When Home Felt New
Grace’s hand hovered over the Return button on the ticket machine. Would she be coming home after her date tonight? Did she want to?
She was feeling good in the outfit underneath her coat, a gem she found buried after a particularly fruitful rummage in her local charity shop. It was very form fitting - too much?
Does it matter? These were the nights she didn’t have to care about that sort of thing. It was an occasion and she felt good.
She heard the train coming, got the ticket and ran for it.
Derek thought about cycling along the new bike paths they’d opened where the old pandemic-measure markings used to be, but didn’t wanna risk turning up on a first date smelling a bit funky.
He compromised and walked his bike to the train station - he’d ride it back later that night.
Just as he was about to get the train he got a breathy voice message in his ear piece:
missed my train, will be 10 mins late
He smiled and sent one back:
it’s cool, you’re worth the extra wait ; )
He immediately prayed that it wasn’t too cheesy and tried not to sweat about it.
The air tonight was warm and wet and amber gold from the solar lights.
She liked getting the train. People watching, overhearing the hum of conversations, catching languages that took her mind back to holidays abroad.
There were a lot more tourists these days, she’d noticed. Made sense now that the borders had opened up for people to move around freely.
They’d put a lot of effort into making where she lived an attractive destination. The local council had started planting edible fruit and veg near the stations. She spied some thyme - judged that there was plenty there to share and pocketed a sprig for later.
Her eyes wandered over the community notice boards: another film night, a new dance class opening up nearby - she took out her phone to snap a picture of that.
She listened to the bird’s evening song. Noticed the trees surrounding the station waving at her in the breeze. She felt like she was standing between worlds, on a gateway to the city.
Derek was feeling nervous as he waited amongst the crowds. Then Grace’s bright headwrap and intelligent eyes locked with his and he felt at home. Be chill, his mantra went. Just be normal.
“Busy day?” he said, and thought: ugh, not that normal!
“Not today - it’s standard for teachers to work 3 days each now, ever since the craziness ended, y’know?”
“Is that what we’re calling it now? The Craziness?”
“Well, a lot of things make more sense on the other side of it, the 3-day work week for one…”
“Does the salary cut bother you?”
“Nah, that’s what Basic Income is for isn’t it? If I wanted to I could live off that and retrain, get better qualifications, get paid more…
Right now I’m happy just taking time for myself. Our building recently did that whole green energy switch thing, insulation and everything, so now I pay less for bills, too. I don’t even need a car because we have Eber.”
“I hear you. Remember when this street would be chocka block with cars at this time of night?” They’d just left the station and he flung his arm to gesture to the city centre streets where herds of people were walking, cycling and sitting beneath rows of newly planted trees.
A new taxi app had revolutionized the transport industry. Not many people needed cars guzzling up their money, space, time and energy when all it took was a tap on the app to summon an electric self-driving vehicle to your doorstep. They were safer, quieter, cleaner.
“I call this progress,” Grace said approvingly.
“Well I think we should progress onto food. Do you have a preference?”
Derek smiled and held out his arm for her to take.
It was one of those restaurants with vertical agriculture along the walls. They made their way to the rooftop greenhouse, lit up with fairy lights and surrounded by leaves and vines. The city streets were so quiet you could hear distant music, chatter and birds across the city.
The solar powered heaters made it warm enough for Grace to take off her coat. She was satisfied by the way Derek’s eyes went over her body.
He went for the most expensive dish - the only meat option on the menu. “This is an event”, he said in explanation.
“I still love meat to be honest with you.” Grace admitted, “most of the Jamaican food from my childhood was chicken, goat, ox…you know what I mean?”
“I think being vegan 98% of the time is just as good as being vegan all the time.” He confirmed.
A conversation with Grace was a meal for Derek in and of itself. She was as open and willing to explore the real stuff as he was. As usual with first dates, the conversation started to turn towards the most shared human experience of recent memory.
“What did you miss the most? During, y’know…the Crazy times.”
Grace laughed, and her eyes flitted down as she thought about it. Was it weird to kiss her right now, Derek thought?
“I missed dancing.” She said.
“You could have danced at home? Put on some funky beats and get down with it”
Grace liked his weirdness.
“I mean, I guess I could have? It would have helped. Back then I’d sit for hours working, or just watching Netflix or something in-between, too drained to do anything. Sometimes I’d be browsing Instagram or Facebook or a news site and I’d catch myself holding my breath, like I’d somehow forgotten how to breathe.
All I could think about was: “I should be doing more” and at the same time "what’s the point?” I had this constant feeling of shame in my stomach, but I felt trapped, y’know? All I could do was sit, work, watch shows. Dancing was the last thing I felt like doing.”
“I hear you,” Derek said.
“Sometimes when I caught myself getting like that I’d catapult myself out the door for a walk. Go to some green spaces.
There’s a soft fascination in local parks, y’know? Nature doesn’t call for your attention, everything is humbly getting on with things. You start to feel like you’re part of everything, just getting on with things and everything will keep going once you’re done getting on with things, and that feels…okay. Peaceful. Like, I’m doing what I can with what I have and that’s enough. The world will still be here, whether I’m here to appreciate it or not. And right now, everything feels new.”
After dinner he walked her to the station, then realised his mistake - a train was just now pulling up onto the station - he didn’t have much time left…
“Hey, do you wanna-”
“Actually I -’”
They both huffed a soft laugh and Derek looked at Grace with soft, patient eyes. He blinked and nodded a slow you first.
“Actually I… only got a Single,” she said, holding up a train ticket, sounding bashful. “Do you fancy watching a film? At your place, maybe?”
A smile rose on his face like a sunrise.
“Sure,” he said. “Let’s go home.”