. Another day of menial work and superficial interaction had left me craving a space of solitude. Like I had so many times before, I took myself up to that hill that overlooked my hometown. Standing above that urban expanse with its rows and rows of streets sprawled out before me, I cast my gaze outward and watched the city lights shimmering in the night. There they were: the flames of humanity flickering in the abyss of the universe; the human race floating through space, going about its transient existence. I stood there for a while and absorbed the sight. From the outside looking in, I thought of all those people living in those houses, walking those sidewalks, staring into those televisions and bathroom windows. I thought of the families at dinner tables, the lovers entwined on sofas, the friends laughing together in the bars and clubs and restaurants.

In that moment a great feeling of isolation crashed over me. In vivid detail, I began to realise just how much I was cut adrift, floating uncontrollably further and further away from those shores of human belonging. And no matter how I looked at it, there seemed to be no way to pull or anchor myself back in. It had always been this way from a young age it seemed. The times I tried to fit myself into the herd had torn and twisted me up beyond repair. I simply didn’t understand my fellow species, or any of their customs. I didn’t understand the conventions. I didn’t understand the expectations and traditions. I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to be the same rather than live a life true to themselves. It was all a great mystery to me: the jobs, the media, the school-system, the paperwork, the small-talk, the religions – the monotonous routine. It seemed that I was allergic to it all. In my most desperate times, I did try to fake it, but like an undercover alien with a bad cover story, it was never long before people cast their looks of bewilderment upon me, before they realised that I was not one of them – that I was an intruder.

It’s not that the situation of isolation was completely soul-destroying, of course. There was a great joy to be found in sailing your own ship, in walking your own path and getting lost among your own mountains of madness. Often I felt great pleasure in not being labelled and closed in to some sort of box of limitation. There was a sort of freedom that many people never got to taste, let alone fully explore. But still despite that, I was burdened with the situation of being a human-being, and like all human-beings I needed to stare into the eyes of someone who understood – of someone who recognised me for who I really was. I guess for a while on my travels I looked out for those people, expecting to find them on sunset beaches and sitting wistful-eyed in smoky bars in foreign lands. Sometimes I was even lucky to find one or two, but the interactions were usually short-lived, lasting only a few hours or days at the most. Like captains of two ships briefly passing by in a wide ocean, we stared into each other’s eyes and exchanged knowing glances before disappearing silently into the mist.

Yes, the more I stood there on that hill and thought about it, the more it seemed this was the destiny of someone like myself. The cards had been dealt and I knew deep down in my flesh and bones that it was my fate to sail alone, to get lost in the mazes of my own mind, to dwell in solitude among those mountains of madness. This was how it was; for some reason I would never fully understand, this is how it was. I guess by now it was just a matter of acceptance: a matter of accepting that I was a lone wanderer – a matter of accepting that I didn’t belong. I guess by now it was a matter of accepting the fact that no matter where I went in this world, I would always return to those hills above the cities, standing alone, staring up into the skies, looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.”

hills above cities

short stories

~ Misdelivery ~

~ Misdelivery ~

     The decision to quit was made somewhere around the end of the third week of the course. I watched with sad eyes as the man opposite me sat reading out his writing while everyone in the class sat around like a bunch of vultures waiting to pick away at the flesh of his work. That everyone did as a bunch of people, all of different backgrounds and lifestyles and perspectives, weighed in with their suggestions for changes to the man’s story. To my horror I watched as the man nodded in agreement with everyone and butchered his piece apart to please everyone in the room. Any chance of there being any fire in his work was thrown out the window as he reduced everything in it to appeal to the lowest common denominator of a diverse crowd. Like so many people concerned about their reception with the masses, he had abandoned his authenticity and courage at the judgement of the crowd. This was supposed to be creative writing course, but I had quickly remembered that creation was an act best done alone in the pits of solitude. From Van Gogh to Bukowski, any art worth its salt was usually forged in the shadows from an individual who created out of necessity instead of desire, and who went out and experienced the world, rather than sat in classrooms with notebooks trying to please people and make academic sense of something which belonged to the realm of mystery and magic. 

