Losing Gemma

K. Gardner
8 /10
Ocena 8 na 10 mo┼╝liwych
Na podstawie 1 oceny kanapowicza
Losing Gemma
Losing Gemma
Losing Gemma
Popraw t─Ö ksi─ů┼╝k─Ö | Dodaj inne wydanie
8 /10
Ocena 8 na 10 mo┼╝liwych
Na podstawie 1 oceny kanapowicza


Two girls went travelling - in search of adventure.
Only one came back ... Esther and Gemma, friends since childhood, went to India on the backpacking holiday of a lifetime. Pretty, confident Esther was in charge - she was the well-travelled one, after all - whilst dowdy, bookish Gemma just followed on behind. But when things went badly wrong there was nothing Esther could do to save Gemma. Six years later, Esther returns to India to find out the truth about what happened to her best friend and lay the ghosts of the past to rest. Was Gemma taken from her in the chaos, heat and confusion of a place where she was no longer in control? Or was she actually lost to Esther long before?
This is the story of Gemma and me: how I lost her, I suppose. I don't usually tell it to anyone but myself; I save it for the darkest moments: the long hours before dawn or the unexpected panics that creep up silently, mugging me from behind. That's when I repeat it again and again, revisiting each small detail as if by the telling of it I might change the past. This time though, things are different. This time the past has already been erased.
I'll start at the place I thought was the beginning but now know was near the end. I was pretty full of myself back in those days; I thought life was a cinch, that everything I did was charmed and charming. I was twenty-two (name: Esther Waring, BA: University of Sussex; passport stamps achieved so far: Morocco, Egypt and Israel), the year was 1989, and I was perched on the edge of my seat, several thousand feet above the shanties of Delhi. I liked to think of myself as a traveller back then, a lover of movement and excitement, but, ironically, I hated planes. As the wheels touched down I was therefore clutching the worn acrylic armrest of the Air India Boeing 747, trying to look nonchalant and secretly praying. For a few anxious moments I had been unable to see the runway, even though we were clearly about to land. I peered horrified at the rapidly approaching ground, relaxing only minimally when I glimpsed the rusting carcasses of abandoned planes and suddenly - coming to meet me - an expanse of tarmac. There was a thump, an agonizing rush of speed and lingering doubt (would the brakes work?) and then the plane finally came to rest outside Indira Gandhi International Airport.
The moment we were on the ground my fears evaporated; in retrospect they seemed ridiculous, slightly shaming even. Fear of flying from a global, backpacking babe like me? It was pathetic, a symptom of my chronic need for control. I unclicked my belt, reaching impatiently for my bags. Gemma was still dithering around, groping under her seat for God knows what, but I was physically unable to wait. Jumping up I pushed my way into the aisle.
The queue shuffled slowly forwards. When I finally reached the exit I paused, momentarily blasted by the hot air and reek of aviation fuel. Then, shielding my eyes against the dazzling afternoon light, I swung my bags around my shoulders and clanked down the metal steps.
Gemma, who never pushed herself anywhere, let alone into a line of impatiently shoving passengers, did not appear for at least another five minutes. I waited in a state of frustrated excitement on the tarmac, blinking up at the white flanks of the jumbo until I finally saw her small rounded frame appearing from its stale-breathed jaws. Her face was screwed up against the light, and she looked dazed, as if unsure of where she was going.
'Poly, you plonker! Over here!'
At the sound other old nickname she started and glanced up, her expression relaxing as she finally located my face in the crowd; when she finally reached the bottom of the steps her voice was breathless, her face flushed.
ÔÇśI lost my passport! It fell down the side of my seat. . .'
'Yup, Poly Styrene, Queen of Kohl is about to conquer the Orient.'
'Shut it, Siouxsie Sioux.'
She stuck out her tongue and we touched hands, a fleeting gesture that seemed to sum everything up: partners in crime, the old mates through thick and thin. Then linking arms we climbed on to the airline bus.
The arrivals lounge was a vast hangar of a building which echoed to the sporadic stamping of passports and the squawk of malnourished sparrows. We waited at the end of a long line to be processed by the sour-faced immigration official perching humourlessly at his desk ahead of us. Besides the Indian families, with their kohl-eyed, frilly dressed toddlers and endless luggage, and various sharp-suited businessmen, the flight had been filled with disappointingly suburban types. A quick inspection of the logo on the nylon holdalls of the middle-aged women in the queue informed me that they were part of a Sunnyworld Spectacles of India Tour. Watching them, my heart - which since landing had been soaring - momentarily drooped. I craved travel, not tourism, you see, and back then the distinction seemed terribly important. For everything I had planned and everything I believed myself to be, I wanted for us to be in a place for the adventurous minority, not some soft option for people like my parents. Catching Gemma's eye, I glanced at the women and pulled a face. Gemma opened her mouth, her tongue lolling like an idiot, and crossed her eves.
More promisingly, the guys behind us were chatting loudly about 'Asia'. I kept glancing covertly over my shoulder, checking them out. I knew the sort well: travel bores who'll regale one with tales of hardship and daring for hour after hour, labouring under the illusion that it made them 'interesting'. Both were vying to be The Best Travelled: one was talking authoritatively about how he planned to cross the Himalayas into Ladakh; the other had an interest in temples. After a while I grew irritated by the competitive tone of their conversation. Turning around I eyed up a young studenty type reading Herman Hesse behind us, more out of habit and boredom than any real desire to flirt.
