By Emma Phillips
Hannah lost her boyfriend somewhere between The Hague and Scheveningen. She felt the drift in the smallest of ways, as if the wind had changed direction. The way he looked at her had stuck, but altered slightly. She remembered how his eyes used to hold her in a moment, like she was all that mattered, but things were different now. He seemed distracted. They smoked a lot and talked less. The summer before, their love had been all she’d needed to keep warm, but suddenly, she woke up shivering in the early hours and zipped her sleeping bag all the way round.
His heart began to drag a little. In the sea, he swam that bit further, fixed his gaze on the horizon. “It’s okay.” Hannah wanted to tell him, “I’m not going to keep you here.” She filled gaps in their conversation with things she wanted to do in Holland: cycle in Amsterdam, visit a windmill, pose for a selfie in the style of Vermeer.
He slipped away slowly. Losing him felt a bit like missing a breath. She was still excited as she turned the pages of her guidebook, but they were supposed to be in this together. His absence unnerved her, like losing direction. He had been good at map reading. Hannah kept noticing him in a crowd. He passed her on the Ferris wheel at Duinrell; she caught his scent on a North Sea breeze. By the time Hannah made it to Rotterdam, where she finally found some clogs that fit, he was gone. She ate French fries dipped in mayonnaise and cried over Anne Frank’s diary.
Hannah never meant to fall in love. It had been so unexpected, like finding herself without a coat in a sudden storm. It rained a lot in Amsterdam. She found Rembrandt uninspiring and listened to Bob Marley more than she would have liked. The campsite was grim; the weed was too strong. Hannah remembered she had never really got the hang of bicycles.
It was easy to meet people; she found it comforting to tell strangers her story. Hannah made friends with a woman who had left her husband in the airport, as he queued for Duty Free. “Don’t let a man define you,” the woman told Hannah as they fell out of a bar. “There’s a whole world out there when you’re ready to seize it.” Hannah felt ready. Then she threw up.