For the restless, 'home' is a difficult concept; the idea of a physical or hypothetical place we are tied to. That we will always return to. That we will always belong to. Milo has always said that airports are his home, or train stations or motor way service stops. Home is where the heart is, and Milo’s heart is in escape. He dreams of flitting from place to place and belonging to them all, absorbing everything and being absorbed as he runs free. But even those who run are running from somewhere and no one can outrun the primal ache that calls us back.
‘You could have called. Or do hippies not have phones?’
‘I called you to get you here, but it’s good to know you’ve not gotten any funnier,’ Milo murmurs into the cigarette he’s lighting. He inhales deeply, letting his eyelids droop over the patchwork of green and yellow fields.
‘I meant before that, when you were gone? We were still here, thinking about you. We don’t stop existing when you’re gone.’
‘I know.’ Milo wants to say but, but there isn’t one. He turns to look at Charlotte, who sits with her legs pulled up on the bench and looks anywhere but at him. She’s different, maybe her hair is longer or her face a little thinner – Milo can’t put his finger on it. It gives him the unpleasant and familiar sinking feeling that something is happening, something good, and he is missing it. The feeling makes him want to run.
‘So how was school?’
Charlotte turns to him.
‘Really, Milo? I haven’t seen you in four months and you’re asking about my day?’
‘I don’t know what I’m meant to ask you.’
‘Maybe you would if you were here.’ She looks away again. Milo can’t.
‘You wouldn’t find it interesting,’ Charlotte barely says, her lips still touching. Milo’s mouth opens automatically but when no words come out, he raises his cigarette and pulls slowly.
‘Why didn’t you come straight home?’
‘Home. To the house. Why did I have to meet you here?’ Milo raises his eyebrows and, while he tries to find words for feelings, reaches out to touch Charlotte’s hair. It’s still soft and cool, like he remembers. She bats him away but smiles.
‘I wanted to see you first. Before the questions. I don’t know. I wanted to come somewhere I could breathe for a while, and I thought of here.’ He stops and they both look out over the fields. ‘Do you remember when I used to bring you here on the way back from school?’
‘Yes,’ Charlotte says slowly, as if asking a question.
‘We played adventure games. I’d spend all day in class making up these long, complicated back stories for you. About how we were lost in the jungle or the Australian outback or something and how the ants were weird new species we’d discovered and the sheep were zebras and gazelles. All we had in the world was a bottle of water, a bruised banana at the bottom of your satchel and each other. You used to get so into it, Char. You’d go running through the fields screaming your jungle cry at the top of your voice like you were Tarzan or something.’ Charlotte hasn’t seen him smile like this in a long time, and his eyes glitter with the golden sun that lit the fields of their childhood.
‘Don’t you miss it, Char?’
‘Don’t you?’ Milo looks at her blankly.
Charlotte pulls at her necklace.
‘We’re not enough.’
Milo’s mind freezes. Too many things he needs her to know come flooding in at once and none of them can get out. He stares like a man that is drowning, but it’s too late. She looks away.
‘Maybe we should go,’ she says, reaching for her bag.
‘I want to stay.’ Charlotte stops and looks up at him. ‘Please Char, just stay here. With me.’
They look at each other. Neither knows what else to say, so Charlotte unfolds her legs and lays her head on her brother’s shoulder. When Milo smells her hair he’s 12 years old, dragging his little sister through the Serengeti fields of hay.