personal

Homecoming

Anthony walked down the boulevard as rain poured down the brim of his hat. He felt the water slowly soaking through his overcoat and dampening his shirt while the wind threatened to dislodge his hat. He cursed as he contemplated trying to light a cigarette. He was discouraged from the idea as he crossed through an intersection and a fresh gust of wind sent rain slapping across his cheek.

Javecs was a typical Bolthar city: medieval, damp and insular. From the winding streets built upon cow paths to the decrepit red castle in the city center, it was a place that wore modernity with great disdain. Rows of rust colored brick buildings lined the street, dimly lit by the street lights. They were a far cry from the brighter and neater buildings of the capital that Anthony had become so used to. Also lacking was any trace of Orcish architecture. Not one statue or stoic stone building was to be found in this castle city.

His meeting with the Bolthar regional council was as frustrating as to be expected. Why Viktor thought that Anthony’s presence might warm negotiations was a mystery. Anthony was a sundrii and the old roosters in the council would never forgive that. If there was anything they hated more than an aljaman it was a deserter, real or perceived.

At the end of the block was a tavern with an appropriately self-glorifying title. The Freeman’s Pike was an ugly two story building with faded green paint and an iron sign swinging in the storm, its hinges squeaking and whining. Anthony stepped through the door, desperate to escape the rain.

Inside was a collection of locals, all clad in their oil-cloth coats and wet fur hats. The men sported the thick mustaches still fashionable up north and the few women present sat quietly, dressed in muted colors and rustically functional styles.

Anthony weaved through the patrons and found an open seat at the bar. He set himself down, removing his hat and running his hand through his damp hair to slick it back out of his face. The bartender was an ogre of a man with a sour face and a bald head atop broad heavy shoulders.

“Black gin” he ordered. The bartender studied him for a moment before turning to get the half-full bottle on the shelf. Within moments a tumbler of the bitter black liquor appeared before Anthony. He studied the other drinks available. The selection was limited to a few local beers and the strong red wines that every pub and roadhouse seemed to have at least one bottle of. He knew it would have been pointless to ask for Ten Crowns, his preferred bourbon.

He took a sip of his drink and the bitter liquid burnt his throat. He’d forgotten how strong and grim a drink it was. He remembered stealing a bottle of it and passing it around with the other serving boys one night in his youth. It was a hard drink then but he’d taken swig after swig that night. Age had not taken the bitterness out of it.

“You ain’t from Javecs are you?” the bartender asked, now made curious by Anthony’s familiarity with the customs.

“Korvolen” Anthony said, the town’s name rang like a curse. The bartender frowned and several patrons within earshot grumbled some.

“You don’t have a Korvolen accent.” The man sitting two stools to Anthony’s left tossed out as he shot back his own glass of black liquor, “You sound more like an aljaman.”

“I’ve been living down south, in Tybernia.” Anthony said slowly, now acutely aware of how rusty his Bolthar had become. Every man within earshot gave him a dirty look. Normally, he’d have kept the fact to himself but his contempt for their standoffishness overcame him.

Foreigners down south attracted company. Questions of home countries and of travels were the bread and butter of tavern conversation. Whether they had traveled themselves, the southerners had a craving for stories of lands outside their own sunny valleys and mountainsides. Perhaps it was simply a hunger for more tales of beauty and grandeur to match their own countryside. Perhaps his people in this rain-logged hole disdained interest in other lands because their own were so pitiful.

Rain continued to tap heavily against the fog-choked glass windows as Anthony took another sip of his drink. After years apart, he was back in that unwelcome land called home.

Departure

He waits in the airport bar, sipping on neat whiskey and watching the seconds tick by on his watch. The small carry-on at his feet holds nothing more than a single change of clothes. Through the window, he can see the mountains in the distance, enticing him to stay.

He clings to his memories of the night before the way one clings to covers on a cold morning, fearful of letting them slip even for a second. A day of wandering, countless jokes and affirmations of love. Was it just the alcohol that brought all these feelings up? Or were they genuine?

Inside he’s awash with feeling but to the world, he betrays nothing.

The chaos inside him ranges from happiness to fear. Was he too much? Had he been overbearing? Was it all real? What could he have done better? The anxiety grips him as he replays countless alternatives and different phrases. What had he done to deserve such pure love? How could he ever hope to repay such generosity? He dampens his turmoil with another sip of bourbon.

Time passes and the patrons at his sides come and go. None of them look at him. To the world, he is just another traveler. Inside his jacket is the ticket that will take him back to his city, to his apartment, to his life.

But in the opposite pocket, the one closest to his heart, are memories frozen in time. He smiles to himself, feeling warmer just knowing they are there. He spent the morning carefully studying them, stepping back into the precise moment they were taken. He doesn’t focus on himself but rather on the others. Their care-free smiles and silly faces, brimming with happiness and playful love are all he can think about.

The artificial voice announces the moment of departure and he leaves his drink alone at the bar. The walk to the door is quiet as he secretly prays for some miracle to delay him. He takes his uncomfortable and stiff seat while coming to terms with the fact that his hiatus in color is coming to a close. Within a few short hours, the mountains will slip away beyond the horizon and the squat gray architecture will return to dominate his world.

He slips a hand into his jacket pocket and touches the relics of happiness. Two small rolls of photos, four pictures each. He closes his eyes and smiles.