It was getting dark now and the air rustled with the sound of leaves. I followed Penny through some back alleys. We didn't speak but I saw that she got her bounce in her step back. A wave of tiredness swept over me. It had been about two days since I left my bed and the familiar feeling of dread was creeping back. I felt a certain gravity draw me down into the earth and I just wanted to lie there.
I collapse at a large table in the middle of Penny's living room. Penny chuckles uncontrollably and I think I feel some of her spit hit the back of my neck - no rest for the wicked. She makes me a large cup of tea. It's Yorkshire Tea she tells me and asks if I would like sugar. It tastes sweet even without sugar, I say. I see her roll her eyes. I love doing that to people.
We sit side by side and Penny pulls our yearbook. I flip idly through it. I can't remember the last time I read it.
"Tim?" She asks.
"Yes," I reply still flicking the pages.
I stop at the page with my picture on it. That's me, standing there, a shaved head and eyes like black diamonds, a burning youthful arrogance. Lina always said I looked like a scared little boy in that photo, but she clearly didn't understand the look I was going for and besides, she had terrible eyesight.
"Tim, why didn't you tell anyone you were in London?"
I keep looking at my picture but now I don't see anything anymore. Penny leans closer.
"Tim, I heard you were here for a whole year..."
I tell Penny that I really don't know what to say. I was tired I guess and circling in an obession to get to Tromsø. I had no time and no bandwidth for anyone and if anything traveling all the way to Peckham was a small attempt at reaching back to catch the lost time, the aborted friendships.
It's true that I spent an entire year in London. I locked myself in that flat with the sharp knives and the plants that needed to be watered. It's also true that Lina came to visit me. She cried when we made love on the first night she arrived but didn't say why. I tried to ask but she told me it was nothing.
We went to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park the next day. Her bag was swinging gently by her shoulder and I saw an envelope with my name in it. I pretended not to see it. The night before she left she told me that she couldn't do it anymore and that I shouldn't come to Tromsø. She gave me the envelope that I so dreaded. I don't remember it so well. I was in shock, I guess. I didn't open the letter for a few days and went to school as usual. I had nothing else to fight for.