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Exile: In An Untethered Time

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

It had been unseasonably warm and sunny all week. Daffodils and crocuses dug out their springtime headdresses, café chairs shuffled outside, students erupted into a riot of shorts and flip flops, cherry trees donned their aristocratic wigs. It was as beautiful as it was wrong - and it was out of my control.

I stopped for coffee in Broomhill. I recognised the man at the next table with his back to me, a sporty guy from my school with prematurely muscular shoulders, close-cropped black hair and pale brown, south European skin. He hadn't aged a day in 25 years.

Soon after, I arrived at the railway station. Here was another man, a little taller than me, with unruly, gingerish-blond hair, his bright pink earphones contrasting with his sober blue jacket. He was unmistakably the seven-year old son of my friend Dean, suddenly grown up. I was staring 25 years into the future, though the trains hadn't improved.

Time had become untethered. Through the train door was a dance floor, 50 years across, the seasons revolving and flashing, everyone I had ever known milling around at the same party. Some greeted me with a hug or a peck on the cheek. A chubby man turned away from the woman he was flirting with, grabbed me by the shirt and shoved me angrily. I wriggled away, found a door and burst outside into the daylight, on a shiny new plaza I didn't know.

Hunger dragged me into the trendy-looking Exile Café. The A-board outside bore the healthy-eating motto: "Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper." A young suited man beckoned me to a highly-polished table. A waitress glided over, bringing coffee in a copper pot, a tiny, stemmed glass of Calvados and a soft-boiled duck egg, the top sliced cleanly off, the yolk pocked with pink peppercorns. It was sensational.

I'm sorry, I don't carry money

As I finished, the suited man returned with a folder of papers. "Sir," he began, a little tentatively. "This first document confirms your decision to dissolve your government. Please sign here. This second document declares your abdication. We have a replica of each for the press conference."

I pondered morosely how I'd failed to put anyone against the wall for this mess. The charlatans who had driven the country to the edge, hijacked the media, discredited the scientists, stymied the education system. As it turned out, I had been powerless against them.

The sun strolled across the cloudless sky. The paparazzi piled in, rattled off a million shots of me signing the duplicate documents and making pronouncements about the good causes I would now be dedicating myself to. Then they swarmed out, leaving behind a confetti of coffee cups and half-eaten pastries. Exile was now very quiet. I gnawed listlessly on a flapjack.

The waitress brought my bill. I stared at her, aghast. "I'm sorry, I don't carry money," I said, thinking of all the currency that would now have to be minted with someone else's face. She replied passively. "That is understood, sir, but you will appreciate that free lunches are not on the menu here. Whenever you return with your payment for today's meal you will be most welcome."

I sat on a stone bench in the plaza and after a while I dozed off. Swiftly, a uniformed woman materialised. "I'm afraid you can't sleep here, sir. Are you homeless?"

I opened my mouth to ask her, 'Do you know who I am?' but stopped myself. Fumbling in my pocket, I found a train ticket. "That will get you back safely," the woman said, and pointed me towards the station.

Andrew Wood

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