Jorgan was thirty two when he realised he was in the wrong place. He was living with his wife Betta in the suburbs of a neat, clipped town, where his neighbours spent their Saturdays perfecting the garden to eradicate all signs of nature, and their Sundays cleaning the car. Jorgen wasn’t unhappy, but he was itchy with disquiet in his blood; he felt a constant desire to squirm out of the tight confines of the manicured streets and escape, but he didn’t know where to.
Then a distant aunt he’d never met, died. He wasn’t upset by it, he only bought the train ticket out to her village on a whim. She lived in the mountains and he’d never been higher than a hill. Betta was irritated, she didn’t like whims, but the thought of spending a day without Jorgen’s restlessness had an appeal, so she stayed quiet.
As the train clattered its way between the valleys and up towards a craggy peak, Jorgen felt his lifelong unease vanish, the higher the train trundled the more delighted he felt. The air was pure and easier to breathe, all the world seemed to be spread out before him; empty, gloriously empty. The funeral was no more joyful than was typical, but Jorgen had to fight from smiling all the way through. As they stood at the graveside, he could see mountains all around, rising up like monsters, clouds clinging to their sparse vegetation. It was breath-taking.
Returning home, the train weaving its way back to the tight-fitting streets, he felt as if his skin had shrunk and sand had caught between the layers of skin. He now knew where he needed to be and the suburbs was not it.
“Betta come with me and see it, you will love it, I promise,” he pleaded for the fifth time as she tried to watch TV. “You always complain about how much you hate it here, when you see the alternative: the snowy peaks, the distant valleys. You’ll love it.” She relented finally,
“Ok, ok, we’ll try a week. Now go manicure the lawn.”
For Betta the holiday was awful, while Jorgen’s soul lifted and swooped, Betta felt her own cower and twist.
“I can’t breathe, how can the air be so thin? There’s animal poo everywhere, goats, sheep, foxes, no hygiene. All those jagged mountain tops, I feel they’ll cut me.” Jorgen couldn’t believe she understood so little, how could she get it so very wrong? Why was she fussing about pointless details and ignoring the majesty? He didn’t understand that everybody has their place, and this wasn’t Betta’s.
“Even the flowers are small here, crouched against the ground trying to hide,” she said.
While Jorgen stood at the window, gazing out at the mountains in bliss, Betta sat huddled in front of the television, pretending that the endless sky didn’t press against the walls outside.
She flicked from one channel to another, all the world glimpsed in fragments. She flicked from dirty, smelly cities where no one looked up, to beaches, pretty but dull. And then she flicked to a film about the foreign legion. Saw the soldiers staggering across the desert, sand swirling around them in a landscape that stretched out the same as far as the eye could see. And suddenly Betta knew, with a certainty that chimed like a bell, her place wasn’t in the mountains at all. She needed to be there, where the ground is formed by the wind, where the heat bakes the day and cold freezes the night. Where you can walk for days and see no change at all. She wanted the desert.
“Jorgen? Jorgen?” she called. “I know where I’m meant to be.”