Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Visit By Aleksandra Rychlicka

She was in London.

I had an email, a Skype message and a voicemail to confirm this information.

She was in trouble.

Invalid visa, a flight attendant kindly informed her before leaving behind at the Heathrow terminal. The plane, together with her suitcase, flew to New York, a place she thought her home for the last few years. Now New York turned into a fortress that could be no longer reached. Listening to an automatically generated response of the American embassy costed a few pounds per minute and with every next one, the hope to hear a human voice was turning in despair.

‘New York’ was also the address hand written on the packages that contained generous leftovers from her grandfather’s ninetieth birthday party in Haifa. Pastries exploding with pecans and dates, a taste I remembered all too well from the weekly parcels that used to arrive to a little town hanging off the Adriatic coast, the place where we first met over a decade ago.

As I rushed towards the station I felt both terrified and excited. Like a prisoner before a family visit, I feared and anticipated every revenant of my long lost world. For this island was a prison to which I was sentenced after years of repeatedly making the same mistake of trying to script and direct my own life.

I saw her straight away.

She had not changed much, the way people you love never do. We hugged in a customary fashion of those well trained in ‘hellos’ that come after years of silence and ‘goodbyes’ that anticipate the possibility of being farewells.

How many years? Five. I have been held captive for five years.

As we sat outside in a corner cafe, I tried to give an account of what happened since. The problem was, nothing much had. For five years, sixty months, nothing happened. I stopped myself half way through the sentence and looked up.

She sat there, silent. After a while she asked, But how about London?

How about London? I looked around, as though I just woke up. London? What London? Ah, you mean this. I gave one more look at the surroundings, sighed and waved it off. London did not interest me at all.

Several days later we find ourselves at the stairs of the National Gallery. We are hungry, while all the food sent from the grandpa’s birthday party slowly begins to rot in the hallway of a Brooklyn brownstone. We listen to the sound of London as the city plunges into darkness, each realising - we are the imagined communities. We are the kidnappers and the kidnapped, living in each other and our own imagination.

When a week later she can at last return, I look up at the sky to watch an airplane. And when I take my eyes off the sky, for the first time I am ready to look around. Knowing I, too, can leave, means I can finally start to live. Here, in London.


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