Thursday, April 13, 2006

Imaginary Roads 1:1

He was not a good traveller. He was always agitated by the mundane mechanics of getting from one place to another: packing, driving to the airport, waiting, the special discomfort of the airplane, waiting, lugging bags around, onto trains, into cars, up stairs. That morning he was still slipping from room to room with clothes and books in his hands, cramming things into his knapsack, pushing papers into a manila folder, when the friend arrived who had offered to drive him to the airport. She sat making quips while he hopped about, still half-dressed, trying to cross things off the packing list he'd drawn up the night before, grabbing his shoes, making a mental inventory of his pockets; wallet, keys, pen, handkerchief. His rucksack was overstuffed: he was taking a bulky battery-powered reading light, a portable coffee-maker (but he forgot the bag of ground coffee, and was never able to find any in the city; he drank instant coffee the entire time he was there); books he wouldn't read.

At the airport, after he checked in and surrendered his rucksack, he had a makeshift lunch of sandwiches and weak tea. Whatever pleased excitement he'd felt about the trip had curdled into anxiety by now; his knee bobbed up and down under the formica-topped table. On most journeys there came a point of near-despair, usually when he was at the airport and waiting to board the airplane, when he'd regret he was going anywhere at all and wish he were at his house, in bed or sitting at his desk. The place he was travelling to would begin to seem sinister; he'd have visions of dark, dirty, cold cities, or sterile landscapes baking in the sun. The airport departure lounge or, worse yet, restaurant, was a non-place, a sort of limbo, where nothing seemed to resemble the objects of the world outside--not even the air, recycled dozens of times, scented of some unidentifiable substance, some polymer.

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