It was a busy Wednesday lunchtime when he proposed to her. The pub bustling with city workers in shiny suits. The room was filled with alcohol fuelled chatter so George had to raise his voice slightly as he spoke. He knew every word he was saying was important, even if he wasn’t sure exactly why.
Janine continually pushed her hair behind her ears, back from her tiny face. Her mind was elsewhere. She was all to well aware of the important meeting she had this afternoon. A chance to impress, a chance to take a little step towards the next big step up the ladder.
“So,” he was saying as she surreptitiously checked her lipstick in the barroom mirror behind his shoulder, “the Earth is about 25,000 miles around and if we walk an average of 4 miles and hour for…let’s say…6 hours a day then we could walk around the whole wide world in three years,”
Janine laughed, “Yeah, but would you want to walk every single day? I mean without stopping? I wouldn’t,”
“No, I have calculated for that, a few days here and there to look at the sights,”
“I bet you have,” she said, a hint of sarcasm, she knew he was a dreamer, “but what about the fact that you can’t walk in a straight line? Like around the equator. You can’t walk across the Atlantic or the Pacific,”
“Alright then, let’s say four years!” he said,
“And then some countries are dangerous, you’ll have to avoid them. There are wars and jungles and ice fields and deserts and dangerous animals. How are you going to decide which route to take for goodness sake?”
“Ok, ok,” he said, “I get what you are saying, but even if we take those problems into account, we are only talking about five or so years to see the world…the whole world! What an achievement that would be!”
She laughed again, reached across the table and clutched his hand. The pub was emptying, the lunchtime crowd beginning to disperse. He had a serious furrow in his brow, as he looked into the distance.
“You’ve hardly touched your pint,” she said, “drink up. I need to get back to work, I need to prepare for my meeting, and we didn’t eat so I’d better get a sandwich on the way,”
She began to stand, but he held tightly onto her hand.
“Wait,” he said. He looked so serious that she couldn’t help but sit slowly back down.
“What is it George?” she said,
“I love you Janine,” he said,
“Oh George,” she said, not really knowing what else to say. It was the first time he had ever said it.
“Walk around the world with me, we can get married along the way, somewhere romantic like Paris or Venice or the Taj Mahal,” he said,
“You can’t be serious,” she said,
“I am perfectly serious,” he said,
“I am perfectly serious, we could go now, right now, start walking,”
“What?” was all she could say,
“Yes Janine, let’s go, right now, together, around the world,”
“Don’t be daft George, I’ve got to get back to work,”
He took her other hand and held them both tightly and looked deep into her eyes.
“Look Janine, I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life. We’re both young. Forget the job, I love you so much, you are so clever and beautiful. We should throw caution to the wind. Life is for living, its too short and all that jazz. We should go right now, this very minute. Start our adventure together,”
“You really are bonkers,” she said, “what on earth would we do for money if we don’t have jobs?”
“We’re both resourceful, we’ll find ways,” he said, “come with me…marry me?”
“I have to say George, it isn’t exactly the kind of proposal I always dreamed of and it’s very romantic of you, so I tell you what, I will do you a deal. I’ve got to get back to work now, but how about we forget that you asked me now. You think of a more romantic setting, surprise me, and, who knows? Maybe I’ll say yes…but right now I’ve got a promotion to chase…”
She kissed him quickly on the cheek and hurried out of the bar. She looked back from the door, he had sad eyes like a dog without a bone.
She didn’t see him after that, she called and left messages but he didn’t reply. His friends said they hadn’t seen him either. Time passed in her busy life and she came to think that he had moved on. They had only been seeing each other a few months after all. She liked him, but love? She wasn’t sure…
And so it was that her life moved on. She never did get that promotion and year upon year she did her job and all the right things that you are supposed to do. Like marrying the right kind of man. A steady man with a steady job. Trustworthy and kind. The children came, like they are supposed to, and her days were filled with nappies and swimming classes and the highs and lows of parenthood. Her husband sat in his chair and did the crossword and she sat on the sofa and wondered where her dreams of promotion and a better life had dissipated to. It was nice, but was ’nice’ ever enough?
Oddly it was another busy Wednesday lunchtime when she saw him again. She was almost shocked that she recognised him after all these years. His eyes were the same but his smile was oddly crooked, and the crows feet of too much sunshine were penciled on his face. She said to herself that it couldn’t be him, that she was mistaken, but as she got closer she was sure. It was actually him. Him sat on the bench outside the pub where he had proposed. He was wearing shorts and big walking boots despite the city wind. As if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“I’ve been waiting,” he said as she approached, “waiting for you…knew you’d come,”
“What?” she said, dumbfounded,
“It’s good to see you Janine, have a seat…”
“George, I…I don’t really know what to say, how are you?” she said,
“I’m well, really well, and you Janine? Are you really well?”
“Err…yes, I…I got married, two lovely kids…what about you?”
“Oh I never married,”
“What have you been doing? I always wondered what happened to you…you just…disappeared. You know I often come past this pub and wonder about you. You always were such a dreamer,”
“Dreams are the stuff of life. But do you know what makes dreams so wonderful?”
“They are wonderful because they can come true. You just have to make them come true,”
“You had some hair-brained scheme about walking around the world, and us getting married on the way,” she said,
“I did it Janine, well…not the getting married bit,”
“You don’t mean…”
“Yes I walked around the world. That day I got up, walked out of the pub and just kept walking,”
“You can’t be serious,”
“I’ve been walking ever since, what is it? Twenty years? I’ve been to places and seen things that most people only ever dream of, so many wonderful experiences, so many wonderful moments, just like this one…so many countries and so much left to see, I might head to Malaysia next, ”
“Oh my goodness…what…what do you do for money? Jobs? Doesn’t it get lonely?”
“Oh never lonely. The world is filled with the most wonderful and generous people. The human spirit, filled with love, it never ceases to amaze me, all that creativity, the music, the art. And I never worry about money, there are always jobs I can do for a while. Things to fix for a plate of food, whatever. You’d be amazed at how kind and loving people can be to strangers who give them the time of day,”
“But why? Why did you do it? Not because of me I hope? You could have had a good job and a family?”
“Well, there may have been a little bit of me that was heartbroken back then I admit, I loved you. But I always knew, deep down, that there was more to the world than this little corner of it. This little corner we were stuck in. More to the world and more to life. And I just had to go and find it. I’ve never regretted it,”
“So why did you come back? Why now?”
“Oh I always come back, every five or six years or so, once I’ve circled the globe on my latest route. I come back and sit outside this pub for a day or two, in case you might happen to come by,”
“I didn’t get the chance to tell you,”
“Tell me what?”
“There’s nothing finer than this moment Janine,”
“I don’t understand,”
“Think on it my love,” he said, getting up and shouldering his rucksack, “maybe I might see you here again someday,” and with that he walked away down the street.
She watched him go, until he turned a distant corner, the evening sun shining gold behind his silhouette. She thought how beautiful it was, even against the grime and bustle of the city. She smiled.
“There is nothing finer than this moment…” she whispered to herself as she stood and picked up her shopping bags…
© 2014 Simon Poore