Boats Against the Current

In a small Café on the bustling main street, under the slowly diminishing glow of the summer sun, James sat, quietly observing the streams of people walking by as they  made their way through their apparently busy lives; the men in their casual clothes, the women in various outfits ranging from those long, flowing summer dresses which he loved so much to the short, far too short, shorts which often made him blush in embarrassment for their owners (which isn’t to say that he looked away, no, quite the reverse in fact) as they marched along;  their  heads held high, their intentions never varying, making their way through life with a determination and certainty which James couldn’t grasp no matter how hard he tried even though he really did, try; filling in the details of their day in his mind; creating husbands, lovers, important business meetings even murderous plots, making these stories, these guesses, come alive as he sipped, ever so carefully, on the bitter short black which he had recently ordered from the scowling  barista so that he could wait, with minimal judgement, at one of rickety tables for his friend Robert. Robert, who was always late but who James found to be a decent sort of man, despite his rather lax attitude towards timekeeping, because of his other redeeming qualities, such as his openness to new ideas – a particular trait which James hoped to capitalise on now, given that he was in fact going to propose a trip to Robert, a trip that would entail him setting his current life aside for a little while, if he did in fact say yes, and going out into the world in the search for adventure, for excitement, for new stories to tell, for a feeling of joy which James, at least recently, had found was missing from his life.

Finally he saw Rob approach, making his way through the crowd, using his height and size to drive forwards, looking as always like a bull among sheep- his soft brown leather jacket adding to the illusion-a tidal wave of determination, of forward momentum; a juggernaut come to dislodge him from his mundane life and carry him forwards, ever forwards, into a glimmering future full of possibilities for adventure.

Yet when Robert sat in front of James, his small wicker chair squeaking underneath him as he shifted his weight, looking larger than life in his small surroundings,  he brought with him a feeling of reticence, of reserve; he carried with him an aura of menace – a cloud ready to open and extinguish James’ dream’s for change – his face bore a prescient sadness, as if he could see the enthusiasm welling up in James in the knowledge that he would have to be the one to put an end to another of his follies. This look etched itself deeper on his features as James began to explain his plan for them both to leave their quiet lives and set out on a monumental journey in which they would fly up, up into the cold wilderness of Alaska, rent a car and slowly meander their way down through changing landscapes, moving vistas, harsh deserts and luscious forests, until they reached the bottom of the world down in the Terra del Fuego where they would be born again, phoenixes rising from their journey, new men ready to take on the world and win, no matter what happened next.

“James” Robert then began, slowly, trying to detach his old friend from his reveries in the kindest way he could. “You know there was a time when I would have followed you anywhere, but this plan of yours… Well it’s great and all…but… well it just can’t happen. You know that right? We have lives that we just can’t abandon. I have Lucy now. Remember Lucy? I just can’t walk away. Not anymore, and that’s what you’re looking for- an excuse to walk away from your life here.”

James knew as Robert continued his explanation – he had known as soon as Robert had sat down opposite him, without the old glint in his eyes – that his journey wouldn’t take place, that he was inexorably bound to this life he now found himself in, that this bustling city would continue to be his home and that his adventure would have to be postponed once more. He looked out at the people in the street and saw himself as one of them, being shepherded inexorably forward towards the horizon; taking part in an endless march towards the one ultimate and all-encompassing destination, only held back by wisps of memory and dreams too easily forgotten.

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