This story is by Manju Patnaik and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was noon and I was in a tizzy! My flight to Santorini, Greece was at 6pm and I was not packed. In went shorts, tees, sandals and books. We were never fancy on this trip. My husband and daughter drove me to the airport, all the while talking about the fun they would have while I was gone. I was hardly paying attention, my thoughts preoccupied by the next two weeks.
Once I checked in, I waved to my loves, and headed towards the terminal. These days Greece has become a popular holiday destination and I hoped I did not run into anyone I knew. This trip was mine and mine alone. I didn’t want to share even a moment of it with anyone else.
I found a quiet corner to wait until I boarded. As I stared out at the tarmac, I thought back to how this annual trip all began. We had been friends since we were in school and shared a mutual love for music and reading. Our reading was eclectic because we loved to read everything from Shakespeare and the classics to spy novels and murder mysteries. Reading comics was our favorite, especially Tintin and Asterix. Our thing to do on a Saturday afternoon was to either read together or listen to Freddie Mercury and Led Zeppelin. At some point when the hormones started raging, for a hot second, I think we even crushed on each other. Thankfully the feelings were momentary; I am so glad we flew past all the adolescence awkwardness to stay good friends. Despite having a lot in common, he and I were as different as night and day. He planned his life down to the minute and followed every rule that was laid down, and I was unconventional in every way and always on the lookout for the next adventure. Over the years we fell in and out of love (obviously with other people), made new friends and created memories together and without each other. But we were a constant in each other’s lives.
In my early twenties, I met the man who is now my husband, and I was in love. This time it was the real thing. Soon we were married, and I was onto my new adventure. A few years later I started to realize that even though I was happy, something was missing. I knew the hollowness that I felt occasionally was because I was missing my constant – my friend. Then I understood then that it was possible to love two men at the same time: one my life partner to hold my hand and walk into the sunset and the other my friend that I needed for my soul.
After years of radio silence, I called him, and it was like the years in between never existed. We picked up where we left off. He missed me. We realized that we needed “us”, and slowly a plan fell into place. I talked to my husband and eventually, he was on board. Much transpired between the time “a plan fell into place,” and “my husband was on board,” but today none of it is important.
Twenty-five years later we still make our annual trip to Amorgos, an island off the coast of Santorini. We spend two weeks together. Our days are spent walking around the island and our evenings are filled with music and quiet reading. For two weeks we create this perfect isolated world for recharging ourselves, sans the routine and the mundane. Idyllic evenings by the beach might be the setting for a romance novel but these trips are not about champagne, roses or making love. They are about being with a friend, about staying connected to our childhood. Outside the two weeks together, we did not stay in touch, not a text or a call between us. The two weeks were all I needed. And when I got home after the two weeks, I was always excited to see my family.
The boarding announcement shook me out of my reverie. I texted my husband to let him know we were boarding, and his response was the same as always: “Have fun!”. I acknowledged that this was the last time I would use my phone or any kind of technology until I landed again on home ground in two weeks. I was among the last to board and when I got to my seat, I was pleasantly surprised to see the seat next to me was vacant. I settled down in my seat excited to not have to talk to anyone during the flight. Even after twenty-five years, I was excited for the two weeks with him. I had so much to share with him, the concert of the new fusion band that I had recently attended, the books that I had read during the year, and obviously I was looking forward to playing our little game of naming people we knew that fit a character from the Asterix comics. The game never got old and we had a different Cacofonix every year.
After I ate the on-flight meal, contemplated watching a movie until I could fall asleep, but could not focus on the movie. I thought back to our first trip, twenty-five years ago. Initially my husband acted like he had no problem with me spending two weeks on a Greek island with a male friend, a friend that he had heard so much about but never met. My husband knew I loved him, but he was also very aware of the connection I had with my friend, and that made him nervous. I could not do much to alleviate his fears, and I knew that the two weeks would be a torture for him. I almost called off the whole plan, but I was convinced that if he waited the two weeks I was gone, he would see that I loved him and needed him when I came back. He would understand that I would never forgo my walk into the sunset with him for those two weeks, but he would also realize that I needed that time with my friend. In the end, I went on the trip, and the relief when he picked me up from the airport was evident in his face. He knew his role in my life was secure, and he loved me enough to give me the time I needed with my friend.
We were landing in Santorini, and all I could think of was seeing him after a year. The last stretch! The journey from the airport to Amorgos was a blur. As I stepped off the ferry in Amorgos, I felt as if I have come home. I am only living in the present.
I take a taxi to the cottage expecting to see him because he is usually there when I arrive. I pay the taxi driver and walk up the pathway to the cottage. I see that thia Eliana has aired the cottage, probably stocked up on groceries too. But I don’t see him. I enter the cottage and I know he has not arrived yet; I don’t see his laptop and Kindle which are usually set up on the coffee table. “He is probably delayed,” I think as I go to my bedroom to unpack and freshen up. I am hungry and tired. I know thia Eliana would have prepared a delicious meal, so I make myself a plate, pour a glass of wine, and sit on the patio. Despite the idyllic setting, I don’t enjoy my meal because I am waiting to hear him walk-in.
Over the next two weeks I don’t leave the cottage; I want to be home when he walks-in, but he never comes. I know something is not right. At the end of the two weeks going back home does not have the same sweetness as in past years. I am more discontent than when I arrived. I don’t dare to consider what caused him to break our twenty-five-year ritual. I land in Detroit and turn on my phone to check messages, and I now see why he never came. My heart sinks; I know I will never see him again.
At the luggage claim I see my husband, he senses that something is wrong but does not pepper me with questions. We head home in silence. I mourn him. I mourn us. I try to envision my life without our two weeks. I try to figure out who I am without him.
Eleven Months and Two Weeks Later:
Last night I arrived at our cottage in Amorgos. I plan to spend the next two weeks exactly the way we used to; quiet walks, lounging by the beach reading, listening to music. I will miss our Asterix game, but I know this isolation is the closest I will be to him, and I still need him.