Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Vacation

There he goes again, she thought, striding away ahead of her, leaving her behind. His familiar figure losing itself among the backs and faces of strangers in this unfamiliar city. Why did he always do this? Sure, he liked to walk fast, but would it kill him to walk beside her once in a while, adjust his pace to hers?

Watching him draw further and further away, she felt a perverse determination to linger. Why should she let herself be stampeded by him? No, she would take her time - staring into the shop windows, stopping to haggle with the roadside vendors - he would just have to wait for her to catch up. And serve him right too. The thought of him standing on the sidewalk, annoyed and impatient, sent a small frisson of mischief through her.

Just then, she noticed a pair of the most exquisite shoes in a shop display. She just had to go in and try them on. Instinctively she turned around to call to him, ask him to come back, then realised that he was already too far away for her voice to reach. For a moment she hesitated, then, with a shrug of her shoulders, walked into the shop. When he discovered that she wasn't behind him he'd come back.

Coming out of the shop fifteen minutes later, she realised that he hadn't shown up yet. She'd been so busy looking at shoes that she hadn't noticed. Where could he be? Was it possible that he still hadn't noticed that she wasn't following, that he was still striding along with that purposeful, intent look of his - getting further away from her with each step? Surely not. Maybe he had realised that she had fallen behind and had decided to stop somewhere on the side of road, at a cafe perhaps, and wait for her to catch up. Yes, that made sense. She walked along the sidewalk in the direction they had been headed but there was no sign of him anywhere. Could he have stopped in a shop as well, could she have passed him by without noticing? Unlikely. He hated shopping. Besides, surely he would have been keeping an eye out for her. Where could he have got to? If there was some specific place they had been heading for she would have gone there, but today was their first day in the city, and they had decided just to ramble through the streets at random. He could be anywhere.

Could it be that he'd got mad when he realised that she wasn't following and had gone off somewhere in a huff? The more she thought about it, the more that seemed like the only logical explanation. The gall of the man, to abandon her so! And in a strange city too! She could feel her temper rising. Well, to hell with him then. She didn't need him. She would go see the city by herself. Give both of them a chance to cool down. Yes, that's what she would do. It occured to her that this would be the right time to go see the museum that she'd been keen on and that he'd refused to go to. That way, things would actually work out for the best. She stepped off the kerb, hailed a taxi.

Leaving the museum at closing time she suddenly realised that she had completely forgotten the name of the hotel they were staying in. It was a small hotel, a bed and breakfast really, and it had this exotic local name that had clean slipped her mind. She'd never had a good memory for this kind of thing. It was the kind of detail she trusted him to remember. She took a cab to the locality she remembered it being in, and spent a couple of hours wandering around the back streets, looking for something that looked familiar, asking shopkeepers for directions to every inn, hotel and pension in the area, but she wasn't able to find the place. Finally, exhausted beyond all measure, she checked into another bed and breakfast, ate a hasty but delicious dinner up in her room, went to sleep.

Waking the next morning she tried to think of ways to get back in touch with him. How to find out the name of their hotel? She went down to the reception and borrowed a listing of hotels in the city, but none of the names struck a bell. She decided to call their travel agent back home and find out what hotel they were booked in (she'd make up some explanation), then realised that it was Saturday and they would be closed for the weekend. She called her own house and checked the answering machine remotely, thinking he may have left her a message knowing she would check, but there was nothing. Maybe he was still sleeping. It would be just like him to have used the opportunity of her absence to get wildly drunk. She called back and left her own message on the machine, spelling out the name and address of the hotel she was staying in, so he could get in touch.

Having exhausted all immediate avenues of reestablishing contact, she lounged about in her room, waiting for the shops to open, then went down and bought herself some new clothes and basic cosmetics. Then, having eaten a filling brunch, she set out to explore the city on her own once more. After all, they were only here for a week - there was no sense wasting a perfectly beautiful day moping around in her room. It would all get sorted out by nightfall. Meanwhile there was so much to see.

When she got back to her hotel that night, tired but happy, the first thing she did was to ask if there were any messages for her. There were none. She felt surprised. Why had he not tried to get in touch with her? Could something have happened to him? For the first time since they had been separated she wondered if his disappearance could have been involuntary. What if he'd had an accident? What if he'd been mugged or killed? She sat in the hotel common area reading through the English dailies. No mention of any American being involved in a mishap. Still, if he hadn't got in touch by Monday she would call the embassy. Meanwhile, she called home and checked for messages again. Only her own message, and one from his mother. No word from him. Maybe it hadn't occured to him that they could communicate this way. Yes, that must be it. She still felt a little uneasy, but a half-bottle of chardonnay combined with the memory of the hectic day she'd had soon allayed her fears. Her last thought before she drifted off to sleep that night was: at least I'm enjoying myself.

