You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #37 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.
The prompt for this podcast is “I was out for an early morning stroll when…” There was also a photograph by fellow writer, Matthew Munson that spurred the prompt. You can see it here.
* * * *
I walk briskly pulling my suitcase behind me when a clicking noise halts my steps. A shiver runs through me, the kind that lingers until you discover the source of the sound. I turn around and see no one. The empty street is dark and foggy. I lower the volume on my Sony Walkman, maybe it’s the faulty cassette inside. I breathe a bit easier.
Cat Stevens singing “Wild World” was my theme song while I traveled Asia and discovered the world he sung about. The lyrics rang in my ears …
“ … Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world
I’ll always remember you like a child, girl …”
I was a child really, nineteen, uncultured, naïve.
I bought the tape at an outdoor market in Bali. The quality wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible, considering it was a knock-off. Besides, what could I expect for less than 1500 Rupiah—the equivalent of ten cents Canadian.
Now, here I was—six months later, leaving Rotterdam to fly back home. It’s February and it’s cold, and my skin still thirsts for the humidity of the tropics.
* * * *
I met Elise in Bali at an open market, which sold everything from scarves to kites to kitchenware. I was looking for music, and she was browsing for souvenirs on her last day before returning home.
We hit it off immediately. She was older then me, at least twenty years older, but that didn’t matter. I liked her candor, her experience, her accent. She was talented with languages, speaking five of them fluently, even though she said English was not her best. Before she left to catch her plane, she made me promise to visit her in Rotterdam if I stopped in Europe before returning home. I did promise her, though I had no intention of going to Europe.
How things changed.
I met a Dutch businessman shortly thereafter in Thailand, fell hard for him. He was married, but that didn’t stop me. The brief affair lasted less than two days, but I promised to meet him on the way home. Of course, I could not stay with him, so I thought of Elise, discovered Rotterdam wasn’t that far by train from Amsterdam. I could use her home as my base for seeing the sights and planning meetings with my Dutchman. It seemed a good idea, selfish as it was, but I didn’t have money for a hotel. I convinced myself Elise was happy to offer her home to me, and she was.
I didn’t know why at the time, now I do.
Today, I leave Elise because I cannot reciprocate her feelings. She made her intentions known by joining me in the shower the third night I stayed with her. It shocked me, not in the way it would if a man did it. It wasn’t fear or repulsion, but indifference. As much as I wanted to experience the wild world, it did not extend to my sexuality.
“But how do you know if you don’t try?” she asked me.
“I like you Elise, but I’m not attracted to you,” I said, in as reassuring a tone as I could, with both of us lying naked next to one another.
“You are so young, you know so little,” she said.
“I like men,” I said.
She stroked my face. “Then you must leave,” she said. “I cannot have you here anymore.”
I pleaded with my eyes. “May I at least stay until morning?”
“Yes, but I want you gone by the time I wake up.”
She left me without saying another word. A part of me almost wanted to change my mind … but no. I got up and checked the schedule for the earliest train heading into Amsterdam.
* * * *
I rewind the tape and start listening to “Wild World” again. I think about how nice it will be to see my family after traveling for almost two years. Mom will be surprised to see me, especially since she wasn’t expecting me for another two weeks.
I hear the rumble of my suitcase wheels as they roll over the cobblestones. I adjust my headphones and turn the volume up.
The hazy darkness of dawn makes it difficult to see the street names. I see none of the familiar markers from the last couple of days of walking in this neighborhood. Where was the coffee shop? I must have made a wrong turn. I stop to fumble in my backpack for a map. Maybe I can make my way to a well-lit area and get my bearings.
There’s that clicking sound again, only now it’s getting louder, more like clackety clack, clackety clack, clackety clack. I look down at my feet and realize I’m standing on tracks.
Where am I?
The horn blows. I turn around and the bright light of the train blinds me.
“… Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world
I’ll always remember you like a child, girl.”
Thank you for reading. ♥
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