Thursday, 31 July 2014

Short Story - The Unlikely Roadtrip

Sighing, I log onto ‘’, I’ve never actually booked one of their long term blind dates, I don’t think I’ve got the courage. I only signed up last New Year’s Eve as an attempt to quench my loneliness and find a friend, whether for a holiday or for life, I’m not quite sure. My name’s Afia Makena Obama by the way. And before you ask, no, I’m not related to Barack Obama, in fact, I’ve never even been anywhere near America.

Scrolling down the list of road trips available, I come across one that catches my eye. England to Germany. I’ve always wanted to go to Germany but I can’t afford it, the only way I can ever foresee leaving England is if I win the lottery, and that’s even more improbable than digging up some dinosaur bones. I’m a rather unsuccessful archaeologist and I’ve been considering finding a different job for a while, but every time I approach my manager, I find some excuse to turn and walk away as fast as my stumpy legs can carry me. As unlikely as winning the lottery or discovering dinosaurs may be, going on this road trip is much more feasible as it’s heavily subsidised. The website knows most people won’t ever take on the challenge of travelling hundreds of miles with a person that they could turn out to hate, so the company can afford to offer hire cars and hotels for extremely low prices.

An hour of hesitation later and I’m already starting to regret my decision. I booked it. I booked the blind road trip and I’m getting the hire car next week on Tuesday. I have to drive it to Chiswick and pick up my blind ‘date’ for possibly the most excruciating holiday I’ve ever been on. Although that would be easy as I’ve never actually been on holiday.

It’s the big day and I’m driving the Nissan Beetle feeling a bit stupid. I want to put a notice in the rear window saying, “I didn’t choose this car, please don’t judge me.” I’d rather have no car than this one but I suppose walking from Hackney to Chiswick with my suitcase might not be a good idea.

I arrive at my date’s house and am surprised to find myself all in one piece. I was shaking all the way here and had to stop a few times in case of an accident. I swing my legs out of the car door and stand up, holding on to the frame for support. “Left, right, left, right,” I have to force myself to walk down the path of what appears to be the incredible hulk, in house form. My flat doesn’t have a patch on this mansion. I grasp the brass knocker and tentatively tap the imposing front door. A tall, lanky looking man opens it and I force a smile. I knew this was a mistake, already I can see that we have nothing in common. “Good morning, I’m Jeffrey Carlyle, what is your name?” Oh dear. He’s going to think I’m ‘common’. “Erm, I’m, Afia.”

“And your last name?”

“Oh, silly me, I’m Afia Makena Obama. And before you ask, no, I’m not related to Barack Obama.” I laugh but he clearly doesn’t get the joke. “I never said you were associated with the American President, what a preposterous notion.” His brow creases into a frown and I realise it’s my turn to speak. “Don’t worry, it was just a joke … Anyway, are you ready to go?”

“Well, yes I suppose I am, although I can’t say I’m very much looking forward to this trip. I usually prefer to fly when I go to Germany on business.” He picks up his smart, black bag and leads the way out of the door. I laugh nervously as we approach the car which looks even more out of place than it did when I arrived. “I promise I didn’t choose it,” I smile, “I hope your bag will fit in.”

“Just about,” he grimaces as he shoves it into the boot and then opens the passenger door to stoop down into his seat. I slip easily into mine and we set off on what is probably going to be the road trip from hell.

I find myself lost for words, so I decide to turn on the radio. Though, this causes more trouble than it’s worth as ‘Kerrang!’ clearly isn’t his cup of tea. “So, what music do you like?” I enquire, hoping for some harmless chit chat as I turn down the volume of the heavy metal background music. “Well, as a famous pianist, I’m more involved with classical and baroque music, although I do veer into the romantic era when I get the chance.” I was surprised by his reference to fame as I’d never heard of him before now. “Well-known, are you? What kind of concerts … erm, you know … music things do you do?” I was out of my depth. “I completed the Bachelor of Music course at the Royal College of Music in London and presently I’m travelling all over the world for films.” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by films if he’s a pianist and not an actor but for once he clearly sensed my emotions and carried on with his monologue, “I’m the hands of characters in films if there’s any piano playing, such as Tom Selznick, the key character in Grand Piano; it was released in Spain in 2013. The film Shine, in which I played the hands of David Helfgott, was released in 1996 in Australia.”

“Oh, cool, so you’re doing well for yourself then,” I grin and he appears to stifle a sneeze. However, that could have been his attempt at a smile. “So whereabouts are you from?” I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel now for ideas of conversation topics; all I’ve got to do is keep this up until we reach Germany. As he starts to tell me about his house hunting adventures, I begin to zone out, until I hear about his obvious wealth, “I was born in Chiswick and when I began to earn large sums of money as a pianist, I purchased the house adjacent to my parents’ so that I could help them when they reached old age. How about you?” I was taken aback by his interest in my life but I started to tell him what some may call a brief life story. I’d never confided in anyone like this before, but to be honest, it was a relief.

