I call her from a bench outside the hostel. She picks up on the third ring and says, hello. Her voice is mellifluous down the line, and thick with home. I try not to miss her.
How are you? she asks, when I don’t speak right away.
Good, yeah, I manage. In truth, I’m jet-lag woozy, stomach tender after a turbulent flight and three styrofoam meals.
So jealous of you eating plane food, she says, as though reading my mind.
My chuckle is a forced splutter. Plane food is rank, Lil, I say. Plastic sustenance.
She laughs, and I relax a little. The night is thick with water, humid and oppressive. Palm trees sprout as quotidian fact from the concrete. There’s not a star in the smog-happy sky.
What’s it like there? she asks.
Hot. But beautiful, I say. And it is, in an urban, skyscraper sort of way. A muddle of Siam’s golden temples and Bangkok’s smoky night-life, the city is polarised and fulgent. Its blistering heat and 24-hour street food has, thus far, been a surreal dream for my ardently English brain.
You must be so excited, she says.
I consider this. Nowadays, travelling alone is de rigeuer. A millennial right of passage. Having never left England and with no plans for the foreseeable, it seemed my only option. An unwinding of benign normality and ties to things bigger than myself. To breathe in new places, to breathe in new beginnings. To find possibility in something else, something beyond my own linear confines.
I consider all of this. Then, I push it aside.
Dunno, I say. In that moment, it is all my mouth is willing to divulge.
I hear her smile. What time is it there? she says.
A little before 4am, I say.
Wow, she says. It’s like time-travel.
A pang of loneliness threatens my throat. All my life, Lily and I have been a hair-length apart. Now she exists only at the end of a phone, or in photos on a screen. For the next month, her life is a six-hour lag behind mine.
I’m going to the beach with Sadie tomorrow, she says. It’s going to be a scorcher.
Sweat trickles down my neck. Bangkok’s hot breath kisses my bare arms and legs.
I’d give anything for British heat right now, I say. And I would. When close to the sea, summers in England are frabjous. Zephyr ushers pillowy clouds through pale blue. Sand is fine and warm to the touch.
Of course, steadily hot weather in the UK happens as a blue moon. But, there are a few glorious days. Peppered through the summer quarter, serendipitous and celebrated. An opportunity for picnic-blanket perfection and white wine from warm plastic.
Lily and I shared such a day last year. It was late August, at the origin of darkening days. Autumn was near, preparing her orange cloak.
The beach at our town’s end is a small nook. Just a local treat, really. It isn’t lavish enough for miles down the motorway or packed sands.
We sat there as the day’s skies shifted from blu-tack brilliance to fuzzy peach, both silly with wine. Birds shot as black arrows over sea foam. Lily rested her head against mine. The sun was a slip of blood on the powdered horizon.
Are you cold? I’d said. Her arms were goosebump-dotted. Her lips were a purpling carapace of plump skin.
She frowned. A little, she’d said. Guess that’s the end of this year’s summer.
She looked at me. Her eyes flashed as summer-storm coruscate, masking something else.
Guess so, I’d said.
In Bangkok, dawn pushes through the night. A variegated tapestry unfurls beyond the clouds, singing in canorous whisper.
My eyelids are glue-sticky. My gums carry dirt from two continents. When I’d called initially I’d decided to tell her, to tell her what I never tell her. Instead, pride swallows me. Stark imaginings of her and Sadie are raw and cruel.
I better be going, I say. She remains silent.
Have fun tomorrow, I add lamely.
Goodbye, she says. We disconnect. I stay on the bench until dawn is fully fledged. Wait for foreign sun to dance on my face.
A twenty-something flitting between jobs, Jaz Hurford loves literature. Her words are dotted over the internet, namely at Reflex Press. She was long listed by Streetcake Magazine for their 2020 experimental writing prize, and shortlisted for the Fresher Writing Prize 2020. She tweets inanely @misshurf.