The next day the cycle repeated itself. Again, there were no messages for her, again she went out and wandered through the city, taking in the sights, again she was a little dismayed at dinnertime but managed to drown her worry in good food and alcohol. The important thing, she kept telling herself, was to have fun - this was the only vacation she was going to get this year, and sooner or later this mysterious separation of theirs would get sorted out.

By Monday, the days had settled into a comfortable pattern. She spent her days wandering through the bazaars and visiting the medieval ruins, then at night she had dinner by herself. She considered calling the travel agency again, but the whole thing was too embarassing. She decided against calling the embassy as well. After all, nothing had really happened - it was just a silly little miscommunication - hardly the kind of thing you wanted to get the embassy involved in. They would think her neurotic. Better to let the thing sort itself out in its own time.

On Tuesday, she decided to go out for dinner, selecting an intimate little cafe not too far from her hotel, sitting at a table by herself, taking a book along to read by the candlelight. This soon became part of her pattern, though she chose a different restaurant each night. A couple of times men approached her, noticing that she was alone. She felt vaguely flattered by this, but turned them down politely - she was enjoying the experience of dining out by herself too much - it was something she'd never done before in her life. Certainly in the eleven years they'd been married she'd never been to a restaurant on her own. It was thrilling to be able to pick exactly the dishes she wanted, without having to worry about getting something that he might like to share, thrilling to be the one tasting the wine to see if it was good, thrilling to be the one handing out the credit card at the end. These evenings out alone left her so flushed with joy that when she got back to the hotel she even forgot to ask if there were any messages for her.

Now and then, usually over breakfast in the mornings, it occured to her to wonder what he was doing in the meantime. Was he having as good a vacation as she was? She imagined him going frantic trying to find her in the city, imagined him running to the embassy, to the police, and felt a pang of guilt. But then she thought, no, if he was really looking he would have found me by now. More than likely he's happy to be rid of me and is it living it up - probably there's a lot of alcohol, maybe there are even other women. She felt hurt and bewildered by his betrayal, by his callousness in not having contacted her yet. Still, she must be fair. Maybe he had been looking and hadn't been able to find her. After all, she hadn't been able to get in touch with him either. And she had tried. She wondered what he thought she was doing.

At any rate, now that the ten days they were here for were almost over, the answer was simple. She knew the date and time of their flight back home. All she had to do was show up at the airport, her backpack of new possessions with her, and they could return to New Jersey together. How much they would have to say to each other on the flight! What a story they would have to tell their friends back home. The very thought of that airport meeting made her smile. It would be like Casablanca, only in reverse. They would never have Paris.

But when the day arrived, he wasn't there. She sat in front of the airline counter for three hours, waiting for him to show up, but there was no sign of him, and when she finally asked the woman at the counter there was no booking in their name either. Had she remembered the wrong day? She could have sworn it was today - after all they both had to be back at work by Monday. Could it be that he'd gone home early, frantic with worry at her disappearance? But why cancel her reservation? And if he was home already, he would have got the message she'd left him. Surely he would have called.

The woman at the counter was looking at her impatiently. She realised she was holding up the line. She thought about going back to her hotel and trying to call him at home, perhaps coming back to the airport tomorrow to see if she'd got the wrong date. But she was here now, ready to fly out. She asked the woman at the counter if there were still seats available on the flight. There were.

Reaching the house, she could see immediately that no one was home. The lights were all turned off, the windows closed, the blinds drawn. In the gathering dusk, the house looked strangely ghostlike. She paid the taxi, then entered the house, setting her backpack on the stairs as she wandered into the living room. She checked the machine, hoping to hear his voice, but was disappointed. Desultorily, she flipped through the post, then went over to the bar and fixed herself a drink. Tired with the long flight, she sank into an armchair, kicked off her shoes, sipped her vodka slowly, thinking about the week gone by, their sudden separation. It seemed so strange to think that it had all started because she'd ducked into a shop behind his back to look at some shoes. The whole thing was bizarre. They'd had fights before, of course, but this was different - there was no acrimony here, only a sense of something disconnected. She wondered where he was now, but the thought passed through her mind idly, tinkling about in her head like a shaken ice cube, then melting away. Sitting there, in the almost dark house, she thought about the vacation she'd had without him - the choices she'd made, how alive she'd felt. Draining her drink to the last drop, she got up, went over to the kitchen sink, rinsed the glass clean. For a moment she stared at the red light of the answering machine, winking at her. Then, moving as briskly as she could, she went and picked up her backpack, slung it over her shoulder, walked out of the door.


