The Boy and The Girl

For the Salvage contest. This is a short story, about a boy and a girl, exploring the moments before and after they meet for the first time.


1. The Boy and The Girl

 It is the girl that gets in contact first. The boy doesn't know how she found him- he hasn't yet thought to ask. It is not until this exact moment, pinned to his seat by 35,000 feet of empty air, a thin strip of nylon, and a small “Please wear your seatbelt” sign with a light that simply will not go out, that he realises maybe he should have.


Surely that light should be off by now, he thinks. Surely.


He does not know why she found him, either, if he's honest. And now that he's here, he starts to doubt the rationality of his decision; a tentative e-mail and skype-chats the only foundation. Outside of the sanctuary of cyberspace, things suddenly feel a long way from simple. It is one thing to periodically exchange the formulaic lines of textual formality. It is another altogether to speak in person.

His legs are bouncing, much to the annoyance of the woman sat beside him, but she does not matter. He is itching to move. Still, the light stays on.


The tangibility of their relationship is most certainly debatable. In the face of it, pixels are all they have.

The light flicks off. For a few seconds, he fumbles over the buckle. But then he is freed, and he leaps from his chair. Moving, though he doesn't know where.



The airport stifles her. There are seats free on benches nearby, but she leans against the wall, plaster pressed harsh to the flesh of her back. Her shoes are without tread, and slide against polished floor. Every few minutes, she must straighten herself up, her legs having slipped to the extent that she is no longer comfortable. The position is impractical and the process time consuming, but she stays there.

She hears the squeak of her soles.


Sitting at a bench would be sensible, perhaps, but the idea repels the girl somehow. The idea of sitting next to, or even anywhere near, another person, strikes her as a wholly unpleasant one. She feels separate. Other. The people around her eat paninis in Starbucks and read newspapers and buy bottled water. They talk to friends and gush over holidays and wait for loved ones. Which is what the girl is doing, technically. But she's not the same as them.

Her feet slide forwards a few inches. Suddenly. She did not anticipate it.


The people move around her, as though in orbit. She is still and silent, unhearing. The people come and go and laugh and cry and do the things that people in airports do, but with her, it does not register. Perhaps, she thinks, time is moving more slowly around her, distorting in the way things do when you are waiting. Perhaps, she thinks, the time from when you start waiting, to when the waiting ends, is a time existing outside of the usual chronology of life. Moments of indefinance have a length to them. She has no watch, no book. No way to pass the time, nor to mark its passing. Losing track of time, no knowledge of how long she has been waiting, or how long it will be until the waiting is done, feeds her a strange sense of infinity.

The knowledge of what is coming, of who is coming, brings with it anxiety and fear, such that the girl finds herself wishing that sense were reality.


Her feet slip further. She shifts and rights herself against ugly woodchip wallpaper.




The boy is pacing, and very much aware of that. He is moving, but in the knowledge that there is nowhere for him to walk to. He has walked up and down the aisle six times, and people are most certainly beginning to stare. He considers commandeering the toilet, simply staying inside for the rest of the journey. But he is not the type to allow his anxieties to inconvenience others- although that is part of the reason he feels compelled to hide. He knows he must appear unsettling.

He turns, and completes another circuit. He breaths deeply, and tries to calm himself, tries to quell the lurking nausea.

He returns to his seat, and is faced with a cold, congealed mess of food, long abandoned. He remembers having to stop pacing whilst the trolley passed, but somehow did not make the mental connection that his food would be delivered. It is irrelevant- he would not have eaten anyway.

He tries to ignore the smell of cheap, concentrated tomato. He tries to ignore his fear.

He spins out a fantasy of his arrival. The plane will land, he will come through customs. The girl will be waiting for him. They will run and hug, the way people in films do. It will be beautiful.

He hopes.


The little light flicks back into life, and the boy obligingly fixes his seatbelt buckle. It no longer feels restricting. Nor does the empty air. As the plane enters its descent, and the distance from here to there lessens, the crushing weight of social obligation threatens to suffocate him, and he thinks, he'd like those 35,000 feet back, please.


When they meet, it is not as they hoped it would be, and is exactly as they feared it would be. In an arrivals lounge, surrounded by families in tearful and heartfelt reunions, they do not run into each other's arms. Across the room, she does not even recognise him.

The boy makes contact first. He approaches, tentative, greeting the girl with a smile that is warm in its intent, but biting in its execution. The girl laughs, a joyless, anxious titter, colder than his fragile smile.

The faces, they recognise well, seen so often rendered in the harsh white light of a computer screen. But there, in a room rapt with familial joy, they look into strangers' eyes.


For a moment, they just stare. Hers are blue-grey, and entirely unremarkable. His are a slightly starker shade. Blue, but not the way hers are.


She sees the resignation in his. He sees the desperation in hers. Neither bears the spark of recognition.


Wordlessly, the girl pulls at his arm, and they walk. The boy is tall, and she is not. As he walks behind her, he sees her mouse-brown hair, pulled tight in a high ponytail, bobbing with her gait, and he realises how utterly alien she is to him, how hard it is to perceive that they could be related at all, and looking down at his hands- so large and pale next to hers, he can't help but wonder if she is thinking the very same thing.

The girl struggles to communicate, though she is desperate to. Intimidated by the rakish, dark haired creature she holds in tow, she feels utterly inadequate. She considers slowing- no longer leading but walking at his side, but she does not. His legs are long. He would catch up if he wished it.


The boy is led to a coffee shop. A chain, nowhere of note. The girl joins the queue, and he follows. The staff steam milk and churn out paninis as they have done, and will continue to do, cyclical. Their purchase is of syrup laden beverages and bread with generic quasi-European fillings.

They sit.


His social skills are bad at best, and this is far from best. Her attempts to connect fall flat, hanging in the air unclaimed. But she can see that he tries to catch them. She can see he tries to send some back.


The conversation is stilted, and the food is not good.


But when the brother and the sister touch at last, curling into each others' arms, it feels like home.


Yes, it feels like home.

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