     Since the start of this course it had become clear to me that I had no doubt started it as sort of a last ditch attempt to cling on to the ledge of normality. Doing a master’s course at a university was almost enough to convince people you had your life together – and no doubt a part of me wanted to delude myself with that idea too. But it was true: I was fooling myself I realised there and then. Despite my connection to the act of writing, I didn’t belong here either. It was time to let go of the ledge of normality and free-fall into the abyss of the unknown – to throw myself off that cultural conveyor-belt. I was better off being beaten up by life in some other way that would allow me to pour out the pain onto the page without the guidance of any teacher or textbook or institution.  

       Leaving the university for the last time, I headed home back to that familiar dark room to sit and try and make sense of it all. In that space of isolation I sat and thought about the circumstance that had befallen me. Oh dear god, I cursed myself. I had moved to this city specifically for this course, and now I had made the decision to quit, I had to figure out what it was I was going to do next in the absurd game of life. As always there were no easy answers and I thought about changing my mind and sticking with the course. Of course I knew that this was the cowards way out; I knew I would just still be clinging to that ledge of normality a little longer just to trick myself and others into thinking that I actually had my life together in some basic way. So many people did this their entire lives, letting themselves empty out on the inside just so others would think they had their lives together. Such a fate seemed like a nightmare. The absolute intensity of the feeling of indifference I experienced in that class felt like the entire universe telling me to get the hell out before it was too late. Yes, I was definitely through with the course I concluded. I wouldn’t bother to notify my tutor; I was too annoyed at her and the course to even write a basic e-mail. And my parents, well, they had just about given up on me, and this would be the final nail in the coffin for sure. But hey, at this point maybe that was for the best anyway. 

      After a while of sitting there in the dark and staring up at the ceiling, I decided that some fresh air would do me good. I removed myself from my lair and went out to face the world. Out there in that concrete jungle I roamed at leisure with no particular place to go to. As I roamed, I looked around at the faces. I looked around at the houses and the front gardens. I looked around at the job advertisements and the shopping malls and the newspapers and the billboards. Once again I didn’t understand any of it. Sometimes I was certain the gods had made a mistake. Perhaps there was a mix-up in the cosmic warehouse? Surely my intended destination was another planet somewhere a few galaxies back in the other direction. Where was the manifest? Who had screwed up the works? Who was I supposed to be angry at? Looking out at the foreign world before me I wanted explanations and answers.

     I kept looking around at the faces of the people on the street. I saw businessmen and pram-pushers. I saw sub-cultural groups like hipsters or rockers. I saw many types of people but I couldn’t see anyone I truly felt at home with. Often in this world I felt like some sort of diseased alien, and I couldn’t help but stare into the eyes of those humans and desperately want to make them understand who I really was. I guess it was true that at times I felt anger and resentment toward the human race. Often all I wanted to do was to vomit my pain onto their pressed and polished realities. I wanted to drag them into the woods of madness and steal from the sanity from them. I guess I just wanted at least one other soul to step into my mind and see and understand how I felt with the reality and society that had been presented to me. But as always it was useless and all I could do was wonder whether it was all some kind of joke the gods had played on me. If so the humour was lost on me. Yes, oh yes: the humour was lost on me.

      Soon enough the shitshow of reality was too much and I decided I’d try to add some excitement in my life by doing what so many did in times of desperation. Alcohol. I went to the nearest store and bought a four pack of beers. For a small price hopefully I could trick my brain into thinking something exciting was happening. I went in, purchased the liquor off a young female clerk and exited back onto the now rain-sodden street. I stood still on the sidewalk and began to drink the first can. After a few sips I started walking down the road. I finished my first beer and started drinking a second. By the time I finished that I was feeling pretty good – so good in fact that I decided to befriend a homeless guy with a dog sitting in the gutter of the sidewalk of a busy intersection.

        “Alright lad, got any spare change?” he asked as I walked over.

        “Yeah don’t worry” I said. “I’m going to give you some change, but first would it be okay if I joined you for a drink?” He looked at me with a confused and hesitant look. After a few seconds of scanning me up and down he accepted me. 

        “Well sure, take a seat lad.”

        “Thanks.” 

        I sat down and nestled myself into his cardboard which was soggy from the rain. I put my back up against the wall, stared out at the street, sipped my beer and offered my final can to my new best friend. He looked down at it, scrunched his brow and shook his head.

        “No thanks lad, I stay away from that stuff these days; that’s what caused me to end up like this. It’s the devil’s blood that stuff. You ought to be careful with it too.”

        “It’s helping to keep me sane right now” I told him.