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25 comments:

:) said...

but what happened to him? i'm dying to know...

dazedandconfused said...

Don't mean to be irritating, but why the part of her 'rinsing the glass clean', at the end?

Was it because she didn't want it to be known that she had been back?

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

All good things begin with shoes! Enjoyed this a great deal.

Szerelem said...

very nice!!
would love to know what he had to say though. It also reminded me why travelling alone can be so much fun...

Szerelem said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tabula Rasa said...

she didn't have to walk out, did she? she could have just kept it all.

this happened to me in christchurch earlier this year, btw. all but the last 98% of it.

AJ said...

brilliant , but cant help join the clamor for knowing what happened to the mysterious husband.. a new visitor, but one who will be back more often :)

Swathi said...

hmm...perhaps he would be listed in the 'Missing Persons' list?

noname said...

Nice story. I can't help wondering what happened to him.

Anonymous said...

really enjoyed this one.

Gauravonomics said...

@ Shoefiend: ROTFL!

@ Falstaff: Love your stories. The perfect companion piece here, of course, would be the same story from the husband's perspective.

@ Dazed & Confused: I'm speculating that the rinsing the glass clean is symbolic of making a clean start. Falstaff?

harry said...

Very nice!

Falstaff said...

:) / szerelem / aj / noname: Honestly, I have no idea. He just disappeared. Will let you know if I hear anything.

d&c / gaurav: Could be to hide the fact that she'd come back. Could be because it was a symbolic clean start. Or could be simply habit, a last unthinking act of domesticity before she leaves the house forever. Who knows?

shoe-fiend: Thanks. Yes, figured you'd relate to the shoes bit.

tr: Well, that's assuming he wouldn't have showed up the next day. Maybe she just felt the risk wasn't worth taking.

swathi: could be. Or maybe he's had her declared missing and is now spending an extra couple of days in the foreign city with his mistress.

anon / harry: thanks

Anonymous said...

Would like to know how long she enjoys her new found freedom...
Sometimes, jailed birds do return to their prison, for sheer want of familiarity.

Rajesh J Advani said...

Agree with Gaurav. Would love to read the same story from the guy's perspective.

Kusum Rohra said...

This is so good. Ah! Never before have I felt so bad at not being able to say the right words.

I wish I could write the kind of praise this extremely well written story deserves.

It was thrilling to be able to pick exactly the dishes she wanted, without having to worry about getting something that he might like to share, thrilling to be the one tasting the wine to see if it was good, thrilling to be the one handing out the credit card at the end.

Lovely.

Kusum Rohra said...

The best part of the story is she still doesn't know what happened to him. Frankly, I don't want to know what happened to him, and I feel neither would she.

Jamie said...

Dying to know the ending! Will be checking back!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post...so how does it end?
As i was reading it, it just made me think about relationships ... how once you slow down (for whatever reason), you could lose your dear ones.

n said...

It is wonderful how the biggest adventure of her life begins with something so simple like him walking ahead, and the little spark of rebellion grows into something bigger.
Great writing, I never want to know what happened to him.

neoe said...

So she travelled back without her passport?

Nithya said...

Interesting story. It felt a bit long winded though. Good illustration of how most often small things trigger significant decisions in life. Couldn't help but wonder what the wife would have done if she had found her husband at home?!

pseudobong said...

you just confirmed what i long suspected-the best vacations are taken alone...

yadbhavishya said...

engrossing...!

Methinks the best stories are left for the reader to conjure up.

mk said...

I don't get the comments! The story for me, held an escalating sense of disaster-it build up to the cold terror of that dark still house in the end. And NO it cant be my subjectivity(aaargh!!), I walk alone most times and like it.And then those comments!
Is it me? Is it me? Is it me? I think and go out and narrate it some people. One woman broke out in goose bumps!(she's a chronic single too, so..)See the story is scary. I thought she will gradually come
unanchored in her head-forget her whereabouts, name etc amidst an increasing sense of kafkaesque (?) unreality. I thought you were briging about a gradual getting lost in the city, then getting lost in your head kind of scenario.
Compelling read.Deft your (her) handling of the counter voices of trouble and self-pacification-makes for plausibility(just about). And ofcourse the reader expects the hubby to pop his sunny head in at every turn and disappointed each time, looks for him harder yet. Clever.