Last days in August
The tarmac heats the rubber soles of my boots. It’s hotter here than I had expected it to be. At home, the rain is merciless. I said goodbye to my life in Ireland through grimy windows and stolen strolls through the spitting rain.
Saying goodbye to Galway was both painful and cathartic. My relationship is falling apart. Everything feels very real and permanent. I feel as if the decisions I am making now will affect me for the rest of my life.
Arriving in France. This moment isn’t sitting right. There is a clanging inside. This feels like running.
The queue files into the tiny airport. A rush of uncomfortable heat greets me as I step into the room.
My first view of the town is blinding.
The Old Port beats rhythmically like a salty heart. When the tide is out, the boats sit still on the ground, scraping the bottom of the basin. The beautiful vessels reveal their disintegrating underbellies to us as we walk by the edge of the water. This summons a discomfort in me that I cannot explain. It seems wrong.
Restaurants, ice cream parlours and bakeries line the square. The Three Towers are beautiful at first sight, but their beauty depreciates with every glance. Their stone exteriors are so cold.
The town is beautiful but not beautiful enough. The sun reflects off the white stone pavements and makes it impossible for me to walk without shielding my eyes from its glare.
By the ocean
I have never lived so close to the sea in my life. It is quite literally on my doorstep.
I watch this new horizon and try and familiarise myself with its foreign shades. I breathe in its scent.
Nathan dips his feet into the sea.
His screams are audible to the old French couple who pass us by. They wonder why we sound so different when we cry out in pain.
Behind the glass
I ask the woman behind the counter for the bottle of water. She frowns at me.
Je prends une bouteille d’eau, s’il vous plait.
I can’t quite get my lips and tongue around ‘bouteille’. She produces a bottle of water from behind the counter and sniggers while ringing up the cash register. Her accent is thick with sarcasm.
‘You know we speak Eeenglish here, right?’
The prepacked sandwiches look dry and colourless, but I look at them as if they are the most interesting thing that I have seen all day.
An apartment on Rue des Merciers
Dad meets me on the street and lets me in through the front door. They are staying over a shop that sells an exclusive mix of fancy pens, knives, and cigarettes. The French Tabac.
I would have walked past the door only for Dad was waiting for me when I rounded the corner. It opens into a long dim hallway which ends at a swirling staircase of exposed brick.
I think this is the nicest building I have ever been inside of that wasn’t some sort of museum or gallery. Seeing Dad’s back winding round the tight corners in front of me as we climb to the top of the tower feels a dream come true.
Mam waits at the table just inside the door, playing games on her phone.
T’es fraiche, madame…
Hot weather prevails. I am not feeling well. I think it is my time of the month. I know for sure that I feel homicidal.
Mam and Dad are back in the apartment. I am at the Market down the street. Looking at all the bright colours, imagining the waxiness of the sumptuous, sunny lemons, seems to be reviving me a little. Someone is cooking a lentil dahl at a nearby stall and the scent of coriander makes me salivate.
Perhaps today is not all lost.
A man steps in front of me and cuts off my view of the stalls. He is old.
Donne-moi ton 07, he slurs at me. His breath is disgusting.
He points at my phone and solicits me again for my phone number. He puts his hand out to touch me.
I look around at the crowded market. No one moves to help me.
No one has even noticed.
I feel like I have swallowed a glass of nails. Mam thinks that my tear ducts are probably swollen and that is why it hurts to open my eyes. I feel like someone has removed them and replaced them with a new pair that is two sizes too big.
It hurts to be and know he is being, somewhere, without me.
It hurts to be alone.
It sears my skin to think that he could be with someone else right now and that I gave him the freedom to do so.
The Cathedral seems peaceful from the outside, but I know better than that.
We visited here yesterday. The beggar that accosted me is sitting outside, shaking a takeaway cup at every person that enters and leaves through the heavy cathedral doors.
I don’t know why I came back to this place. I just feel most comfortable in this part of the city. No one looks as if they want to steal from me here. No one stares. Well, apart from the begging man in his designer leather jacket.
My bus is leaving in an hour. Time to find the station.
I throw my apple butt into a city bin and turn my back on the red brick face of Saint Sernin.
The city heaves a sigh and pulls me into its gaping mouth.
The entirety of the beach has turned to look at me. About 30 tourists, of all nationalities, have heard my screams.
