Excess Baggage

By Eugene Rosenburg

Note: Cette histoire est vraie pour la plupart. Je ne sais pas pourquoi dix ans plus tard j’ai ressenti le besoin de l’écrire. J’ai probablement voulais juste arrêter d’y penser. Pourtant, ce serait impossible …

We woke up in Prague. We’d tried to make up on the promenade. And the gallery. And the hotel. Which is where the sun had just cracked the window, laying bare the futility of our final session. At least the light made that much clearer.

The night passed without sleep. Our reunion passed without resumption. At least without resuming anything like what we had before. So there was not a whole lot to say as we dressed and packed. We checked out and took a taxi to the station. With time to kill, we stepped into an internet cafe. I checked my flight status. She checked her email, presumably to communicate something to whatever man she had waiting for her. I had no one to greet me where I was going, save the customs official. I did not even have a place to stay. Not this bothered me much.  Other things bothered me a lot more.

I’d asked her if I could return at the beginning of the trip. She said she’d think it over during our week in Europe. I had not asked again, as our estrangement grew evident and palpable as our week together lapsed into despair. We dragged each other across the continent, thinking each change of scenery would change something inside. Never did as it never does. When something dies.

We boarded the bus and spoke in ellipses about the future. We tried to stare at the shards instead of the entire broken thing, as though this would make things more understandable. Like a paleontologist trying to discern an entire epoch with a single tooth and bone, we sifted through the years and the changes trying to identify where precisely it went wrong. As though this would provide some comfort. When machinery breaks down, it becomes a monument. Etching the death date was all that remained for us to do. Today would be that day.

The bus pulled onto the motorway. A light snow fell as we crossed into Germany. At a truck stop, I smoked a cigarette and had a conversation in French with a senior gentleman going east. I had not spoken the language in years, so between this and my sleep deprivation I could barely get past introductions and destinations. I might as well have had the same conversation with her at that point. That point being that of strangers, heading in opposite directions. Riven toward opposite ends of the earth, literally.

She refused to get off the bus, as though willing it forward to the point of arrival. She listened to her music and flipped through a book, while I peered out the fogged window onto the autobahn. We caught snatches of sleep as the day wore on. I whimpered at one point and she woke me up. If out of concern or embarrassment, I remain unsure. One in the same by then.

Paris’ bus depot lay on the east side of the town. I had a flight in six hours, hers in twelve. I asked if she wanted to check in somewhere for the duration. I did not really seek another passionless round of physicality, and she knew this would be pointless too. Instead, we locked our bags at Gare du Nord and walked around the city for a few hours. Drank a glass of wine at a brasserie and had another heated exchange about whose fault it all was. I claimed the long term blame, but felt the holiday’s misery was mostly her doing. And that’s all that was left to do, to decide which head would hang lower as we went our respective ways. Her west, and I east. She would return to her job, our old place, and the other familiar confines. I was cast upon the wilderness. Given our measures of guilt, it seemed like a just sentence for us. A sentence just for us.

We had a final meal together near the station. Like the entire holiday, it fell so far below expectations I found myself wondering how the French acquired their culinary reputation. When it mercifully ended, I threw down the rest of my euros. I told her to keep the rest since she would be staying a bit longer. I could not spend them where I was going. Not that I knew where that was exactly. I knew it would not be home. Not that I knew where that was exactly.

I thought we would part at the cafe. That would have been more painless. As I rose and grabbed my bag, she reached for my free hand. Loose at first, I tightened the grip and helped her up. We stepped out of the place and into the square that way. Sitting before the station, a beggar lay crumpled in the snow on the sidewalk. With her free hand, she took the last of my euros and dropped them into his box. So everything I gave her would be left behind on the continent that lay between us. Much like our love.

I had bought a round trip ticket on the way into town. We descended to the platform, still holding hands. We stood there in silence, looking at the tiles and tracks below. I released her hand and looked up at her. Like a cliche straight out of film, she looked around and her eyes welled up with tears. The gust from my train’s arrival ripped them from her lashes and onto the platform. Her hands still covered her face as I pulled away into the night. In that moment, I did not know which of us I hated more. Now I do.

She had given me some of my old things to take back. As I tried to check onto my flight, I was told my bag was now overweight. They told me I would need to pay 20 euros for each kilo over the limit. With no money left, I made my way to the trash can. I zipped open my bag and tossed out everything she had brought me. I fought back my own tears as I surrendered the shoes, sweaters, and books that simply were not worth keeping. Not worth the money. Or the sentiment.

I returned to the counter. I explained to the attendant that I had removed my “excess baggage”. I was returning to Asia with less than I came with now. Having lost time checking in, I rushed to my flight and the middle seat that awaited me. Sitting down, I finally had a chance to smirk over the metaphor. The obviousness of it all exhausted me. Yet sleep still did not come.

Still I lucked out on the flight, sitting next to a Japanese girl flush from a solo Parisian adventure. She had also booked a few days layover to shop in Hong Kong. By the time we landed at HKG, I had convinced her to stay in the same hostel as I had booked. We spent two jet lagged days in each others’ company, never separating until doing so forever at the airport. I wonder if she remembers my name. I cannot recall hers. There were no tears when we parted.

You can find more of Eugene’s work at his blog, palmhandstories

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