A word accompanied you that day. Or perhaps it was a wish.
Did you hear me?
Did you see us? Three figures standing on the quayside, tight-lipped, stony-gazed, and emptied. Each of us thinking: ‘So, there he goes.’ None of us quite believing it. The distance was still the most improbable thing at that moment. Thousands of miles, a different hemisphere.
‘What is that again, a hemisphere?’ Father asked.
‘The other side of the world,’ Mother replied.
I stood there in silence, because I knew even then, that a journey can be measured in more than miles. Time falls away with an unstoppable dedication, oblivious to concepts such as north or south. A year, two, twenty, every moment in between. Poof! All gone. A whole lifetime. Yours, ours. This was the distance we all travelled in the end.
But back to that word, that wish. I whispered it, as I stood there on the quayside, straining to catch sight of you. I looked up, scanned portholes, decks and guardrails, trying to find you. Desperate. I looked up, the way I did when I was just a child, when I saw you for who you were, but loved you just the same. Brother. Friend. Adventurer. I looked up and whispered, and felt each syllable disappear amid the throng of the crowd, dissipating like the fumes from the funnel, drowned out by a bellow of horns and final farewells, lost amid the chaos and bustle of it all.
The same word I uttered all those years ago when you asked me, ‘What’s your favourite word?’ and without hesitation I replied, ‘Souvenir’. You had smiled, ‘So precocious,’ and wondered where I could have learned such a thing. Not here, in these gritty back yards you were running from. Not here, in this place, where opportunity always seemed to exist elsewhere. Not here, under these grey skies, in this city of rain and black soot coated tenements. This place you were so desperate to forget. Surely, not here?
Perhaps, if you had understood the possibilities that word contained, you would have stayed. That was what I was trying to explain to you, you just didn’t hear me. You never understood, there were things which glistened under those grey skies, if you cared to look for them.
But, on the quayside, I tried to one last time to explain it. Did you hear me?
‘Souvenir.’ The word, the wish. I let it fly and watched as it took to the air, saw it mount the guardrail, clamber on deck, and hang over heads and hats and waving hands. It hovered, looking for you in the crowd. Then, finding you, descended, and slipped inside. And I smiled when I saw your hand reaching for your ear, as you tried to scratch it away.
Souvenir. Remember us. Remember us. Yes, you heard me.
And it lingered, didn’t it? Despite your scratching. Souvenir. Souvenir. An echo with no response. Because you still walked away.
The three figures on the quayside, straining to catch sight of you. One final glimpse. But you knew already, didn’t you? As you turned your back on us, you knew there would be no remembering, no returning. The sound of our last ‘goodbyes’, lost in the din. The terrible weight of that wish only something we would come to understand in your absence, as we journeyed through the years without you.
JENNIFER HARVEY is a Scottish writer now based in Amsterdam. Her writing has appeared in various publications in the US and the UK, including: Carve, Folio, Bare Fiction, and The Lonely Crowd. She has been shortlisted for the Bristol Prize (2017), the Bridport Prize (2017, 2015, 2014) and placed 3rd in the University of Sunderland Short Story Award (2018), and her novels have been longlisted for the Bath Novel Award (2016, 2017). Her radio dramas have also won prizes and commendations from the BBC World Service (2016, 2009 and 2001). She is a Resident Reader for Carve Magazine and a member of the Editorial Board for Ellipsis Magazine. When not writing, she can be found sauntering along the Amsterdam canals, dreaming up new stories. You can find her online over at jenharvey.net