I Love to Write

The world is breathless in the moments before take-off. Rushing through the airport, legs aching, lungs burning, sweating — the early morning, the endless packing and unpacking. It all fades into the hum of the engines. This monster of metal and fuel roars like a dragon, pushing away from the earth with all its might, and I feel that fear again. The delicious susurrus that happens when a land-bound creature becomes airborne — gravity becomes unbearable, the sky and stone fight, then the great wings catch the air and it fades, leaving nothing but the crescent mark of finger nails in soft palms.

I am Nemo, no-one’s child, and I live in the spaces between. Between days, between moments, between lives — that’s why I love to write. To catch the best moments like tiny birds and feel their rapid heartbeat under my fingers is the truest expression of joy. And what a joy this moment is after so long, trapped in one place like an animal in a cage. The mountains below make the land look well-loved and lived in. Like a great hand has reached down from the sky and gathered fistfuls of the red-brown earth, dragging them closer to the heavens.

The people around me are infused with a sense of purpose, they know where they are going and why. They have a plan. Something I’ve never been very good at. But don’t they look happy, I ask myself as the rhythmic tapping of my fingers becomes soothingly regular,

“You’re a writer?” The voice is high and uncertain; his face is younger even than it sounds.

“I am.”

“What do you write about?” He’s fidgeting, nervous,

“Traveling, and the people I meet as I go.” The statement always prompts interest, but not from him. He seems nervous, timid even, as he folds his long body in on itself, “you’re traveling alone?”

“Yes. I was meant to… someone else was meant to be with me. But I’m on my way home, now.”

“Is this the first time you’ve traveled by yourself?”


“That’s wonderful… to be able to sink into a city without anyone to pull you back. It’s the best thing in the world, you meet more people when you travel alone.” His curiosity starts to outweigh his nerves. The long limbs relax a little, there’s a light smile on his face. I miss that youthful nervousness. I’ll never be able to step out alone for the first time again — but I can enjoy his joy. “Maybe you could tell me what was like to be off on your own for the first time? I would love to write about your grand adventure.” He blushes like a little boy, and it’s beautiful.

“Ok.” He takes a slow breath and begins to speak.


He had worked since the age of 16, stagnated — then he turned 20 and realized he had done nothing he wanted to do. He woke one morning, turned to his best friend, and asked what they could do about it, and he suggested traveling. It was a pretty dream that they quickly realized they couldn’t fulfill. For all the hours they worked, there was no money to spare. Singing in pubs and second-rate clubs was hardly the trip to stardom and financial freedom he had hoped for. Until he started to write his own songs — he liked the feel of pen on paper, more than anything, then he realized that he was good at it. Really good at it. The pubs started to become full, and people started to ask for lessons. He loved teaching the kids more than the singing, but the writing was the best of all.

Not that it was anything like her writing, he says quickly, pushing his glasses up his nose.

They saved, working harder than before, and piled up a nice little pot of savings. Then it happened, he sold a song to a big performer. A big one. Suddenly they could afford to go anywhere they wanted. Packing had been a tender affair — his mother was not happy to hear how long they would be away. Nor to hear that he had left his job, but excitement was pulling him on and on and on… Until it wasn’t.

His best friend left, with his half of the savings, and tried to make off with the bookings as well — he still wanted to travel, but he wanted to take someone else. A sudden flash defiance made him dig his heart in. Thankfully, the bookings were mostly in his name, on his cards. So he had a three month holiday for two to take alone.

At every turn the re-planning was thorny and difficult. He had to explain over and over why he didn’t need this thing or that ticket. Then the plane took off and it all fell away, all the anger, the frustration — he had been like a child in wonder when they broke above the clouds. All of heaven laid out like a fluffy blanket, lit up gold and pink, it was enough to make a believer out of him, even though he had been a staunch atheist before stepping onto the plane. The dry air, the shuddering, the bright lights and the salty food left him feeling groggy and greasy and bloated. Despite this, stepping out into the warm air was a thrill like no other. The heat had hit him like an open-handed slap. From the snow and ice to the driest heat he could have imagined — it was brutally thrilling.

They had chosen the place for this novelty, he and his best friend, not for anything else. The city he landed in was of no real interest to anyone who wasn’t on business — it was simply alien to him. That was without a doubt the best thing about those first few weeks. Even the smallest feature of the landscape made him glad and so he forgot about his troubles, which was wonderful, even though it was fleeting. As he moved north, slowly, the heat behind him seemed to suck those troubles dry. They fell away, and by the time he was two months in he no longer felt the pain at all.

Leaving had not been an adventure, though it was wonderful and maddening, and beautiful. Going home was the adventure. Now he was sitting on the plane, he felt he would return to his home new and raw to the old sights. He would get to discover that familiar place as a new one, with the eyes of a visitor. It had set him to trembling in the root of his being, but it was a happy tremble. When he saw his hometown with the eyes of a traveler, the final page would be turned.


