TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Twelve

The next evening I’m putting the finishing touches on my reconciliatory feast – a sprig of fresh parsley on top of the chickpea curry, a squeeze of fresh lime in our water glasses, candles lit around the table and my new Tibetan Buddhist chanting CD set to play on the iPod dock – as I hear Ryan’s heavy footsteps clomping down the hall. I haven’t heard from him since I walked out last night, and since I can’t remember too much about what actually went down I decided it would probably be best if I just let things cool off for the day and then cooked him dinner, even though I can’t for the life of me remember whether I was in the wrong or not. Peace assures me I wasn’t, but the sickening whooshy feeling I had in my tummy when I woke up this morning told me I probably was.

Ryan walks into the lounge room, throws his backpack on the couch, kicks his boots off and… lumbers right past my little dinner set-up.

“Hey Rye! How was work?” I chirp hopefully at his back. Silence. Just the tap screeching open and water splashing as he washes his face and fills a glass of water.

“There’s water on the table Rye, why don’t you come sit down? I’ve cooked us a yummy feast?”

Nada. My shoulders slump as I realize this isn’t one of those things I’ll just be able to smooth over with food.

“Honey please come and sit down, I want to talk to you.”

Ryan fusses around for a few more minutes, opening and closing the fridge, taking his time to finish his water and generally doing his best to make me suffer. Finally, he comes and plonks himself in front of me and just stares me straight in the eyes, waiting for me to talk.

“Right. So. I guess what I wanted to say was that I’m sorry?” I swallow nervously. “I’m sorry for getting drunk, err, every day. I’m sorry I threw out all my clothes. I’m sorry for just running out like that. I’m sorry for not calling.” And I’m sorry for the huge credit card bill that I haven’t figured out how to pay yet. Somehow those last words don’t quite make it out of my mouth.

Ryan’s eyes have narrowed and he’s looking down at his hands and playing with his napkin, folding the edges into the middle the way he does when he’s deep in thought.

“It wasn’t just yesterday Mags, although that was particularly shitty.” He throws his napkin to the side and leans forward. “You’ve been acting kinda, I dunno, crazy for a good couple of weeks now. I mean you said some really intense things last night about our future… I get that you were drunk and that you didn’t mean them, but it’s just that every day lately I wake up wondering when, or even if, the woman I love’s ever gonna come back. I also totally get that you’re having an existence crisis or whatever they call it, and you know I love you so much and that I want more than anything for you to find your way through this and to be happy.” He pauses, rubbing the spot between his eyebrows, where his monobrow used to be before I started making him wax it. “But Mags, I also just wanna know that this is all actually going somewhere and that you’re actually gaining some insights and not just, I dunno, wasting time.” I start ladling the curry on to his plate, trying to give myself some time to figure out what to say.

“So what’s this then?” Phew. Luckily I don’t have to figure it out because Ryan’s picked up a big forkful of my dinner and is sniffing it cautiously.

“It’s chickpea curry, you like?”

He takes a tentative bite, chews for a while, then starts slowly nodding his head. “It’s not bad, not bad at all actually. But… have we got a little steak or sausage or something to go with it?”

“Well actually,” I say, clearing my throat, “I decided today while reading my Buddhism book that I’m going to become vegetarian. I mean, I was reading all about karma, which is a really amazing concept when you start to understand it properly, and I started thinking about all the ways I could be a better person. You know, wondering how I could reduce my, like, karmic footprint and all that.” I shrug and gobble a big mouthful of chickpeas. “And I’ve actually decided not to drink for a while too.” I slurp some water to emphasise my point. It’s true, I really have decided to do these things. I feel quite proud of myself actually.

“Well that’s a bit of a surprise. I mean it’s great that you’ve been thinking about how to improve and all that, but I was also hoping that maybe you’d done some thinking about work, too? Like what’s going on with that list of yours?”

Fuck. Why is he always bringing up that damn list?

“Funny you should bring that up. Because, err, today I actually called a recruiter. A couple of recruiters, actually.” Ok so I didn’t call them, as such, but I did look up a couple of numbers on Google. Which is as good as calling. Almost. “Two of them sounded like they had some, umm, really exciting opportunities going, so I guess we’ll just wait and see. Anyway,” I have got to change this topic as quickly as possible, “I feel like we’ve done nothing but talk about my boring problems lately! How was your day?”

Thankfully Ryan takes the bait and, for the first time in what feels like a long time, we ease into a deliciously inane conversation.

After dinner I brew some fresh mint tea and do the dishes, earning some serious brownie points while Ryan takes a long shower, then we crawl into bed to slurp our tea, cuddling and reading our books. Ryan’s reading a John Grisham thriller and I’m struggling through my Buddhism book. I’m desperate not to ruin the romantic moment, but all the mint tea’s going straight through me and it’s not long before I’m desperate for a pee. I shove my bookmark between the pages and hop out of bed to the loo.

“I missed you last night,” I whisper in Ryan’s ear as I wriggle back under the covers, scooping my body in behind his and trying to spoon. It’s not really working though. Ryan seems to have gone all kind of rigid or something.

“Honey? Did you miss me?”

I pull myself up to peek over his shoulder, and I freeze. Oh fuck. The credit card bill. Right there in his hands. I’d completely forgotten I’d been using it as my bookmark. I slowly ease my body back down onto the mattress and shut my eyes. Maybe if I pretend I’ve suddenly fallen asleep it will all go away.

