They say that when you feel the call, you answer it. I’ve known people to go travelling at a moment’s notice, packing up whatever few possessions will fit into a tiny shoulder bag or backpack and quit their jobs informally by not showing up the next day. By the next week it’s been pretty well agreed they won’t be returning to work at this company.
Over time I’ve made it a habit to study and survey the people who say they have felt the call. As the stories go, they all feel some near-magnetic pull to a place, an inexplicable urge to go there right away, dropping everything and wandering off on the trip of a lifetime. This sort of carefree behaviour isn’t something I understand, preferring to live by rules and schedules.
Others tell me that one day soon I’ll feel it, feel the desperation to get going right away. I’ve learnt that this tends to happen most commonly aged around twenty-six, which maybe means I’m not such an anomaly after all. At twenty-two, I still have four years before I’m supposed to hear it.
So far, I haven’t come across one person aged over thirty who hasn’t felt it.
They tell vague stories, bold embellishments on some aspect and barest detail on the others. It’s the latter category I want to know all about, of course, and so it’s the one where I learn the least. Each one of them says it’s an irresistible pull, somehow managing to defy logic and money and language and time.
This is where the details become spotty, as if they don’t remember. Out of all the people I interview, filming the interviews to analyse later, none of them seem to remember why they went or what they were going for. A girl tells me she was looking for something; a boy tells me he searched for someone he knew once, long ago. “Like it was another lifetime,” he says.
The girl agrees with him, later, in her own tape. Worries at a spot on her neck, as if it’s got something significant to her. When I ask, she wiggles uncomfortably, changes the topic. Next meeting, she wears a big infinity scarf looped around her neck.
One day, it looks like they all have a way of recognizing each other. Two of my new interviewees are coming and going in the office, overlapping by just a few minutes. As I watch, they nod at each other, and something tiny, metallic flashes as it passes between them. It’s gone before I can register any of what it was. My new subject crosses into my room, half-turning back to watch the other girl disappear. The shiny metallic item has gone, a neat sleight-of-hand disappearing it into a pocket.
She doesn’t tell me anything new. The researchers and people funding me expect results; they’ve rented out office space in a small townhouse, paid out for expensive equipment and pay me a full-time salary. There needs to be results.
I usher her out, decide the metallic item was a trick of the light and leave.
Locking up, I feel the first unease. I’m tired, I tell myself. I just need a cup of tea at home. It’ll help to surround myself with familiar objects. Being around people all day who have stories to tell and only partially tell them is taking its toll.
The phenomenon isn’t all that new. People first reported it about five years ago, and before long there were others reporting it. Then came the copycats, the ones who were looking for attention and it was decided something needed to be done to establish what was going on.
The next morning the townhouse is colder than I remember, even when I snap on the heater in my office and settle in to review my footage, transcribing interviews and taking notes. All I’ve noticed so far is the interviews follow all the same pattern; when asked the same questions everyone seems to have the same blank memories, or the same way of fabricating a story. They all seem to be focusing elsewhere as they speak, as if they have to work to retrieve the memory, and some of them hold onto something – some kind of little talisman, not that I’m ever able to see it. If I ask about it, the response is a short sharp shutdown.
My twenty-third birthday arrives, and with it, a much colder office. I can see my breath when I exhale, and the heater is slow to kick in. Today, I cancel my appointments and spend the day searching for common links. They’re few and far between, but there are a few to be found.
This time I’m shaking, wishing I was somewhere else – so go somewhere. Somewhere warm, sunny day-long and where there’s plenty of beach space.
The thought has come from nowhere but I’m already logging onto my computer and booking a new flight, barely noticing where the destination is. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m worrying about learning a language and finding maps and a place to stay.
My flight is the same afternoon, and I barely pack anything – just passport, phone and some basic clothing.
The flight is a blank; so is arriving at the airport and finding somewhere to stay, but after a few hours I wake in what appears to be a guest room, opulently decorated and sprawled out with all the amenities a person could ever need. On the nightstand is a small envelope – inside, a tiny silver-and-purple pin. There’s a note telling me to always wear it, so I hook it through the chain of a necklace and wrap it around my wrist.
Dizziness overcomes me, and the last thing I feel is a chill, a slow-burning fever coming on and my vision goes spotty, my ears ringing.
When I awake, I’m back in my own bed – there’s a bandage on my neck.