“I feel like I’ll see it all new,” he says at the end, with a shy laugh, and sighs in contentment. He pushes one long leg out into the aisle and groans — this space is too small for his hopes, his future, and, of course, he himself. I can see it now, the wonderment in his eyes. I can see it can catch it, but putting it down into words will be harder. It’s one of the real challenges of the craft — one that I love beyond all measure.

“It sounds wonderful,” I tell him, “you can see what I write about this on my blog, if you like.” He takes the business card almost perfunctorily, then his eyes flick over my name,

“Oh my God, I love your blog. I follow it already — we… I used your guides to plan half of the trip!” It’s the kind of praise I hear often, but I never really get used to it. I demur with a small wave of the hand,

“Thank you, you’re too kind.”

“No, I mean it. There’s something about the way you write — it’s like you can actually capture moments in the page. I love it.”

The seatbelt sign engages and we smile shyly at each other. Sweet moments. Ears crackle and pop, people huff and sigh. So strange how their patience ends when the finish line is close enough to taste. Bump, shudder, hiss — the feel and sounds of a journey about to begin. No need for checked baggage — I learned to pack light a long time ago, and have found that there is little that is necessary that can’t fit into a cleverly packed hiking bag. So I fly past the others and out into the city as if running to the arms of a lover. Serendipity sees a taxi to me before I have had time to stop, and when I throw myself into the back of it the driver grins,

“Busy day ahead?”

“Busy few weeks,” I can feel it already, the surge of creative energy and the need to fly into the bustle. He nods and then reaches to start the meter. In the rear view mirror, his eyes are a piercing green and pretty. They look younger than his sunburned face,

“Then we better get you moving, girl, where to?”

“I…” the hotel is not ready, it won’t be for a few hours. There will be restaurants and bars nearby… but is that the purpose of travel? An idea flicks a silver fin in my mind, “the hotel won’t be ready yet… do you have time?”

“All the time in the world.”

“Show me the places you think are most beautiful?” I ask, and he nods, pulling away from the steel and glass monstrosity that is the airport. Weaving concrete warrens give way and there it is — the city, shining and blinking, and sprawling luxuriantly over the ground. It could be any city, that’s the truth of traveling — it could be any city at all, but it is not. It is this city, and it is a new city, and I envy the boy on the plane for being able to see it as an old friend and a new love all at once. Perhaps I will be able to do that too, one day.

In just a few short moments, however, it is gone and the wide world opens out in colors of blue and green and splashes of red and yellow. It’s glorious. The first places are like this, natural and wild and wonderfully free, and then he turns back to the city while I scribble on my notepad, half snatched words and stick sketches to capture the intimate knowledge of another, given as the most wonderful gift. And the city draws back in until we stop at an eatery so small I might have missed it altogether. He wants to take too little, but I press the proper payment into his hand. Too kind — people are always what they are not expected to be. They are always too kind.

The place is full, almost to bursting, and for a moment I think I’ll be turned away. Until the kindness of a stranger comes in once more — an older woman waves to the head waiter. When he returns he wants to know if I’ll be happy to share a table. I agree, of course, because speaking with a stranger is the best part of any journey. She’s sweet and greying, but full of life. If I was a man I would wax lyrical about how I can see the remnants of faded beauty, but that’s not true. She’s beautiful — she’s elegant and soft and warm, and she shines like a mature rose bush. I bet she has roots that travel to the very center of the earth,

“Well, what would you like?” Her voice is warm and fragrant; her eyes are unbearably kind,

“Oh, please let me treat you — you were kind to let me sit with you.” Her eyebrows rise a little, then she nods graciously. I order platter of locally made breads, followed by a meat stew and some chocolate torte for us both.

“I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, though I am not sure how much I will manage to eat,” she murmurs, “so, you are visiting our lovely city, or you live here?”

“Visiting, for a few days and then I’m moving on.”

“Where to?”

“Many places, I booked one of those long train tours — all the way to Emona.”

“Wonderful,” she widens her eyes and leans forward, “oh I wish I had traveled more when I was your age. I wish I had seen more of the world.” She sighs with smile,

“Why didn’t you?”

“Oh, you know what the world was like back then,” she shakes her head, “I had children, dear, five of them, and I stayed at home while he had his adventures.”

“And now?”

“What about now?” I can see her on a beach somewhere in a glorious silken kaftan. She smiles and sighs, shrugging as if the world is beyond her reach. “You could take the train to Emona with me.” I said wiggling my fingers, and she laughs,

“Perhaps… I did travel far once, for my honeymoon. It was the first time either of us had left the country.”

“Tell me about it?” I tear some bread and press it into the thick, rich olive oil, “I like to write. I could write your story.” For a moment she dithers, lets the bread soak up the oil and vinegar, then she pops it into her mouth and smiles.

