All that winter Terry wondered where Ali had gone. It paralysed him and made lethargy his default option. He’d heard nothing, he’d had no letter as promised, no calls, nothing. Nada. Blank.
He tried his best to find out where she might be, obtuse questions to those who knew her were met with obtuse answers. He travelled as far as the London pubs and clubs she’d mentioned, looked out hopefully for her amongst the crowds of designer jeans that seemed to be spawning across all the cities – she was nowhere. He reminded himself that she wouldn’t look the same, but then he couldn’t get how she looked out of his head. Sometimes that was the wonderful early morning face that smiled across at him with sleepy acceptance of everything in their small world, other times it was the hard disdain and petulance on that face that he saw leaving the last time.
He managed to catch up with one of her old travelling friends by chance – asked about whether they’d gone over the North Sea to make some hard money in the fields of Belgium or The Netherlands, but the answer was the same. Hadn’t seen her for an age – hadn’t gone over there anyway and didn’t know if she had or not. He passed on another name and another phone number for a person Terry didn’t know – someone who had been over there and might have seen her around. Terry rang and a man’s cracked voice answered, he called out to someone in the background and after a few moments an even more broken voice took over. Terry had the impression that whatever information he might get would be at best unreliable. He reminded himself to make these sort of calls earlier in the day. Yeah, the bloke knew Ali, yeah he’d been out to Holland, yeah, Ali was supposed to have come. No, she hadn’t. Was this the guy from down in Cornwall ? Terry said he guessed he was. Well, said the bloke – we figured she’d decided to stay with you. Hadn’t seen her since. Another dead end.
Terry thanked him, he grunted. Then he hung up.
Terry wanted this obsession to end and he wanted his life back. Instead he found himself sitting in his postered bedsit at night staring out of the window, wishing it looked out on the sea and the waves rather than on a row of broken down shops with out of date signs in the windows and surly Asian guys behind the counters.
Paper bags blew along the road in the wind and collected in a swirling mass outside the shop opposite. The window rattled and Terry sat closer to the storage heater, trying to soak up its last ounce of warmth. A siren flashed past the window streaking the room in blue light for an instant. The smell of bad meat grilling floated up from one of the late-night take-aways. Terry hated every piece of this and wondered how he’d managed to get to so far away from what made him happy.
By the spring he was back in Cornwall. No work. But happier. He fell in easily enough with the old crowd and life became a routine of pubs, surf and mainly sitting in each others’ rooms talking nothing much at all. But even then nothing seemed quite to work, Terry saw Ali at every turn and missed her desperately, she was there so totally in her absence that no-one even mentioned her when he was around. He guessed that they were sparing his feelings and he let that ride, but there was nothing he wanted to do more than talk about her, fall into that state of being again, even if it was just to wallow indulgently in his own misery. He mentioned it just the once, to Jaz, who just repeated what he’d said a long while ago – that girl was never going to make anyone happy, best out of it – then turned the conversation back to why the swells were so late coming this year.