in transit

she’s a wanderer. she leaves traces of herself everywhere that she goes, trailing bits of forgotten stories like silk scarves trailing on the wind – perfume hangs in the air when she exits a room, toothbrushes bought in bulk and left like some sort of dental gingerbread path.

in the evening is her favourite time of the day to leave. she likes the oddity, the incongruousness of being curled up somewhere practicing domesticity and then packing a bag, wandering out into the night. the few buses and trains that run are empty and the people who she encounters always look at her strange.

what are you doing here this late, is the unasked question she always sees in their faces. it’s not something she can answer easily, so she doesn’t try. she shrugs it off, wraps her hands around an old phone and pretends to be studying the screen, waits for a call. this time of night, no-one is awake to call, but she holds onto it anyway. the ritual is a comforting one.

it’s days before anyone notices she’s gone, and by then the sim card is left in a book somewhere, distractedly “forgotten” in a fit of boredom. she’s got what she calls a burner phone anyway, some dumb-phone that doesn’t get her social media or banking or any of a thousand apps. all she can get, really, is emails and calls.

by morning she’s somewhere else entirely, and sometimes she changes her name, builds up a new identity by nightlight glowing on her face from the streets she travels. other times she makes a rule to never walk down the same road twice, and it works for a while because it means she never stays in one place. she’s been restless so long that it’s comforting to see trains and buses coming to greet her, and the familiar uniform of flight attendants feels like seeing an old friend.

she’s transient, is how she describes herself one day. this week she’s a cafe waitress scrounging together all the money she can for rent and paints, and the impatient teenagers are sighing as she fumbles with the coffee machine, tries to put down two cup-and-saucer sets without spilling or clattering them.

no matter that she’s never worked cafes before, but she still needs to get it right. being a fleeting creature, some night visitor, is a description she doesn’t tell the old ladies with blue hair when they gather for their weekly book club, but she rolls the word around her mind as she’s brewing pots of tea and keeping an eye on the sugar packets.

it’s a good word, she decides, liking the way she feels like she could disappear into thin air via the back alleyway.

they tip her well – they like the way she scrubs up, and when they leave she redisguises herself in time for the rush from the school down the street.

she plays to their strengths every time, but doing so requires that she play to her own strengths. one day, she walks down a new road (it’s a new week, and she has dyed the pink streak in her hair back to dark brown; she needs to be a bit more polished for working admin) and someone double-takes at her. for all that she is hidden under a layer of cosmetics, she fears she’s still recognizable somehow – something, maybe, in the way she smiles vaguely at the world, or the little tic she’s had of wrapping her fingers around her wrist since a child.

(she broke that wrist once; fell trying to climb a tree, landed badly. someone told her that her habit developed as a way of unconsciously trying to protect the wrist, and she left the next morning)

the girl doubles back, and now she recognizes the blue eyeliner of the girl she worked five solid weeks with in a computer lab, trying to write some new program before the company owners wrote it off entirely. it doesn’t take much to affect an accent, a new name and sweep her fingers through her hair. in a shop window, she sees herself looking three inches taller and barely like herself.

(no – she looks entirely like herself)

they talk, and she’s apologetic as she pretends to not be herself. the other girl leaves in disappointment, and she tamps down the urge to quit her new role. instead, she cuts off her hair, deliberately keeps it a bit jagged and spends a week’s rent on expensive clothes.

she carries on travelling, wandering on a whim – normally, it doesn’t take much more than the possibility of getting comfortable before she’s picked up and gone, a three-pack of toothbrushes in the duffel she always keeps in the bottom of her wardrobe and as many clothes as she can crumple into the bag.

(she doesn’t trouble to look up the people she leaves behind; she prefers to focus on the places, and she’s amassed quite the collection of polaroids in the outside pocket of the bag)

and lastly: one morning she’s shooting a film’s worth of instant photos, walking until the soles of her feet burn and her shoes feel like they’re days away from falling apart. there’s too many photos, she decides, and culls them ruthlessly. none of them have captions, because she never wanted to make them permanent, never wanted records to last that long.

for a while she considers a scrapbook, an album, but finally she’s got a handful that are to go out. she’d burn them – she likes how there’s sort of a strange symmetry – but she can’t quite bring herself to flick the safeguard on the lighter.

instead, she stuffs them into a box and shoves it to the back of the kitchen cupboard, shakes the wrinkles from the clothes she’s unpacking and promptly forgets about them entirely. she’ll leave them for the next person to deal with.

(she calls herself transient, and masters the art of being a ghost)

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