        “That’s how it starts” he said. “But if you’re not careful soon it’s not you consuming the drink, it’s the drink consuming you.”
        “That’s kinda poetic” I said. “You ever thought about being a writer?”

        “A writer? Does it look like I’m interested in that kid? A roof over my head and some warm food in my stomach would be nice.”

       “Sorry. That’s true. I just thought you expressed yourself nicely and all.”

       I carried on sipping my beer, feeling the alcohol flow through my body. I could feel myself getting comfy. Eventually we got chatting about his life and he started telling me about all his travels in Asia and South America. Having travelled in those areas myself, I was naturally curious about his ventures out there in the world. I began asking him about his trips. Typically his travelling stories were full of chaos and bohemian madness. As he spoke about his nomadic life, I couldn’t help but identify with it and wonder whether or not I was staring into my own future. It seemed that the man had led a similar existence in his twenties to the one I had been living. It was full of wandering wide-eyed through the world – of drifting wildly out on the fringes of society. I couldn’t help but let myself wonder. Perhaps the life I was living was also going to lead me to be sleeping in the gutter one day? I mean, the possibility was viable for everybody out there, but in particular anyone who dared to drift away from the cultural conveyor-belt like I had done. The automatic life on the cultural conveyor-belt may have been boring and predictable, but it protected you from those rain-soaked gutters – it protected you from the madhouses and the cemeteries. Riding it like a good citizen of the state you were transported through education into a steady job, into a mortgage, into the shops on the high-street, into parenthood, and finally into retirement where a grave and wooden box awaited to package you into eternity. Sure, it may have sounded dull and tedious to the adventurous individual, but hey, at least you didn’t freeze to death alone on some cold winter street.

      After fifteen minutes of talking about his life, my beer can was empty and I decided to leave my new friend alone to himself – something I suspected he wanted. I gave him some spare change, said goodbye and headed off down the street. I then thought about what to do next. I was now pretty drunk and didn’t want to go home, so I thought I would head further into the city centre and try and find a party of some sort. After one month of studying here I still had no friends to drink with, and so I decided to go and find a hostel. From my travels I knew that in a hostel you could often find some other souls who were also out of sync with the human race too. And this was Brighton: the end of the line – the place literally and culturally on the fringe of the country – the place where the hippies, minorities, artists and madmen gathered together. Surely there was some life somewhere out there among those streets.

      After walking around for a while, I eventually found a hostel down by the seafront, just across the road from the pier. From the outside it looked dirty and unmaintained. Stain-covered curtains blew out the cracked windows as dirty towels hung out to dry. It seemed like the perfect place. I purchased some more beers from a shop and walked over to a group of people outside the front drinking and smoking. The group was made up of a diverse crowd including dread-locked hippies, Australian backpackers and some stoners sitting around on the floor eating pizza. They didn’t bat an eyelid to me joining in their group, and within a few minutes I was chatting to a Polish guy and a Kenyan guy over a beer. It turned out that both of them had recently emigrated to the country and were now working in Brighton while living in this cheap hostel, trying to get by in any way they could. I told them my story of just quitting my course to which they laughed and toasted drinks and offered me a joint. The good times were flowing and after one hour they made the decision to go do cocaine off a bin in an alleyway. Following this they then offered me to come with them to some rave in a “dark and dirty but decent club”. It had been a strange day so far, so naturally I made the decision to keep curiously crawling down the rabbit hole. I finished my drinks and joined them to the club.

       It was sometime around eight the following morning that I found myself standing with a bottle of wine on the edge of the roof of a house on the seafront, thoughtfully advising some stranger walking on the street below “not to take life so seriously”. A night of anarchy had ensued and by this point I was completely ruined; it had over twelve hours of drinking and partying with no sleep or rest. I had left the flat alone and now was at some random person’s place with the last remnants of a group of ravers strewn out across floors and sofas and beds around the house. The Polish guy was still there after having decided to miss his shift at work, but the Kenyan had disappeared somewhere into the night after dropping a tab of acid. Most people were asleep or unconscious by this point, but I stayed up chatting with some young English guy who had run away from home and had plans to live on a boat and sail around the south coast. As he told me with wild eyes about his little plan, I realised that the night had given me the medicine I needed: finding and talking to some others who were also existing on the fringes of society – whose lives were also in a state of chaos and permanent disorder. Finally, the situation of letting go from that ledge of normality and quitting my education didn’t feel so bad. I napped on the couch for a few hours and then stumbled back to my apartment.