“$250 at the Buddhist book store?”

It hasn’t gone away.

“$700 on a pair of shoes??”

It definitely hasn’t gone away. At least he hasn’t seen the Marc Jacobs bag.

“Bloody $2000 on a handbag?!”

Fuck.

I open my eyes and pull myself back up into a sitting position. Ryan’s still lying down with his back to me.

“Honey,” I gently touch his back, “let me explain…”

Suddenly he’s out of the bed and is throwing the bill across the room. The pages are flying everywhere.

“You know what? I don’t wanna hear it. Because it’s just gonna be bullshit and I’ve had just about all I can take of your bullshit lately.” He’s pacing the length of the bedroom, kicking the paper out of his way as he goes. “I work so bloody hard, trying to build up my business and saving every goddamn penny I earn so we can have a good life, so that we can finally get out of this shitty little semi and start building a real life and a family together. And meanwhile, you’re just flouncing around doing whatever the hell you want and getting wasted and throwing our money around town like it’s goddamn confetti! And then you think that becoming vegetarian is somehow going to fix things? HA!”

“Rye, c’mon it’s…”

“No. No Mags, there’s nothing you can say to make this better. You promised me, you promised me that you were going to help us save for a house. For the past three goddamn months you’ve been going on about how much money you’ve been saving, and then I find this. What do you expect me to do? Actually you know what, don’t answer that. I’m done with all your lies, and I’m exhausted. I’m gonna go sleep on the couch.” Then he just pulls the doona right off me and storms out of the room, switching the light off as he goes. I’m plunged into darkness and stay sitting exactly as I am – cross-legged, in my undies, staring at the wall – until long after I hear Ryan’s snores floating down the hall.

***

“I’m in.”

“Oh God Mags, c’mon I can’t deal with another cryptic conversation with you. What exactly are you in?”

“I’m in for India P, I’m coming with you. You leave tomorrow, right?”

“You’re not serious. You can’t be fucking serious.” Peace’s voice has risen a good two octaves. “Wait, are you serious?”

“P I’m IN, I’m telling you. I just can’t be here right now. Things with Ryan are bad. They’re really bad, and I just need to get the hell outta here and clear my head before I totally lose it. What flight are you on?”

“Holy shit Mags this is fucking awesome! OhmygodohmyGOD! You are not going to regret this, I’ll tell you that right now. We’re gonna have an amazing time and we’re gonna find your dad and we’re gonna get ourselves totally sorted out once and for all and…”

“P!” I shout down the phone. “I get that you’re excited, I am too. But you need to understand that I haven’t made up my mind about my dad yet, ok? And also, I really need you to tell me what flight you’re on so I can book a ticket before I realize what a huge fucking mistake I’m making.”

I mean it, too. I know that if I wait even ten minutes longer it’s just not going to happen, and after last night I know that it really has to happen.

“Sorry Mags, I really am seriously excited though! Umm ok, so I’m flying Air India to Delhi via Varanasi on Friday morning, round 11 I think, so just book whatever ticket gets you there then and we’ll sort the rest out tonight.” I say a quick goodbye and race out to the lounge room to grab my laptop. There’s no time to lose.

By 9pm I’ve booked my ticket and am completely packed (well, packing wasn’t a hundredth as difficult as it usually is thanks to my newly streamlined wardrobe). I’ve booked my early morning taxi to the airport and my e-ticket’s printed and ready to go. Ryan’s not home yet, thank God, because I have no idea how I’m going to explain this to him. But it’s too late to worry about that now, I just need to get out of here. Away from all this intense pressure, away from whatever it is that’s making me feel as though I’m slowly losing my mind.

I shower, throw on some PJs, pop half a Valium to calm my nerves, then crawl under the covers and let a yummy marshmallow cloud of sleep envelop me.

***

My alarm yanks me back into real world at 6.10am sharp. I slip out of bed and pad around the room like a jewel thief so I don’t wake Ryan, throwing a couple of last minute bits and pieces into the suitcase I hid in the wardrobe last night and slipping on the plane outfit I set aside beside it last night. In a few minutes I’m done, and I carry my suitcase out into the hallway to wait for my cab.

I tiptoe out to the lounge room and crouch by the coffee table with my favourite notebook, the one I snaffled from a Chanel fashion show last year with the big interlocking C’s embossed on every page, and start to write.

Rye, I’m so confused, I scrawl. I feel like I can’t get a handle on things and I just keep fucking everything up. I need to get my head straight but I just can’t do that here. I’ve decided to go to India with Peace, just for a week, to get some clarity. I’ll call you when I get there. I’m sorry. I sit back and read over the note, decide it’s too blunt, rip the page out and am about to start all over again when…

“There’s a taxi out the front. Did you order it?” A bleary-eyed Ryan, standing in the doorway in the Mr. Happy boxer shorts I bought him as a joke for our first wedding anniversary, rubbing his hands through his tousled bed hair.

“Oh! I… Err, yeah I did order it… I’m just… Well I…” I’m fumbling and I just can’t seem to dredge up the right words. In a panic, I thrust the now crumpled and sweat-stained note into his hand, turn and spill out into the hallway. My breath’s coming out short and sharp, it’s hardly there at all really, and I can’t seem to remember where I left my bags. Before I know it, Ryan’s thrusting them into my hands.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” he says softly, before walking into the bedroom and slamming the door behind him.

I cry all the way to the airport.