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Wander Lust

On a train ride across Northern Spain, a young woman must decide on her feelings for the man she is leaving behind.

By Robyn NeilsenPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
Wander Lust
Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

He stood on the platform waving. His eyes as tired as the worn spots on the elbows of his denim jacket. My cheeks still warm from where he held my face in his hands as he wiped my tears away with his thumbs.

As the train lurched forward, the sounds of steel on steel belching to life, he melted into the rundown cement of the station.

I was alone for the first time in four days. Initially I wasn’t even sure he would show up to meet me at the bus depot. But there he was. Arms outstretched. Smile wide. When we got into his rented Corolla, he kissed me with reckless lips.

“I missed you so much,” he said.

I wanted so badly to believe him.

For a while I watched the scenery roll by. Forests gave way to mountains. Mountains turned into oceans. He helped me plan this part of the trip. A slow train ride through Northern Spain. Fourteen hours from Ferrol to Bilbao.

“How cool would that be!? You could break it up between two days. Stop along the way. Maybe I’ll come with you,” he said.

I tried not to think about the next seven hours. I didn’t have water or food. My SIM card expired a few days earlier. I closed my eyes and let the benzodiazepam work its magic. A brief vacation from my anxiety.

Two days before I couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do the rest of this trip alone,” I said.

We stood at a wooden bar in a café. The sunlight streamed in through the open door threatening to light the streets on fire and boil us alive.

“It’s really that bad?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Why don’t you have some tea?”

I sipped from the glass mug in front of me. Chamomile. No honey. No lemon. He brought me to a doctor who said my anxiety was caused by my American blood. Bull’s blood. He wrote a prescription that I held to my heart like a promise.

I took the first pill in an alley outside of a flea market across from the pharmacy. He held my hand and led me through the swarm of people squeezing tomatoes and examining espadrilles, bartering with gitanas at their stalls. When we finally sat down it was at a picnic table with eight other men under a tent. The fans pushed around the hot air. The waitress plunked a wooden board of pulpo, a basket of bread, and a bottle of red wine between us. I could feel the pill kicking in. The first time in twelve days that I could catch my breath. Euphoria.

The conductor came around collecting tickets.

“Billete?” he asked.

I produced the paper.

“Is Gijon a big city?” I asked in elementary Spanish.

The conductor sat down in the seat across from me.

“Yes, it’s a very big city. You’ll find everything you need there.”

He smiled kindly and patted my hand. I smiled in response and leaned back in my seat as he continued his rounds.

We walked arm in arm through the cobblestoned streets of Santiago. We threw pennies in fountains, making sure to kiss the pocket warmed copper and close our eyes before the toss.

“I never would have thought.” I would start the sentence but never finish it.

We spent a night at a fiesta dancing and drinking vodka mixed with orange Fanta until the sun came up. He took a picture of me and sent it to his friend.

“Look who’s here!” he wrote to her.

He drove me to his parent’s hometown where he spent every summer as a kid. The streets were narrow and abandoned. The rain fell that day in salty tear drops. He pointed out the pool where he and his friends would catch frogs. When the sun came out, we sat outside and ate tortilla in the city center. We walked around the church. I tried not to count the hours.

A few stops later the doors opened, and an older couple stepped on. They wore cameras around their necks and bumped into each seat as they walked down the aisle with their luggage. The man wore a safari hat. The woman wore khakis. They looked clean. Taken care of. They found a seat a few rows from mine and placed their bags in the overhead compartment. The woman unearthed a plastic produce bag of loose peanuts from the cavern of her satchel. She offered them to the man who reached into the bag and took a small handful. Bounced them in his hand before tossing them into his mouth.

The ocean was teal. I had never seen anything that color before. It crashed against the rocks and receded back into itself like an apology. A lover who is only sorry because they got caught. We sat at the edge of a cliff. My flip flop dangled dangerously at tip of my toe. He started to tell me some myth about Hercules and the lighthouse that loomed behind us. I put my head on his shoulder. The fabric of his jacket rough against my cheek. He got up, but I needed just a minute longer. When we walked back to the car, he showed me the picture he took while I wasn’t looking. The breeze gently blowing my hair, my face tan from the summer sun, my eyes far away.

“You’re so beautiful, and you don’t even realize,” he said.

We pretended to be in love.

The landscape continued to shift. Rural villages with thatch roofed houses and chickens scurrying about transformed into fields of bright yellow sunflowers. The woman tapped the man on the shoulder. The two of them positioning their cameras to get a good shot. I had been on the train for five hours but hadn’t taken one picture. Preferred to let the scenery pass me by as I listened to Taylor Swift sing about starved ex-lovers. My thoughts an anxious loop.

“You’re missing it,” I thought to myself.

I took one picture. It came out blurry. The sky geay. The colors not as vibrant. Like a joke that loses its meaning when translated between languages.

I had taken one picture of him. Just one. It sat tucked among the other pictures of churches and cathedrals like a secret. We were at breakfast outside our hotel. He was looking at his phone. A determined expression. The corners of his mouth turned down. I picked at my toast. My chest heavy and tight.

“What?” He looked up and smiled. Turned his phone around to show me his plan. Because up until that moment there had been no plan. But I trusted him to lead us. Blindly.

When I got to Oviedo, I sat on a bench and cried while I waited for my next train. I bought a pack of strawberry Trident from a vending machine. I fumbled with the plastic wrapper. The gum made my taste buds ache. I checked my phone. Silence.

We sat on the porch of a tiny, seafood restaurant in a little corner of the world. This was the only part of the plan we had ever discussed. Being here. At this place. The waves rolled. The sun set. We ordered white fish in lemon sauce and a bottle of Albarino. He started talking about how the last time he was here was with his ex-girlfriend.

I drank the wine too fast to try and wash his words away.

“Be here with me. Now. Not in the past with her.” I said.

“Maybe you should slow down.” He stopped talking. I threw up in a parking lot across from our hostel. The lights and sounds of a carnival in full swing as I hid behind our car. He drew me a bath, attempting to sober me up.

“Are you trying to ruin our last night together?” he asked.

“I’m sorry.” I looked at the water. Hugged my knees to my chest.

I lugged my bag up the two flights of stairs and made a list in my head. Salad. Peanuts. SIM card. Pause. Shampoo. Conditioner. Soap. A poem of necessity. I walked around the mall. The florescent lights like a hospital. Each item placed in my basket a tincture or tonic for what ailed me. I stood in front of the wall of shampoos. Opened each top. Gave the bottles a soft squeeze. Inhaled mango and green apple before deciding on coconut. I made the water as hot as I could stand. Lather, rinse, repeat until the rancid smell of alcohol vanished.

I went to my room. My phone beeped. He sent a photo of my sunglasses on the roof of his car.

“Look what I have! Means you must have mine.”

I shut the phone off and took my IPad out of my travel bag. Before I fell asleep, I bought a bus ticket for the following day, deciding that the train just wasn’t my speed.


About the Creator

Robyn Neilsen

I am an educational content writer, cat lover, and Ina Garten enthusiast. My creative non fiction essays have been published on Thought Catalog and Mogul. I am also a novelist and flash fiction writer.

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