Reads: 62


I was used to taking the train everywhere, so today wasn’t an exception. Even though it was already September, there was a cold wind out today, which had left me shivering on the platform. A vanilla latte and ten minutes to spare, I texted my sister that I was on my way.

Marissa is three years older than me and she was already living in her own apartment somewhere in Brussels. I on the other hand, was still living with my parents for the time being. Since I just graduated from high school and was trying to make a name for myself in a gap year, I just couldn’t afford living on my own yet. Because my sister was my parent’s first child, they were very protective over her. She couldn’t move out fast enough, trying to break free from their overprotectiveness. Me on the other hand, being a boy and all, they pretty much left me to my own devices. When we were younger we got along pretty good, but when she turned sixteen, she started rebelling against our parents. She couldn’t handle the fact that they were so protective over her anymore. Whenever she wanted to go to a party, they had to know where she was and who she was with. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she had to be home around midnight. As for me, I could do whatever I wanted when I turned sixteen. It was as if they trusted me more than they trusted her. It was only later in life I found out that wasn’t true.

I was fixated on the rolling scenery outside the window. The landscape was covered with a flourish of warm colors; it was the perfect setting to start reading. The sound of the train was soothing. Luckily it was after every kid in town was already in school, creating a fortress of solitude for me in my own personal carriage. I took one of my favorite books out of my bag and made myself comfortable in those sturdy second-class seats. As I started to open To Kill A Mockingbird, my mind already started to drift to my vacation.

“God, I’m so looking forward to getting out of here,” I thought to myself.

At the next station, a group of four older people took place in the seats next to me. Each of them had a suitcase big enough for a three day retreat, a long weekend from home. The man closest to me was holding a travel guide of Barcelona. Personally I didn’t have much interest in Spain, but I do want to visit Barcelona one day though, visit La Sagrada Familia, hang out at the beach for a couple of hours, stroll down the streets of La Rambla. I had a thing for longer distances, I wanted to see the world in all its glory, discover new habits, learn about new cultures, speak long lost languages of ancient tribes. I wanted it all, not just in the confinement of European boundaries.

When I was younger, I hardly ever spoke to anyone. Of course that made me the perfect target for bullies, but on the other hand it made me a fantastic listener. While other people from my class were standing together talking about their weekend, I just sat there, listening to every word they said. During my childhood I didn’t really have any friends, and the ones I did have, all went to another school. So most of my time in high school I just kept to myself, learning everything there was to learn about the world and its inhabitants. Doing that for several years, it became an old habit that wasn’t planning on dying anytime soon. Just like that I can’t seem to keep myself from listening in to other people’s conversations.

Our flight was at 13h00, so I made sure I was at the airport two hours in advance, it wouldn’t be the first time I would miss a flight. People were lined up at the check-in desk, suitcases in hand, while other people were looking at the plasma screens displaying the arrival and departure times, hoping they would catch their flight in time. I’ve always hated crowds, they started to feel like an open sea of faces, moving in the same current, all flowing to the same destination: security. The worst place in the entire airport, people who acted like they were there for the first time ever, taking forever to put every item in the little plastic box. The woman in front of me even forgot to take off her belt, which made the alarm go off and she had to start all over again. Luckily I was meeting my sister at the shopping malls, so she wouldn’t have to see me all worked up over something as simple as a security check.

Marissa was standing right in front of the Hugo Boss store. As a kid I always had a thing for their clothing, even my one and only suit is from Hugo Boss. She knew I probably would want to check it out so it was the perfect place to meet up. She definitely wasn’t a little girl anymore, nor would she ever be one again. I could still remember when she was young and still hanging on every word mom said. She used to have a thing for Totoro, one of the characters of a Studio Ghibli movie. She would always wear it on her shirt or bag, sometimes I thought she was wearing him as a good luck charm.

Unlike me, I had the feeling I would never escape my childhood. I was still into anime, even Pokémon, I could never get enough of it. Sometimes it would feel like I would never feel safe in the real world, the adult world. That’s why I still escape in books and in my paintings. Those were the places I felt safe and confident.

“Hey Brian, over here,” Marissa was waving her hand in the air, signaling me to come over.

“Hi sis,” I was lacking the right words to greet my own sister.

It’s been three years since I last saw her. Once she moved out and headed to Brussels with her boyfriend, we didn’t really keep in touch anymore. Marissa just wanted to be free, to be able to do anything she wanted, not what our parents wanted her to do. She had her hair in a ponytail, giving her a more mature look. She had her hair dyed to black, giving contrast to her ever so white skin.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it? You look great Brian!”

“Thank you, the same goes for you, you look amazing. But I still kind of miss the Totoro on your shirt though.”

Marissa dissolved in a puddle of laughter. That surely broke the ice between the two of us. It felt good to see her laugh again. Just seeing her after all those years felt great to be honest.

“I’m sorry though,” she said, looking me dead in the eye.
“For what?”
“For letting you down and not keeping in touch. You can’t expect me not 
to have run away from all that, you would have done the exact same thing.” She was right you know, if I was in her place, I would have left too. “But it did came as a surprise mom reached out to you. She knew I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, but I’m still wondering why she sent you with me?”

“I know, it came as a surprise to me too. Maybe she thought you could use some company or something. Maybe she wanted to make sure you wouldn’t get in any trouble?”

Mom was rather worried about me ever since Marissa moved out. I guess she was scared I would walk down the same path as she did, and I’m sure she didn’t want to lose another child. Other than that I was right about being skeptical of my sister’s company. She did have a hidden agenda, which our mom gave to her. But I didn’t find that out until after we landed.

My parents weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor either. My mother was a museum curator down at the museum for Fine Arts in Antwerp. Since they were still renovating the building, she didn’t have as much work as she used to have. Instead she would be at home half the time, doing some freelance work for an art magazine. My father was a journalist for the local newspaper, so being creative was in our blood. They both had an average income, so they couldn’t afford two first class tickets. However my mind was drifting to the upper deck first-class seats. I was thinking how great it would be to fall asleep in them. Instead I had to take place in an uncomfortable second-class seat, making it feel like the airplane was just a tin can with wings. To my sister it felt like a steel coffin ever since she watched the movie ‘Alive’, a biographical survival movie about a Uruguayan rugby team whose airplane crashes into the Andes mountains. Who wouldn’t be scared of flying after seeing a movie about a plane crash, right?

About three hours into our flight, the stewardess came with our food. As usual I had chosen the one with chicken. Looking to the meals around me, I wasn’t the only one who had chosen the strip of scorched leather next to a depressing pile of mashed potatoes. If I had eaten half of it, I would have called it a decent meal. Instead, my hunger demons were giving the fight of their lives until we touched down, almost killing me of hunger.

Before stepping on the plane, I read a few things about border control in Japan. I knew tattoos were still frowned upon by Japanese society and since I had a few tattoos on my arms, I thought it was best to keep them covered while passing through customs. Better safe than sorry was my motto. Although I didn’t think it was necessary, the older man at border control was real friendly, didn’t give me any problems whatsoever. I was only a short train ride away before the first neon labyrinths would come in sight. 

Submitted: April 23, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Nick Van loy. All rights reserved.


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