       In the following days I had no urge to find a job or plan my next move, so I spent time just living quietly and simply, going for runs down by the coast, meditating and writing away in that dark apartment room of mine. I also spent a long amount of time simply roaming the streets of the city itself. As I did I kept looking more and more for the people who were living on the fringes of society or who had fallen off the conveyor belt altogether. Like a man on safari for a rare species, I looked for the freaks, the misfits and the weirdos. I looked for the outcasts and outsiders – for the aliens and the eccentrics. I searched for them out on those grey streets and when running down by the seafront. One area a little out the city besides the water was a good territory to spot them. Roaming there, I often saw some outsiders and misfits living in vans, fishing in the ocean, and smoking out on the rocks. I always wanted to go up to them and ask how their life was, but I figured they wanted to be left alone. 

       Eventually one such creature came up and approached me as I was walking back to my apartment one afternoon. I was listening to some music through my headphones, but could still hear his drunken staggering and slurred words creeping up from behind me. I took my headphones out and turned around to face him. He was a bald-headed, middle-aged man in cargo trousers and a long grey coat. He was holding a bottle of cheap cider in his hands and had a wild glaze in his eyes.

       “I said, lad, I asked you how’re you doing – didn’t you hear me? Don’t people in this town ever speak to each other anymore?” I studied him curiously for a moment, trying to deduct if we was a harmless drunk or something to be afraid of.

       “I couldn’t hear you” I told him. “I had my headphones in. But I’m good thanks. How are you?” He looked at me silently for a second and then grinned maniacally. 

       “That’s okay my son!” he shouted. “That’s okay. It’s all good! I’m all good! Do you want some cider lad?” He held out the bottle of white lightning cider in front of my face. I declined politely to which he carried on chugging away. After a few seconds of watching him drink I continued to walk down the street. He decided to join me. We then walked together for a while as he told me about his life in Brighton, and how he had been a DJ for over twenty years, and how the rest of the time how he liked to climb buildings, presumably blind drunk.

       “You see that block of flats over there lad? I climbed that just last week. And the week before that I managed to make it all the way on top of the hospital. The police came and arrested me as soon as I got down of course, but they’re used to me by now! A little slap on the wrists, nothing else! All the coppers in this town have been arresting me for climbing for over ten years now. I’ve just about climbed all there is to climb. I’ve had a few little falls and injuries, but I’m still going. You can’t stop me! Oh no, oh no. You can’t stop me!” 

       As I listened to his tales, I wondered how this man was still alive. It was only four in the afternoon and already this man was so drunk he could barely walk straight. Climbing any sort of building or scaffolding in his current state surely would result in severe injury or death. Yet he must have done it dozens of times. I never even thought to ask him why he actually had this obsession with climbing things. But I felt like I didn’t need to after a while. The passion and delight in his drunken voice said it all. He was a child in a middle-aged man’s body. He was just simply having fun and enjoying his life in any way he could. Such a wild, free-spirited person again made me feel good. As Bukowski had once said: “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it. Basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.” And it was true: just hearing his stories alleviated me of some sort of pain inside me. It made me feel relaxed. Most people his age were climbing career ladders, yet this man was out DJ-ing and climbing the city buildings for no reason other than simply having fun.

      In the next few days I continued seeing him walking along those street pavements with the same brand of cheap cider always in hand. His energy never changed. Always energetic and friendly. Always smiling and chatting the head off some stranger. Whenever I saw him he updated me about his climbs and exploits, and in return I told him my story about quitting my course and how I was just drifting around for a moment, figuring out my next move in life. One or two times he invited me to drink and climb with him, but I decided against it. My life already had enough madness in it for the time being.

