Going Home by Rani Jayakumar

The last train of the day was pulling out of the station, and still Susannah waited. She had arrived on the noon train, sitting in the dining car with the dregs of her coffee, staring out of the picture windows at the passing countryside. 

Here she was, in this empty space, when all had come and gone and come and gone again, as if it were a metaphor of her own life. Her life of traveling from place to place, trying to find a place to rest for a moment. 

But rest never seemed to come for Susannah. She had bounced around from town to town, her guitar now aged by the road, plying anyone who would listen with her mediocre music, hoping they’d pass her a few coins. 

Until Theo came along. His easy smile and charm made it possible to believe in staying somewhere, perhaps even for a long time. It was he who had sent her the ticket, and said he’d booked the gig and was going to put up posters. Week after week, he promised with his one dimple beaming at her, people would come to see her, would pay real money, not just pocket change, to listen to her. 

She believed him. She wanted to. Her feet ached and her body was weary with a lifetime of travel. When she was little, she’d tote along her tiny ukulele and stumble after her mom, the “Musical Mamas” singing and plucking out popular tunes on street corners, grinning at passersby. Then Mama got sick, and she was left alone with a sign that said “Please help,” a small sorrowful face that accompanied the incongruous jolly dances she played. 

Then, left to her own devices, she sold the ukulele and kept Mama’s guitar, ditching their neon hand painted sign unceremoniously in a trash can. From then on, she performed without any announcements, just setting up wherever she could and belting out music in her strong, pained voice. 

It was at such a corner that Theo found her, singing her gut-wrenching version of Oh Susannah! to a small crowd of dancing children in the middle of the city plaza. Even at the edge of the crowd, she could see him smiling, a devilish look in his green eyes like he would love to whisk her away right now and do unspeakable things together. She felt the thrill return, the way it did when Mama spoke of another town where the lights were brighter and the living was easy. 

And so, when Theo spoke of this place, he created in Susannah a vision of a world of music, a world where she could both escape and be cherished, a place where she could belong wholeheartedly. She was won, her only condition being that he be there to meet her and help her get situated. 

She took the train, which had meandered across the meadows, distant commas of white sheep visible among the hills, the sun peeking now and then to shower gold on the grass. A song came to her unbidden, and she wrote it down carefully, packing it into her drawstring bag for later. She wondered if Theo would like it, if he was poetic. 

Now she waited, watching all these people leave her, as Mama had done, as she had done to every town and person she once knew. For the first time, she had trusted someone, lured by the prospect of something wondrous she had never known. 

Suddenly, it all seemed fruitless. She gathered up her bags, jacket, and guitar, the song still playing in her head, and walked to the exit. 

She looked around for the nearest bus station, or someone who could direct her to a suitable street corner for the night. 

A taxicab stopped in front of her. Slowly, a figure in a coat emerged, and turned, his green eyes and dimple unmistakable. He grinned in that way he had, and Susannah felt her icy heart melting. 

They got into the cab, and Theo directed the driver to an address Susannah barely heard. What she heard instead was the sound of home. 

Published in Issue #18

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