I spoke of being born in Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, and my parents dying of starvation whilst trying to keep me alive; of my life in an orphanage until I was 20, then moving to Hackney, England. I informed Jeffrey of my studies on the History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS, University of London and how I developed an interest for archaeology. I told him about my fruitless search when I undertook the task of involving myself in an archaeological dig in Shoreditch Park, Hackney in 2006. I wasn’t sure if I was boring him with all these facts, but I certainly knew it was filling the silent void between us.

The sat nav interrupted my train of thought and I realised we had made it to Folkestone. Surprisingly, the drive to the Eurotunnel hadn’t been as excruciating as I first imagined it would be. My right foot slid over to the accelerator pedal as we inched forward into the train. I saw Jeffrey open his mouth to speak but shut it again when he noticed me looking. “Were you going to say something?” I kept my eyes on the queue as I spoke. “I was pondering whether to remark on your autobiographical speech or not.” I laughed, “Sorry, did I bore you?”

“No, not at all. In fact, sympathy was more at the forefront of my mind than mockery.”

“Why?” I was puzzled, why would anyone feel sorry for me? He explained, “You have no family, an unsuccessful job and are living in a dump.” His bluntness felt like a punch in the stomach, “When you put it like that,” I replied, “I suppose my life is pretty rubbish compared to yours.”

Some hours later and we were on the French motorway, with Calais a little way behind us. Jeffrey fell asleep when we were in the tunnel and I’ve got to admit, he is quite good looking. His hair’s blonde and brown all at the same time, yet each strand is individually visible. His eyes are turquoise, veering more into blue than green, and the rest of his face is quite pale. He looked so innocent sitting there, the air conditioning playing with his hair.

He seemed to have fully woken up and started saying, “I forgot to mention how much I admired your dress when I originally saw you,” he smiled kindly as he looked at me and I felt myself blushing. “Thanks,” I shuffled around in my seat as I felt his gaze still on me.

“I’m enjoying this trip more than I thought I would,” he began, “In fact, I think you’re more my kind of girl than I first imagined.” I was shocked, I knew I liked him and he clearly liked me, but I hadn’t ever expected him to say it first. “Despite all the odds, I think I don’t mind you either,” I replied. We both sat awkwardly for a bit until we reached the border to Germany and busied ourselves in the passport checking.

It was late evening now and we had come off the autobahn in Germany and were driving through some smaller streets, trying to find our hotel for the night. However, it was proving to be more of a difficult task than we had expected as the roads were poorly lit and I had no idea what our hotel looked like.

“There!” I jumped at Jeffrey’s exclamation and slammed on the brakes. “What on earth was that for?” I shouted. “Sorry, I just saw the hotel on the right. Look … it’s really … not German.” He was right, it looked like any other English ‘Holiday Inn’ but I didn’t care; we’d made it. 

“I’ve just thought of something,” Jeffrey said as he helped me with my suitcase up to the reception desk, “Do you want to come to a concert I’m playing in after this trip’s over?”

“Sure, that sounds great,” I was trying to sound cool but inside I was dancing and shouting, ‘I have a date! Yes!’ As nonchalantly as I could I enquired, “So where are you playing?”

“Oh, at the Royal Festival Hall,” he said it as if it was nothing, but it sounded really posh. What was I going to wear? Oh dear, I’d already fallen into the trap of trying to impress him, I just needed to calm down and think about whale music … Forget the whale music, that really didn’t help. Instead, I casually asked, “By the way, when is the concert?”

“A fortnight after we get back to England.”

“Fine. Ok. Yes. That’s great.” I was flustered and couldn’t quite think straight so I escaped by heading over to the reception desk and checking us into the hotel. “Night then,” I smiled as I pressed the button for the lift since my room was on the fourth floor and I certainly wasn’t going to bump my case up all those stairs. “Good night Afia, I’ve really enjoyed the journey, thank you. I’ll see you in the morning for some German sightseeing.” Jeffrey waved as he walked off down the corridor.

Sitting at breakfast the next morning, I started to daydream. Jeffrey and I could buy a house together in Richmond, a piano for him and a garden for me should suffice. His parents might take a little while adjusting to him not living next door to them and to me being with him a lot of the time but I’m sure I could change their minds…

“Morning Afia, so what do you want to do today?” Startled, my head whipped round so that I was looking up at Jeffrey. “Sorry, did I scare you? I must admit, you did seem to be in a world of your own.” He chuckled to himself as he sat down opposite me, “I was thinking to myself last night, if we … I mean I, have a child, I won’t be able to travel so much, so I should make the most of it whilst I can.” I heard his mistake and it made me smile, maybe my daydreams weren’t as far away from reality as I thought.

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