He remained buried in the book. Gemma too had dropped to the floor and was picking at her nails and glancing anxiously around. She would be thinking that the latrines opposite the queue smelt disgusting and worrying about where we were going to spend the night, I thought as I watched her sigh heavily and flick a morsel of dirt from her nails. Dear, muddle-headed Gemma, with whom I was about to embark on the journey of my dreams: she so often got unnerved and discouraged by situations which I relished with glee. Now that we were finally here I would have to help her cope. Two hours later we dragged our rucksacks from the luggage carousel and walked through the smeared glass of Arrival's doors. For a moment we were overtaken, British flotsam bobbing in an unstoppable torrent of bodies and luggage and grasping hands. Drivers waved signs in our faces and touts pushed hotel cards at us while at least three porters attempted to pull our rucksacks from our backs. All around us families were being reunited, the long gone British exiles falling weeping into their relatives arms as garlands of golden tinsel were placed over their heads. Beyond the sweep of airport concrete the sky was gashed red, the last rays of sun reflecting from the glistening, expectant faces of the crowd. Crows hopped around our feet, pecking at the remnants of a spilt bag of chancchuri. The air was suffocatingly hot.
My plan had been to find a taxi, haggle the driver down to ten dollars - a rip-off according to the Lonely Planet guide, but considering that it was our first night I was prepared to compromise - and ride into Connaught Circus. Back at the main entrance to the airport I had dismissed what felt like an endless supply of drivers, but now the place was suddenly deserted. The Sunnyworld drones had climbed on to their shining tour buses, the returned migrants ushered reverentially on to the minibuses hired to return them in splendour to their villages, and the backpackers gone God knows where. Gemma and I stood alone by the side of the road, unsure what to do next.
Isn't it incredible how those apparently minute, split-second decisions can change the course of a life? If we had gone with one of the touts, or asked the backpackers how best to get into the city centre, or even done the unthinkable and visited the Tourist Information Office, everything might have been different. But in those days I would never have taken such diminutive action. I was too proud, too keen to prove my credentials as a Traveller: to take the cheapest and most authentic route to everywhere and everything. That was how I had backpacked around Europe the summer before, how I had visited North Africa with Luke, the guy I went out with briefly in my second year, and how now in this year off that I had dreamt of for so long, I was planning to 'do' India. Gemma, whose foreign adventures consisted of a holiday to Majorca with her dad and his new wife and an aborted three months au-pairing in Belgium - neither of which experiences I could honestly count as 'travel' - had little say. Perhaps I was naive; I was certainly bossy.
And so, rather than following the other passengers on to an air-conditioned bus or hailing a taxi we suddenly found ourselves alone at the side of the road. And what I realize now is that this was the first of my many mistakes, for it was then that we were noticed.
'Look, you stay here, and I'll have a recce and see if there are any buses or anything.'
Unhooking my rucksack from my back and dropping it at Gemma's feet, I began to walk swiftly away, swivelling my head around as I searched for suitably 'local' looking buses. With the exception of a silver four-wheel-drive vehicle parked immediately opposite, the car park was deserted. It was almost dark now, and I could feel a line of sweat trickling down the small of my back. Although it tickled, I was pleased it was there: it was right that I should be slightly dirty and sticky with the heat, I thought as I stepped across the tarmac; it showed that I was well and truly in the South.
I crossed the road, peering through the gloom at a solitary bus on the other side of the concourse. I'm ashamed to admit that despite my total ignorance of Hindi, I made a pretence of examining the sign on the front, as if by staring at it for long enough its destination would seep osmotically into my consciousness. With the unpromising exception of the driver, who was wrapped in a shawl and lying asleep at the wheel, the bus was empty.
Perhaps I should not have left Gemma alone like that, I thought with a jolt: it was, after all, the first time she had been outside Europe. I remembered her expression of fleeting panic as I had set off and imagined her perched on top of the rucksacks, such easy prey for the men who hovered outside the airport in the hope of sex or an easy scam. By now they would be circling for the kill, asking 'What country?' and 'Please, madam, where is your husband?'
I looked back, hoping to reassure her with a wave and saw to my surprise that she was no longer alone. Squatting in the dust next to her was another traveller: a tall guy, with long, dirty yellow hair, bright orange draw-string pantaloons in the style of German hippies, and a tasselled leather bag which he had placed on the floor by his feet. Leaning on the railings opposite, apparently overlooking the scene, were two girls. Both had their backs turned towards me, but one was notably skinny, with a long black plait appearing from a beaded headscarf and a red dress, its hem trailing in the dust. The other was broader, with a large behind and lumpy looking legs. She kept turning her head away and shaking her head with what could only be irritation. I remember looking at them and thinking vaguely that something was wrong. Perhaps it was the way they were watching the hippie as if they knew him but for some reason were not permitted to pin him, or perhaps it was just that they were having an argument. Whatever, I only glanced at them for a second or so.
I raised my hand and was just about to shout: 'Gemma' when a taxi swerved into my path, its horn blaring in triumph at having found the remaining two passengers from the London flight.
Data wydania: 2002
ISBN: 978-0-14-101273-5, 9780141012735
J─Özyk: angielski
Wydawnictwo: Penguin Books
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