I woke up the next day with my head buzzing and fists clenched. My eyes glued shut by the remains of tears, apparently. I reached up with my fingers to unblind myself. I was feeling like crap, and quickly remembered why. The reason for the argument was hanging around my neck, an elegant and beautiful reminder that my only friend in the whole of Maine (at least) was about to simply abandon his entire life, without explanation, to go tour Europe, or something to that extent. I grabbed my phone, squinting at the brightness of the screen. There was only one message there, it was from Wayland: “call me”. And it was 2pm. “You didn't call. I was worried”. - I almost hit my head on the bedside lamp. “What in the fuck, Way?! What are you doing here?” Well, at least he was worried, I had no missed calls from work, no surprise there. And to be fair, he did have a key, for emergencies.
We drank coffee in silence. I ate some organic granola, he did too, minus the yogurt. “I'm sorry about flipping out last night, I didn't mean to.” I said, with my face buried in shame inside the granola bowl. “The gift was very thoughtful of you, it's beautiful, but… why this urgent need to go? Where is this coming from?” - “Esther… Thank you. I came here to ask you to come with me. I have tickets ready for tonight”. I gawked at the man, this was at the same time both the stupidest and nicest offer anyone has ever made. “What about my job? I can’t simply leave, I’ll lose it.” Wayland shrugged. “It’s just a job”. “Yeah, I don’t know about that. Flying over to Europe, out of the blue, it’s all very weird, even coming from you”. Wayland popped a piece of granola in his mouth and smiled at me. “Who said anything about flying? I’m going back the same way I got here, by boat. Besides I do need to bring the Bike over somehow”. At this point I really didn’t know if he was joking, I was prepared to go along with it, just to see where his sham would break and he’d admit he was just playing.
My phone rang. I answered it distractedly, still trying to decipher the smith’s expression: the sudden twinkle in his grey eyes, a boyish smirk that appeared under his graying beard. “Yes?” I said quietly into the cellphone, not recognizing the number. “Hi! Is this Esther?” -”Who’s asking?” I replied to the high pitched, annoying female voice. “Ehhm, it’s Stephanie, from work. Carl (that was my boss) said that I should call you up and let you know that you don’t need to come in tomorrow. He said he’d send you an email later”. - “Um, ok, is it about me not showing up today? I’m very sick.” Wayland, across the kitchen isle, rolled his eyes so far back into his skull that it almost made me laugh. “Yeah, something about that, he’ll let you know. Bye”. She hung up the phone. I was still staring blankly into the space in front of me, partially occupied by Wayland’s amused face. “So?” - “I guess I’m coming with you, this better not be some crazy trick Way, or I swear to God!” “No tricks” the man flashed his granola crumb covered hands as a magician would do at the end of a disappearing card trick. “Pack your stuff, only the essentials” he said as he walked out the door, “we travel by motorcycle!”
I was out of the the house at 20:00, sharp, with my bulky backpack - or rucksack as Wayland called it, my leather biker jacket, and a white, vintage looking motorcycle helmet. I went over the house two hundred times before going out, checking the stove, the lights, the water. I turned everything off, I didn’t know whether we would be coming back anytime soon, but I was sure it was going to be more than a week and less than a year.
They called it Freight Travel. We slept in a small cabin as the huge cargo ship made its way across the Atlantic Ocean, in the opposite direction to that in which Wayland came from, all these years ago. The Panama Canal management, announced it would let ships which carried paying passengers pass to the front of the line, so many cargo ships added a few rooms to their staff decks, selling travel online for pennies. I've had a lot of time to think, on that cargo ship, surrounded by miles of nothingness in every direction. Nobody travels by ship anymore, yet this is how we used to get to places, how we used to discover new lands. “There are so many things we simply don't do anymore” my thoughts transformed themselves into words without my permission. I felt nostalgic of a world I have never seen, missing a life I've never lived. “You have no idea...” Wayland's voice was low, almost a whisper above the ocean's waves. “Did you come over to the US on a ship like this one?” - “I did come over on a boat alright, but it was nothing like this” Wayland took a deep breath, inhaling the cold, wet, salty ocean air as if to savour each tiny water droplet. “It was much smaller, we carried no cargo but ourselves, our swords and a couple of goats!” he let out a booming laugh. “And I thought I was going to get a straight answer out of you, for once.” I said, half joking.
The smith stopped laughing. His face hardened, as he noticeably took offence at my casual remark. His eyes now as dark as the night which surrounded us, in the endless pitch black of the Atlantic. He came closer: “I have never lied to you. Never.” he turned away and headed towards the deck door. “Way! Hold on!” I wasn't going to let this one slide, this was too outrageous of a claim, even for Wayland. “You're saying you sailed to America on a dinghy with a bunch of sword carrying men and two goats, and I'm supposed to believe that? Next thing you'll tell me you've discovered America with Leif Ericson?!” He turned back, the playful shimmer returned to his eyes. “Something like that. Now let's go, dinner is served”.
I kept company with the ratty Triumph on the cargo deck that night. The bike was a mix of exquisitely engraved parts and tarnished metal covered by scratched paint. There was a long, swirling dragon on the engine case covers, and a flaming sword along the front aluminium mudguard. Intricate designs with tiny details and writings and runes, they were a work of love. Maybe Wayland intended to finish building it one day, it just hasn't happened in the past 10 years. “One day”, I smiled at the thought. Maybe it will be the same one day I'll finally get myself a bike. It's funny how we put off things we desperately desire to a “someday” but someday never comes, it doesn't exist. I had made up my mind that night, as soon as I get back to Maine, I'm getting my own bike. The ocean spray reflected one dull orange light in its fine droplets. It reminded me of the shop, and the sparks that flew out of Wayland's forge, now abandoned and cold, half an ocean away.
We landed in Liverpool, and headed southwards. Wayland didn’t mention any of the stuff from his crazy story since, in fact he had hardly said anything at all. England was very foreign, but also quite familiar. Community centers with the E spelled in the wrong place, and small, old taverns advertising fine wine, and real ale and Sky Sports live. Swindon, was a small town, on the very northwestern edge of North Wessex Downs, a “Serene, scenic destination for walking”, as Google maps neatly pointed out. But most importantly, it was outside London’s commuter belt, a Kuiper Belt of human asteroids and comets, ever bombarding the towns with people, drawn into the orbit of London’s megalopolis as if it were the Sun. They made it impossible for little satellite towns to have a life of their own. That’s why Mars doesn’t have life, you know, too many meteorites.