“I was so happy…”


Her husband was a soldier — an officer, and when she married him he brought her into a life that wasn’t overly familiar to her. His family wasn’t rich, but they were comfortable — unlike hers, who had always struggled to get by. When they courted, he had brought her fine chocolates and roses, and spoiled her with little gifts. In truth, he had never stopped doing that. Her mother teased that she would be like a spoiled child by thirty if he kept that up, and she probably had been. Probably was still.

His only failing had been his lack of desire for adventure. He saw the most hellish places in the world as he worked, he had said, he wanted only to be at home with her and their children. The honeymoon had been one of the few exceptions to this rule, and it had been a glorious one.

They went to the islands, where the heat was blistering beyond belief when compared to their temperate homeland. When they arrived, however, it was in a howling storm. The kind that rocked the boat and started to throw them around in their seats — when they stepped onto the shore it was into the full force of the storm, eyes narrowed to the wind. They were soaked to the skin long before they got into the hotel lobby. What she had seen of the new land, even in its humbled state, had made her heart sing. The tall, rough bodies trees that swayed and snapped in the wind, sending their brown fruits flying like rocks — they were impeccably beautiful.

The sands they could see from their bedroom window were whipped into dunes and the slate grey sea thrashed the shore like a jealous and vengeful lover. They held each other through the night, and though she tried tied to be brave she had been shaken — it was like the sky itself was angry. Then, eventually, the storm passed. The light rose as if a hand had been taken from over a lamp, letting its brilliance out — the skies went calm and the world was quiet, and when she poked her head from the window the beach was glowing golden. So bright it almost hurt.

Many people had given her advice, telling her that the journey was the very best part of travel, that it was its own reward. Back then, they could not travel by plane all the way. The journey itself had taken two weeks, by boat and train, but she found it was not the best part for her. The huge excitement of the journey was exhausting, but being alone with her husband, really alone for the first time, that was a thrill. She could reach out and run her fingers over his brow without someone tutting. Back then it was as smooth as butter, plump and shining in the heat. They sank, together, into the sultry heat and ate strange sea creatures and fruits and drank the innards of brown nuts from the tall trees.

She was worried she would grow fat, at first, and then she was tired and suddenly aching for home. She wanted to be somewhere that she did not stand out. The journey home seemed long and hard, when she looked at it, but each small portion had its own delicate pleasures. She started to write, catching shadows of the moments in a tiny, leather-bound book that her husband bought for her, pressing the secrets of their loving life into the page with a thick, hastily sharpened pencil. Like little birds these memories fluttered around her for the rest of her life. Every now and then, one landed on her shoulder and sang to her. When they stepped into their home, for the first time, it seemed both smaller and larger than she could have expected, but it felt immediately like home.

She learned everything there was to know about her new city — that had been her adventure for the last 50 years.


“And now my children are grown and my husband is dead,” she says, putting her fork down, rich chocolate still clinging to its tines,

“I am sorry for your loss,” that’s what you say when people tell you these things, and am sorry for her, but I can never seem to express myself as well when I speak as I do on paper.

“So am I, but I’m a merry widow — we had a long, happy marriage and my children and grandchildren are lovely, as is my city. But I could travel,” she says, “I could always travel.”

“Where would you go?” I pay and we walk into the city together, she has promised to show me the best view it has to offer. She thinks, folds her delicate hands, and then nods,

“To the mountains. I adore heights — it makes me feel like the Queen of all creation to look down at a swathe of land and see its features properly.” She squeezed her fingers together, “I have whole books dedicated to the way the hills around the city look in all seasons.”

“I prefer the beach,” I say, “the water at the horizon makes it look like you can see forever.” She’s a kindred spirit, for all of our differences — I can imagine her elegant hands flowing across a page. “I like to see the sun on the water.”

“Then you’ll like this.” She extends her hands at the top of a tall staircase, out of breath but still dignified she drops onto a bench. And she has told the truth — I like it very much. Though we are up high, the ocean swallows the better part of the world before me. The setting sun has lit it on fire in shades of gold and red and pink, making its restless heaving pronounced. It hush-hushes like the breath of the world.

As the sun dips low, the city lights up until it sparkles like the finest of diamonds. Every yellow window is a universe all its own. To see this is to see eternity. I will write the widows story, but this is something else. Something divine — almost holy. I would catch this moment in my hands if I could, but that would be cruel. I sit beside the widow, finally, and begin to write in little dribs and drabs,

“I used to love writing here,” she says finally, “you can almost feel your mind moving in time with the world.”

“Yes,” I say, hearing the breeze rustle the leaves. The screen of the tablet glares up at me — I almost wish that I had a journal and a pen. It would be more fitting perhaps. She stands with a sigh and pats my shoulder,

“I admire you, you know. Doing things like this while you’re still young…” she pulls her jacket tighter about her, “you’ll have so much more to write about, and so many more memories when you’re my age.” When the light from the sun is gone and the writing is done I can walk weary to my room and bed. It’s a day like every other, but never the same as any that has come before or will come since — this is what it means to move in the spaces between. Writing is the bridge — it makes me, and my moments, real.