A/N: GCSE English coursework. We were asked to write an autobiographical account of an event in our lives. I chose the time my best friend and I ran away from home. Hope you likes. :)
I don't remember whose idea it was, not at first.
We'd played our running-away games for years, packing sweets and blankets and lunchboxes into sparkly PowerPuff Girls rucksacks, drawing up plans and inventing cardboard-box houses we'd fill with doll's furniture and paint bright blue. I'd play my violin on the city streets. She'd sing Molly Malone to passers-by. They'd stop, listen, smile, spin diamonds and copper-spun coins into the battered music case that lay open on the sidewalk – money we'd use to buy sugar and spice and everything nice, because that's what little girls are made of.
Sometimes we went further. We stowed away on ships under crates of boxes, and our vessel would drop us off at a desert island, or Mongolia or Japan or Africa, where we slept with tigers and kissed Italian princes under the stars. There was a friendly whale with teacup eyes that swam in and out of the shipwreck lying full fathom five on the seabed, and we tamed it until it came when we whistled and took us swimming through the gemstone water of the shallows and into the measureless indigo depths, where white-fleshed sea monsters lurked and mermaids waited to steal our souls with their sweet music and dancing turquoise eyes. We'd move to New York and climb the Empire State, and together we'd gaze down the tall buildings at the toylike traffic and dream of falling.
Only we never really got that far. Whenever we crept downstairs, shoes soft-soled, always taking care to miss the one quisling step that would whine in protest beneath our cautious feet, the chatter in the next room inevitably ceased. As we eyed the front door, lying so tantalisingly in wait, and contemplating whether we should make a run for it, and our mothers would appear and say, in tones so falsely bright they almost seemed to be mocking us, that it was time to go home, time for tea, time for this, time for that. As far as we were concerned it wasn't time for anything except escaping from the endless banal routine that stitched up our lives. It was our time, she said to me once, not theirs, so why couldn't we do what we liked with it? That front door was like a symbol for us. The inscrutable white wood seemed to stare at us, patronising us, laughing at us, a barrier between the outside world and our own small, sheltered lives. It was the gateway to Narnia; it was the tree of forbidden fruit; it was the door in the hawthorn hedge; it was every other locked doorway that hid a universe of wonderment.
And so one morning after I'd slept over, when her bedroom floor was scattered with games we'd grown tired of, and the sky outside her window was a stormy watercolour, we realised that there was nothing better to do save what we'd always dreamed of doing. We ran through the routine all over again. We filled up a rucksack – button-eyed stuffed animals, ten-pence pieces, books and coloured pencils and necklaces made from macaroni. The flat wall at the end of the staircase, with a single square of sky fitted into it, was like a halfway point. We tapped it for luck and kept on going. Each step was a mountain that had to be descended, every squeak of wood a pounce in the dark that drove my nails into the skin of my wrist. The hallway was empty when we reached it, and the silence and stillness were complete, broken only by a faint cackle of laughter from the dining room.
The door looked usually large, towering above us, and she had to stand on tiptoes to reach the knob. It clicked as it turned, and we flinched, terrified. There was no sound from the kitchen. She tugged it gently, and it swung towards us like a doorman inviting us to pass through. The icy air snatched at our faces, and a loose leaf, the colour of a rusty coin, skittered nervously over my sandaled feet. We stepped out into the wide world and drank it in with hungry eyes and waiting mouths. Then we turned and stared at one another. Which way should we go? What next? How to start? I suggested left, she insisted right. We glared at one another, and for a moment we wondered whether to sneak back inside and go back upstairs again. But no, that was too pathetic, too much of a surrender. For better or for worse we had to go on.