      Eventually a few weeks went by and I stopped seeing him in the neighbourhood. I was always out there on the streets roaming and expected him to come into sight, staggering around a corner with a bottle of cider in hand, but he never did. At first I assumed he had packed up and moved to another town, but then I remembered that he had lived in the city all his life and loved it to the bone. It didn’t seem likely for him to hit the road so suddenly. I kept an eye out for him constantly. It wasn’t long until I overheard some guys at a construction sight. They were talking about someone falling from some scaffolding. I stopped and listened curiously. They spoke about a man who had fallen to his death in the city somewhere a week or so before. My stomach sank suddenly. Immediately I rushed home and went on the internet. I started searching for the news story. I typed some keywords into Google – ‘man’, ‘dies’, ‘death’, ‘falling from building’, ‘Brighton’. I pressed enter. A load of results then appeared, including one which immediately caught my eye – a news story from six days before from the local newspaper. I clicked on it hesitantly. I started reading. I scanned through the story and, sure enough, it was what I had feared. It was the man I had spoken to. It was the man with the big smile and drunken swagger. It was the man who had been climbing buildings in the city for ten years. He had died after falling from the top of a new block of flats still in construction. Finally, the gravity of existence had claimed him.

     Hearing the news of the death, I had a sudden urge to get out of Brighton as soon as I could. I was spooked. It was true that I saw something of myself in that wild-eyed man. In those pupils I saw the alien madness and the child spirit struggling to survive. I saw the pain of existing in this concrete society. This world was always at odds with those types of people. It had swallowed him up and surely those streets and this society were going to swallow me up to. Under the weight of this thought, I went and made a drastic decision. I went online and booked a flight to Mexico with the student loan money that had just come into my account for the course I had quit. The government had paid me a student loan to last the full year, but having already left the course in October, I now had some finances to play around with. I had wanted to travel in Central America for a while and now these tempestuous circumstances called for the adventure to come into play. I arranged the trip for the upcoming weekend and then went and poured myself a glass of red wine to toast my next voyage.

       After finishing the bottle of wine, I sat there drunk for a while staring at my bedroom wall. I was feeling lonely and had a sudden idea to go and see if my homeless friend was there on the street again. I headed out, bought some beer from the shop and walked down the street. Sure enough it was raining again and there he was in his usual spot: sitting there on his soggy cardboard, back against the wall, stroking his dog playfully. I went over and said hello. I then sat down beside him, soaking in the gutter, feeling the rain fall down from the heavens above. I opened a can and offered him one. This time he accepted. 

      As I drank and chatted with the homeless man, I thought of the chaos of the last few weeks; I thought of my life and this man’s life and the life of the boy who had run away from home and the life of the alcoholic climber who had fallen to his death. It really was true. Some people had just simply been misdelivered to the wrong planet. They found themselves stranded on a rock apart of a species they just didn’t understand. There was no room for them in human society and, like this man, my place was seemingly on the sidelines. It was in the solitary shadows – in those rain-soaked sewers and gutters. Since the playgrounds of youth, I had always felt separate and isolated from my species, and here, twenty years on, nothing had changed despite my attempts to fit in. This little attempt to cling onto the ledge of normality by doing a masters course had quickly failed and now I was free-falling back into the abyss of the unknown. I was heading back out into the wilderness of planet earth. I was as lost as a man could be and, as the rain started coming down more heavily, I cast my gaze up into the dark night sky, dreaming of something distant and far-off – a home somewhere out there in the galaxies of the cosmos. I didn’t expect to find one however. I didn’t expect to ever find one here on this planet. It was doomed and destined way of the wanderer. It was the way of the outcasts and outsiders – of the misfits and aliens. And by now it was clear that I was one of them too. By now it was clear I was destined never to belong. By now it was clear that no matter how far through life I travelled, or where I travelled, I would always return to those spaces of separation, sitting alone in the shadows, drinking beer, staring up into skies – waiting and looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.

short stories

~ The Ones That Get Away ~

~ The Ones That Get Away ~

Out travelling the road of life, lost in the night of some foreign country, roaming the cobbled streets of the old town, kissing her under the moonlight. She was a lawyer, seven years older, with hazel eyes, brunette hair and the sort of Mediterranean look that made you think of fancy restaurants overlooking sparkling blue waters. She wore a flowery summer dress that shown off her hourglass figure; her ears adorned green jewelled earrings and she carried an expensive-looking designer purse under her left arm. I of course knew that usually these creatures of luxury were out of reach for a no-good, drifting nomad like myself, but for some reason the gods above had decided to back me this evening. Perhaps they were just having a laugh amongst themselves, but they had backed me, and I had lured her in.

We had met about one hour before in a smoky traveller’s bar where our eyes had crossed paths as we both sat on stools staring wistfully into the time and space. I smiled, went over and asked if she too was also bored with existence. She looked up at me with piercing eyes and, after a second of awkwardness, the tension was cut with a friendly smile. From there on in we got talking and shared a drink: two whisky cokes with ice.

