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The taxi I'd been riding in for the last two hours pulls out, turns the corner, and drives out of sight. I don't know whether to be happy it's gone or to panic and call another one to take me back. People are glancing my way as they walk past me. I'm just standing there, one suitcase on either side of me and an ornate hotel standing behind me, rolling its eyes. Sighing, I take each suitcase and spin around slowly to enter the doorway.
Somehow, this felt like more than the transition from room to room. It felt like I was finally doing what I had wanted. I guess the fear was normal, because it was the same fear I had felt when I told my parents I was going. I had thought Father would never let me go; he liked to keep his family close at hand. But with a strange smile on his face, he told me to go. Mother said I was welcome to come home at any time. "Don't be counting on that," I'd said in reply.
It's surprisingly dark inside the lobby. With a full wall of windows, I would have thought it was just like the outdoors. I have always imagined these fancy buildings to be showered with light, to be filled with happy people. In contrast, nobody looks up from laptops, magazines, and books. Maybe I was being too judgemental. Maybe I was expecting too much. At least the chandelier hangs from the insanely high ceiling just like before, the crystals seeming too delicate to be so high above the ground.
Blue and gold stripes take turns on the walls and the furniture is all dark wood, spaced far apart from each other so that if you want to sit down you don't have to talk to anyone else. The saddest thing, though, about this place are the children present. A little girl, seven years old or so, sits silently, back straight, her mother beside her, completely ignoring her. Two boys sit in chairs far apart, not even attempting to make faces at each other like my neighbors at the farm, the Woodly boys, would have.
The last time I was here, I thought the kids were so elegant and I wanted to be like them. Back then, I was an eleven year old country girl visiting the city for the first time with her parents, seeing only the beautiful glass and soft carpets. The people, they remind me of... the paintings my mother used to hang around the house. Old fashioned children at a picnic, fishing at a pond, dancing. I'd always thought they would be happier if they really were alive like I was.
I stop staring at the children and roll my suitcases over to the check-in desk. The lady sitting there looks up, not smiling. I stagger back a little at the glare she gives me. Had I done something wrong? Killed her cat? If you killed someone's cat in my town, you got the silent treatment from everyone. I decided she was really smiling. City people probably had their own way to smiling. "Good afternoon! I have a room here and I just came in from my old home! This is going to be th-," I begin saying to her, excited. She held her hand up to stop my chatter.
"What's your name?" she asks dully.
"Marissa," I say, face shining. People talk here! They actually communicate!
The woman only looks annoyed. She mutters something about young people and respect, then glares at me again. "Your last name, child. And be quick about it. I have important business." Now her voice is tight. When I'd walked up, she'd been reading a book. It must be awful good to be in such a hurry to get back to it.
Disappointed, I say, "Oh, sorry. Harris. Marissa Harris. H-a-r-r-i-s."
"I know how to spell Harris, young lady," the woman says and unlike my usual self, I don't reply. She hands me a key with a room number.
"Thank you," I say. By now I know what her reply will be. Silence. I go past the desk to the elevators. I push the button and watch as the elevator comes down the glass box it moves in. The last time I was here, I was fascinated by it. The elevator comes to a stop at the lobby and I go into it. It's empty and I'm surprised how much that compresses my mood. This place should be full of talking and laughter! People should be thriving in this elegant place.
I study the room number on the key and see that I am going to the fifth floor. When I punch in the glowing number five, I want that leap of heart that I had so many years ago. Wow, eleven years seem like an eternity. Funny how I felt so old back then. But it doesn't come. My heart sighs in boredom, not making even the slightest move to leave its ground. None of this is like when I was nine. The elevator moves up and I press my face against the glass, looking down, and wanting to make a mark on this world. When I get out, I am glad my door is right beside the elevators. Quick escape route. I push the key into the lock and turn the doorknob gently, wanting to savor the moment I would see my new home.
I don't look around the room, however. I go straight to the windows at the back and open the biggest suitcase I have in tow. I pull out my easel and canvas and folding stool, setting everything up deftly. It's when I get to my paints that I realize nothing is coming to my mind. Nothing I saw today was inspiration for a piece of art. I could draw those sad people, the dull faces, and the glittering building hiding false hope.
No. I don't want that to be my first painting here. With that thought, an idea comes to mind. I pick up the blue and white paints, squirting them onto my pallet. The two colors swirl against each other as I mix them into one. Then they are the perfect balance of the sky in the country. I dab my brush into the paint and stroke it across the white canvas. After that, I don't have to think about my brushstrokes. My mind has made up its mind and my hand is just a pawn to it. Like magic, a picture appears.
For hours, I just paint. I don't stop at all and feel invincible; no hunger intrudes and the need to get up no longer exists. Finally, I am as finished as I ever will be. Three horses, a chestnut, a white mare, and a mahogany colored horse race against each other, manes and tails flying out behind them from their own speed and nature's wind. Mountains stand strong in the distance and golden autumn leaves cloak the trees bordering the open field. The sun was hardest to paint, to add fire into it and still make it friendly. I realized it was the sun of my childhood.
I had no trouble painting the wild horses. They were too much like I used to be. Not a thing stands in their way and they can do anything, go anywhere. They aren't held down by people, they don't know hate. They can love recklessly and gallop freely without anybody caring. I want to look into their joyous eyes and find the secret to throwing caution into the wind that the majestic creatures hold. I want to ride bareback along the shore of the sea and feel the energy that only a horse can hold compressed. I want to feel the wind combing through my hair, and have real laughter escaping from my mouth.
Another idea comes to my mind and it makes me want to cry. All these paintings I paint won't be what I'm experiencing anymore. They will be what I wish I could be doing. I want to go back to the mountains I grew up on, away from this horrible mistake I have birthed and cared for until it was so big that its shadow left no room for any negotiation.
I leap up from my stool, knocking it down as I rush to the door. It slams shut behind me. Barefoot, white summer dress hanging loosely from my frame, I probably look like a lunatic, but I no longer care what these people think. A business woman standing beside the elevator, shifting from foot to foot with impatience, eyes me angrily. I smile with all the love I feel surging through my veins and boiling in my blood. I'm going home and these people aren't. I'm going back to where I belong. I'm going back!
I spin away from the elevator, even more impatient than the well-dressed woman. The stairs are at the end of the hallway and I sprint to them, my feet leaving faint green footprints behind, paint staining the hardwood flooring. I take a seat on one of the railings of the stairs and slide down it, taking no notice of the people sitting lamely on the couches and chairs. I skip out the door and spin around, my skirt flaring out, all too dazzling against the gray concrete. I signal a taxi and dive into it, tossing my last bundle of money to the driver. "To the mountain homes and you can keep the change," I say, knowing that everyone in this city knows about the last true country homes.
The driver looks skeptical, but glances at the bundle of twenty dollar bills in his palm and shrugs, deciding it best not to contradict. I roll down the window as we drive by, the buildings getting smaller and more spread apart. When my last rays of disappointment disappear, I order the driver to let me out. I jump out and roll into the grass. I'm not scared anymore. I'm facing my fear, but I'm not scared. I'm not scared that I have no plan.
I run, run, run. Up the side of the mountain until I get to the little farm house that used to be my family's, standing empty. The roof hangs in, only held up in a section. The paint is gray and the shed to the side has collapsed. None of the horses I would watch roaming around are here anymore. All of them are gone.
The sun I painted shines down on my back, keeping me warm as I sit down in the grass and hug my knees. I wish I could run like the horses could, so long ago.