The streetlights were sparse now as they hurtled past clamps of skeletal trees and pasture fields. The engine droned in its lulling voice in the silence as the road stretched on ahead with no end in sight.
‘But where are we going?’
Kyla checked her rear-view mirror. The view behind them was identical to that in front, as if the whole world was just a giant hamster wheel. ‘We’re going on a road trip. And don’t lick your fingers,’ she chided.
Tommy screwed his eyebrows together and reluctantly returned his sugar-coated fingers to his pocket, his mind still revolving back to the candy that had disappeared half an hour ago. ‘What is a road trip?’
Tommy had been blissfully preoccupied for the past two hours with the bag of candy Kyla had taken last-minute from the back of the kitchen cupboard. Now, however, the entire bag of red and yellow sweets had disappeared into Tommy’s four-year-old body, and he was hungry for more attention.
Already the sugary smell was dispersing. The stench of cigarettes came back again, as if it had been crouching there all along, biding its time to retake its rightful place. Kyla slammed down hard on the accelerator.
‘It means we’re going to visit grandpa and grandma,’ she said, remembering Tommy’s question belatedly. ‘You would like that, wouldn’t you?’
‘We are going to Ed-eee-brahh.’
‘Edinbrugh,’ she said.
It seemed they’ve been stuck in the same place all this time. Here rolling pass the window was more trees and weathered signs marking middle-of-nowhere. Kyla’s heart ached at the sight.
As she stared at the road ahead she saw again images of her childhood. The bleak, snowy winters in Scotland, the chilly air that cling to your skin as if wanting to peel it away. She had left the moment she was done with school. And now she was rushing back with headlong speed.
‘It would be like Christmas,’ Tommy suggested intelligently, fingering his two front teeth.
Kyla steadied her grip on the steering wheel, trying to reel in her thoughts. ‘That’s right. Like Christmas.’
‘When are we coming back?’ Tommy put his hands into his pockets again, to show that he was a good boy. But to his distress, Kyla wasn’t looking. He repeated, ‘When are we coming back?’
The word crushed on Kyla. She burned to be back in London, where the Thames moving languidly in the golden sunlight, the pattering rain throwing a misty haze over the glittering red, emerald and sapphire lights, the beating heart of Britain, and that gleaming brand of silver she’d thrown without a second look into the trash…
This was what all of that had amounted to. Returning to that same cold, dull place, forsaking London, forsaking everything she’d built on for the past five years and Sean, the Sean she’d loved with his cursed cigarettes and throaty voice, was lost amongst the bustling streets.
Her parent’s reproach rang back at her from half a decade ago, ‘But when are you coming back?’
‘Soon,’ she said to Tommy, barely hearing herself.
All of it had amounted to nothing. She wasn’t needed anywhere, after all. Her five years in London was nothing but a protracted road trip. Her heart beat low in her chest, as if it too longed to settle down somewhere, burrow into the ground and never come back up again.
She looked up habitually at the rear-view mirror. Tommy was visible at its corner, smiling up at her expectantly as he sucked on fingers coated with sugar.