It was a few minutes into drinking and speaking that I began to realise she was slightly more upper-class than the girls I normally went after. As we chatted, she told me of the human rights court cases she had been working on; she told me of her education and how she owned her own apartment. She was too charming to be snobby about it or anything, but I quickly concluded that she was definitely a little more sophisticated than the girls you normally met in these dingy backpacker bars. With this in mind I tried to come across as a regular, upstanding member of human society. I talked about politics and economy. I talked about theology and philosophy. I tried and tried my very best, but after five minutes my cover was blown.

“You’re a little strange, aren’t you?” she said with a wry smile.

“Well, you’re the local lawyer sitting on your own in a backpacker bar.”

“Yeah, and so what? We all have our moments of madness. Besides I’m not alone; I’m waiting for my friend behind the bar. She finishes in an hour.” I looked over where a blonde girl was mixing a cocktail behind the bar.

“One hour?” I said. “Why don’t we go for a walk somewhere else, to another bar, or perhaps you can give me a private tour of your town? You know, teach me the history and that? I am a tourist in your country after all.” She took a long sip of her drink while staring into my soul, making me wait – making me guess. The look in those hazel eyes told me that she knew I was full of shit, but finally she agreed anyway. We finished our drinks and went off out into the night.

After exiting the bar, we wandered through the winding streets of the old town with no particular destination other than the present moment. We passed busy bars and restaurants. We walked along the waterfront of the harbour. We made small talk about my travels and she told me how I was brave and how she had always wanted to travel alone. It was something I had heard from many people while out on my travels. Damn near enough everybody in society wanted to quit their job and travel the world – like always, I didn’t understand why so very few actually did it.

Eventually we stopped under a streetlight in one of the side streets. With no one around, we finally embraced and shared a kiss in the silence of the night. We then stared into each other’s eyes and I made a comment about whether she always went for guys seven years younger than her. She let out a little laugh and suddenly – for about the fifth time that year – I was hopelessly in love with a stranger. At that moment all I wanted to do was to swim into her eyes and drown myself. It was a feeling I knew all too well. Not just then, but I regularly had this feeling – an overwhelming feeling of total reckless abandonment to something or anything or everything. Often all I wanted to do was to abandon myself to the world, to the wonders, to the women. I wanted to get lost in those foreign countries, lost down those old cobbled streets – lost again and again in the eyes of those beautiful strangers. I was reckless, I knew, and possibly insane.

Even if we somehow formed some sort of relationship it wouldn’t have been long before she realised I was completely incompatible with the regular life she wanted. Women like this wanted structured and stable men. They wanted men who could be husbands, men who could be fathers – men who could stay in one place and commit and raise children and talk to their neighbours about the weather over the garden face. The problem was that I was none of those things. I was a wayward wanderer, a restless dreamer with itchy feet – a piece of trash caught in the wind being whipped around by the pull of my own gypsy heart.

Looking further into her eyes, I thought about the alternative to the mess and madness that was my own chaotic life. It was true that somewhere inside a part of me wanted to be a regular human-being sometimes, but the problem was to do that you were supposed to solidify things. Houses were supposed to be cemented down; relationships were supposed to last; job positions were meant to be held for years and not months. It’s not like I didn’t understand what was to be done in order to be a functioning member of the human race, it’s just that I couldn’t seem to do it even if I wanted to. Something had gone wrong in my DNA or upbringing. My mind was possessed by a great fire; my spirit was caught in a wild storm. This woman was beautiful, mentally stable and deemed successful in society’s eyes as a lawyer. She had a chance – she had a strong chance at a normal life. But what chance did someone like me have? I was a nomadic fool who couldn’t even stay put in one place or job position for a full year. I couldn’t maintain any relationships. I couldn’t even drive a goddamn car. The gods may have backed me tonight in the short game, but long distance I was sure they wouldn’t have touched me. The game was a fix and there was no chance – there was just absolutely no goddamn chance.

After a while we carried on strolling around through the lanes and streets. We petted a stray cat and followed it down an alleyway. We kissed again against a beaten old wall. We kissed once more around the back of the town church. Eventually we moved into a small, secluded square where I twirled her around and watched her flowery dress dance in the midnight breeze. The moment was damn near perfect, but it was sad – it was sad for some reason I couldn’t quite say.