Vera is trying to contain her laughter. She has my shoes in her hand.
I look down at my bottom half, that the sea just tried to take away. My skirt is pasted to my skin and I can feel the Atlantic weighing me down.
I turn and run, and she tries to take me out a second time.
Land down under
The white jeep is parked just outside the front door of the hostel.
It rocks front to back at a steady rhythm.
The night is hot, and the red wine has dulled my senses, but I arrive there eventually. The two Australian men, our new friends, holler like they cannot believe their luck.
I feel uncomfortable but I do not know why. Rural Ireland invented and perfected the art of car sex. Pulled in on the side of the road, down a deserted country lane. Maybe this is just too blatant for my Celtic tolerance.
Have some class Portugal.
I wonder which of the hypersexual European boys staying in the hostel is the lucky one in the car. I wonder if he is sleeping above my head tonight. I wonder who the unlucky girl is.
Line N763 Lisboa à Bilbao
We are crossing the border between Portugal and Spain. The man in the seat in front of me is taking another phone call. That makes 12 since we left Lisbon. I am actively counting because he is keeping me awake with his incessant shouting. I doubt that world leaders call each other at this upsetting rate.
The charger port by my seat is not working, and my phone died hours ago. I think we have another six hours to go until we reach Bilbao.
I look out the window and try to discern the different shades of dark. I try to imagine the landscape that I am crossing. There is a sadness in not knowing its true face. More black memories.
I only see my face in the cold glass. I see the tears that will come to fall with the next downpour.
The slice of Quiche Lorraine has been demolished and only a few crumbs sit, left behind, on the wooden board.
The dregs of the coffee I had an hour ago are drying up and I can see that the instant powder is starting to congeal.
The éclair wrapper has been licked clean.
The women at the counter smiles as I wrap my scarf around me and push myself out from under my lunch.
She tries to disguise her laughter when I order a pain au beurre à emporter.
There is that familiar hunger. Returning.
Café de la Paix
Mam’s voice come loud through the speaker of my phone.
Is it that lovely café with the seats outside the door?
I nod, and then answer out loud.
My coffee is almost finished. I better keep drinking it or it will be cold by the time I hang up. A book is turned cover up on the table, holding my place. I am in Southern Italy during the 40’s and the I am cycling down dusty lanes to meet my friends in the next town over. The bike feels great between my legs.
How are you feeling now?
I tell her the truth. I feel better. I want to enjoy myself. I want to forget the sadness of the past months.
I want to live again.
Irish pubs abroad
Irish pubs abroad make me homesick, but they also make me want to never go back home ever again.
Waking up in darkness
I know before I open my eyes that this is not my bed. The afternoon light bleeds through a window at an unfamiliar angle.
I put my hands out. The bed is bigger.
I stretch myself further and feel the flesh of another person beside me.
I look down. I am naked. I do not remember taking off my clothes. I do not remember saying that I wanted to take them off.
I do not want to open my eyes anymore.
Two mornings after
I had hoped there would be a woman working in this pharmacy. To my dismay, there is only one grey haired man behind the counter. He lifts his chin at me as I enter the small shop.
I can feel my cheeks starting to heat up.
In this world, one does not need to translate the shames of a woman into the local tongue. We wear it as a badge of our own dishonour. It is a mark freely given out, and we spend a lifetime trying to rub it away.
I ask for the morning after pill in my best French accent. If I were in the campus pharmacy at home, I would have to answer a hundred and one detailed questions. I repeat rehearsed sentences in my head.
As soon as he understands what I have said, he goes into the back. He returns promptly and throws a little pink cardboard box down on the counter, ringing me up for a fiver.
I hug my friends one by one. Their hard bodies tell me they will miss me.
I wish they could have known a different version of this girl.
I step up onto the bus.
I look back only at the clocktower, that sits on top of the train station. I try to channel all my sadness into something pure and concrete.
I hold the little box of it in my palm.
Stretching on my imaginary tiptoes, I place it at the top of the tower, in behind the clock’s moon face.
I hope to never feel its hard edges again. To never know its weight in my pocket and its sharp corners against the soft skin of my thigh.
Back to the familiar cobblestones. Back to the cold rain.
Back to Galway.
Learn more about Samantha on the Contributors page.