The Journey

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The heart is never as fragile as one thinks

Ella was rinsing ink from the rolling trays with great care. Already it looked as if her nails would never be restored to their natural colour: thick, black ink rimmed her nail beds and she was sorely regretting her idea of letting nine-year-olds artistically express themselves with such a vicious medium.

She let her eyes quickly dart to the finished canvasses. Was it all worth it? The memory of the giggling children told her that on some level, some learning had been achieved--even if they had enjoyed themselves a little too much.

As she was scrubbing the remaining ink for her hands, she noticed a large, black dot of ink had fallen onto her pristine white trainers. Even as she grabbed tissue to blot the ink, she knew it would not be worth the effort: some stains never came out.

___

Ella had not been single long and the habit of wondering what to cook to please her man at home had not yet been broken. Steak or chicken, she thought as she approached the grocery store.

The revulsion of realising she had been thinking of her ex caused her to suddenly stop in the middle of the pavement. With startling force, she was bumped from behind.

"Good job we're not in cars," said the disgruntled walker.

"Oh God," Ella mumbled. "I'm so sorry. I--" but the words dried up on her tongue. What did she want for dinner? Had she become so accustomed to pleasing someone else that she could no longer think of her own desires?

"Are you OK?"

In her reverie, Ella realised she had lost track of time and space. Had she been speaking out loud?

"I was just thinking I wanted chocolate cake," she babbled. "For dinner."

For the first time, Ella took notice of the person who had bumped into her. He was large, hairy, untidy and certainly not the type she would choose to speak to. But he had a glint of merriment in his eyes that made her not mind the other points.

"Long day at work," she smiled. "Totally not with it. I need a holiday."

The man pursed his lips together unattractively. The motion made his lips turn white beneath his unshaven whiskers.

"Let me guess. You're a teacher."

Ella laughed nervously. Was it that obvious?

As if reading her mind, the stranger said: "If the harried expression and the loss of concentration so close to the end of term didn't give it away, then the splodge of ink on your white shoes would have."

With a shrug, Ella smiled and looked shyly to this rogue, this rough stranger who was not her type. Then she turned her attention to acquiring the chocolate cake she wanted for dinner. And she did not mind that she had company--even if, she still told herself, he was definitely not her type.

________

It struck Ella, as she tried to save her ruined shoes later that night, that chocolate cake was not such an odd choice after all. But mooching about feeling sorry for herself was. For the first time in days, Ella was starting to feel as if the world were opening up again instead of caving in on top of her. The journey between then and now could be forgotten. Vanquished. She could turn her back to it all and move on.

And to her surprise, with a little help from bleach, the ink stain faded to a distant memory.

 

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