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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Journeying Home

B looks at me as she takes a sip of her espresso. "You didn't have to do this," she says.

I respond, playing dumb, but really playing for time. "What? Buy my friend a coffee?"

B looks about her person as though trying to find something to throw at me, although an exasperated look from her suffices. "Bring me to the airport mister! Earth-calling-Ali! Are you out there?"

I grin as a few passers-by look over at us. "Barely. Don't mention it." I stare up at the structure's roof, which seems to float, supported by a space frame of inverted-pyramid roof trusses, creating the impression of a stylised swan in flight. "I've always liked Stansted Airport. It's so bright and full of light."

"Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn't thank you. Maybe you've just brought me to make sure I go back."

"Now, why would I do that? We've all been enjoying your company far too much, B."

"Hmmph!"

"Why do airports always make you so moody?"

B sticks out her tongue. "It's not the airports themselves, it's what they stand for. Departure."

"They stand for reunion, too. You should be happy, you're going back home."

"I'd be happier if you were coming with me."

"Are you grumpy today because I refused your offer of a plane ticket back to Cyprus?"

"No," she grins. "I know you secretly bought a plane ticket just in case your dad's health got worse."

I look genuinely surprised. "Now, how on earth did you find that out?"

"We women have our ways and means," she says ominously.

I don't really want to pry further, but my brain clicks a piece of information into place and I discover B's secret source for myself. The only person who knew was Mum, so she could let me know if a change of plan was necessary. Thankfully, Dad's health had made a speedy recovery. "Have you been speaking to my parents again?"

She smoothly avoids answering my question. "Why don't you come with me? Last chance!"

I take a sip of my coffee. "I asked my father if he wanted me to return, and his response was I didn't give you wings so I could clip them."

We both fall silent for a moment.

"You want to know another truth?"

"Always, B. You know that."

"It's because the Letters to B are going to stop again!"

"But B, posts stop when there is nothing further to say. I can't make things up, y'know. You make yourself sound like a ventriloquist's dummy I pop out of a suitcase when I feel I like it, B."

"Of course not," she laughs. "You're my dummy. I make the posts happen Mister!"

I laugh as loudly as her. "Absolutely."

We fall silent again.

B suddenly says, "So your plans for Christmas are still on then?"

I nod. "I'm booked at the Samaritans."

"Why do you want to waste your time on drunks and goodness knows what else when you should be partying?"

"If someone had asked Jesus or Mohammed how they'd want to spend Christmas or Ramadan it would be with those less fortunate than ourselves, wouldn't they?"

"Are you vying for the position of prophet then?"

"No, just spending a person's birthday as he would have wished it. Call it a mark of respect."

B blows me a big raspberry. "Someone should tell you charity begins at home!"

"Well it's funny you should say that. And then I have another women's charity project I might help out in Northampton."

"Please tell me you're going to write another Little Miss?"

"Yes and no. I'm going to write, but not a romance and not a book, but a film this time. I might write the script and my nephew will film it."

"About?"

I tap my nose and try to look mysterious. "Let that be a secret for now."

B looks at me. "Sometimes it is so hard to love you. You give so little away of yourself, you're so goddamn restrained, but do you know why we love you? Because you never ask us to love you, never ask of ourselves what you wouldn't ask of yourself."

"Wowzer. Where did that suddenly come from? Are you going to try and get me to play ten questions again?"

B looks at me, really looks into me and sees what only those of us that have the benefit of years of friendship can see. "Nope, I'm just telling you I'll always have your corner. No matter what. Your book Little Miss taught me that."

"Actually B, you taught me that. I just put it into my book."

We fall silent for a third time. If it wasn't for our familiarity the silences would be uncomfortable, but for me B is comfort with a capital C.

"Don't worry, Ali. I'll keep an eye on your parents. It'll be like you never left. Now, how about one more coffee for the road?"

"You don't have to do that," I say.

"What buy my friend a coffee?" B's face is hidden as she looks in her purse for some money.

And in front of everyone I stand up and walk over to her to give her the biggest hug I can.

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