So after a time, I acquiesced to right, because that was the way we knew best – through the park, crossing by the lake and the café and the ice-cream van. We headed off, taking turns to carry the rucksack and talking about what we would do with our newfound freedom. Sing and busk and sell bird-seed for a living? was her offer. Travel the world and the seven seas, I said in reply, recalling a song my mother liked to listen to every now and again. Yes, but we had to earn the money if we were to do that. We were so engrossed in our discussion we barely noticed when we entered the park, until we heard the high-pitched, tuneless melody of the rusting ice-cream van that always thrummed quietly next to the lake. It was nearly lunchtime, so on seeing it, I complained that I was hungry; and she dug into her pocket and produced a two-pound coin, then pushed it across the counter and asked for two 99s. They melted down our fingers as we walked and dripped onto the dust.
We went our usual way, but then inexplicably found ourselves on a busy road. Unwilling to turn back, we carried on, hoping to see emerald cities looming up before us, yellow brick roads spiralling away into stained clouds. Our wishes were not granted. The scenery went from roaring metal monsters that threw up arcs of muddy water, to empty tarmac paved with flattened drink cans, crushed cigarettes and pools of rainbow petrol, to quiet suburban streets with bleary-eyed houses and chequered front paths. We halted for five minutes, fascinated by the sight of a bush trimmed into the shape of a teapot, and bent to stroke a sack-bellied moggy lounging on the corner. It began to rain in earnest, soaking our cheeks, our hair, freckling our eyelashes. It fell only lightly at first, then harder, in relentless stair-rods that punched holes into our skin and into the scarred pavements.
We played games. Listed street names, formed anagrams of numberplates, pointed out to one another the sight of a basketball hoop, a Mini, a taxi-cab, until our fingertips had burnt themselves out and the rucksack had soaked through. We walked in circles and in ellipses. We found another ice-cream van, rattling dejectedly along to peddle its wares to empty streets, and bought a Solero each, and chewed off the orange casing to reveal the cheesy-white underneath. The rain was falling fast enough to suffocate us.
As we had begun to check each house, wondering which one we would live in, and what to break the windows with, our steps were interrupted. A man walked up to us as we trudged along, encased in a navy suit and with a helmet on his head. I recognised him from illustrations and stories, but had not seen a real one before. He stared down at us and asked our names. We were too cold to lie, too tired to argue, and so we told him. He led us off by the hand to a car that flashed cherry-red and blue, and spoke into a cereal-crackly transmitter, something we couldn't make out, then sat us high up in the back of the car, by the windows, with a policewoman in between us. We held hands across her lap all the way back. And when the man had finished making his calls, he turned on the car radio and found a station that was playing Hey Jude. We sat in silence while the song reeled. It was true, I didn't want to make it bad. I wanted to take the sad song and make it better. It was just that I didn't know how.
The car drew up outside the house and we were bewildered at the sight of a line of cars, toe-to-toe and back-to-back, outside the driveway. Policemen and women were wandering up and down and talking on their phones. Some had dogs on leads. There were big dogs, raggy-furred and fierce, with sharp teeth, and I shivered and squeezed her hand. Her own dog, a Yorkshire terrier, was pulling at a lead and barking; afraid, I think. Then the door at the top of the steps opened, and our mothers ran down them, tripping and slipping and sliding, and hugged us both tight. They told us later we had been gone for over six hours. When the hugging had finished, they shouted at us for a long time. My mother cried. My father did not cry, but his saying-nothing was worse. I knew that neither of them could understand. Outside, the sun had begun to set, like hot, melting sugar against the darkening skin of the sky. We watched it burn its way down the horizon, leaving a trail of charred darkness.
The real story is not poetic. We did not live in a cardboard box, did not tame tigers and marry princes, did not travel the world and the seven seas. We walked past the Chinese takeaway and back, bought two ice-creams and were caught. I remember that the question they asked us most was Why? Why did we run away? What were we going to do when we got there? Why, what, where, who, when, which? We thought of the desert island and the whale with the teacup eyes and we said nothing. But we looked at each other and I saw in her face that we were thinking the same thing, like we always did, it was our telepathy, our connection.
"Why" is the wrong question. Ask, "Why not?"