“You know, I have to work this weekend, but I will be free on Monday. If you’d like to hang around town then maybe we could spend some more time together? We could take a boat to one of the islands. I’d like to see you again.” She smiled and stared into my eyes. I smiled back, stalling, my mind exploding with a million and one thoughts.

“Yeah, I’d like that” I said finally.

“Good… I like you. Even if you are a little younger, and a backpacker.” She gave that same wry smile that just about knocked me out on the floor. I looked at her then turned my head up towards the night sky, wondering why the gods liked to inflict such pain upon us all.

Eventually she checked the time and saw that she had to go back to the bar and meet her friend. They were going to the gig of a friend and she asked me if I’d like to join, but it didn’t feel right, so I said no. She gave me her contact details and we’d said we’d talk again, and that she hoped that I would wait around town to spend some time with her, and then I gave some phoney agreement and immediately hated my own guts. I said that we’d meet again, knowing that I already had a bus booked out of town in two days’ time. It was an empty promise I’d made with many women out there across the world. I’d said it to women in Asia. I’d said it to women in South America. I’d said it to women in Australia and New Zealand. But the reality was always the same: I never saw any of them again. They drifted out of sight forever like ghosts into the haunting mists of mind and memory. They went on to forget me and sit entwined together on sofas somewhere with other men in suburban neighbourhoods of stability and sanity.

Before going I gave her one last kiss, said goodbye and watch her skip away like some rare deer into the night. She rounded a corner and just like that she was gone forever. Drenched in the silent solitude of foreign lands, I stood alone in the night once more. I would have thought that I’d have gotten used to this scenario by now, but for some reason this night the thought of what just happened consumed me. As I walked back to my hostel under those flickering streetlights, a sad feeling filled my flesh and bones. There was just something different about this time – about this woman. It was in her eyes. Deep down in those hazel eyes I could really see the alternative life so many other men my age would go on to live. I could see myself being a settled soul with a steady job, coming home to a loving wife and kids. I could see myself going on summer vacations and walking in the park together. I could imagine the polka dot dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. I could imagine the way she would smile at me in bed on a Sunday morning. Such thoughts weighed heavy on my mind and I gradually got lost in all of them – entertaining them, playing with them, toying with them – but I knew deep inside of me that it was a reality far out of reach.

On Sunday I was heading further down the coast, leaving her behind like all the others. I already had my ticket and hostel booked and I wasn’t going to change my plan. After all, what would actually happen in the long run when she discovered who I really was? It was nothing more than a slip of character and in a moment of clarity, I allowed myself to retreat back to the acceptance of the wretch I really was. I knew deep down in my bones I didn’t belong with a woman like that. I was still just a piece of trash caught in the breeze whose fate was to keep getting lost in those foreign countries, lost in those strange towns – lost in the eyes of those beautiful strangers. The world of stability she resided in was never meant for me. Instead I belonged wandering with the wind, hurtling over the horizon, swept by gusts of curiosity that left me staring out of bus windows knowing that I was doomed and destined never to step off and belong to one particular place or person or community.

Sure enough, it was two days later when I boarded my bus alone and watched the town drift slowly out of sight. Holding a ticket to some vague place beyond the horizon, I pressed my head against that familiar bus window and stared out at the passing countryside. As I watched the towns and farms go past, I reflected on the night with the girl and thought about what it would have been like to see her again. Many thoughts went through my head but as I sat there and stared out the window a bit longer, I gradually felt my mind begin to shift back to its familiar state of being excited for what was over the next horizon. Maybe I was a bad guy or even just mentally disturbed, but whatever it was I knew that this was a sickness that couldn’t be cured by any drug, job or pretty woman with hazel eyes. It was right there and then that I realised with a sense of horror that I may never find the cure to whatever form of madness it was that consumed me. If a beautiful woman like that couldn’t get me to change my plan, then I just had to accept I was doomed. If a beautiful woman like that couldn’t get me to change my plan, then I just had to sit back and accept that no matter where I went in this world, or how many years passed me by, I would always just be that young boy out there exploring the world, wide-eyed and curious, moving from town to town, drinking in smoky bars, wandering through old towns, falling in love with strangers, staring wistfully out of bus windows – eternally and hopelessly lost in the dream of what it is to exist.