Colin and Brian had met two years previously, at a university in Sydney, where they bonded instantly over a common desire to get away from the people they were expected to become. Brian was born and raised there, whereas Colin had arrived with his parents after his sister died from leukaemia at the age of 14.
Colin had grown up in Dublin, and knew those streets like the back of his hand. After two years in Australia, a country strange to him, in a city bigger than Dublin in any way he thought possible, he kept thinking that there was something missing, although he couldn't grasp exactly what it was. He felt that the answer was waiting for him back in Ireland, and the only way he could feel whole again, and home again, was by returning to the streets where he grew up. Maybe all he needed was some sort of closure, but the only thing he knew for sure was that he had to get back there, and see what it was the city wanted to tell him.
His parents, both attorneys and with high hopes of him becoming one as well, had at first protested wildly when he declared his intentions, but soon realised there was no changing his mind. They themselves had hastily left their home in order to deal with their daughter's untimely death the only way they knew how. By escaping all the bad memories of her illness, however, they also left behind the good memories, of which of course there were plenty. In doing so, they decided they could start anew, not thinking about what this did to their 19-year-old son, who by no means was ready to leave any memories of his sister behind.
Brian, being an only child of two people who couldn't stand the sight of each other and - when he was 12 - had finally decided that sticking together for his sake was making matters worse, had never known a life not getting exactly what he wanted, materialistically. His mother came from a family of old money, and his father from a family of new money, and from both sides he had received bribes for as long as he could remember. When Colin told him about his plans of going back to Ireland, Brian saw it as an opportunity to achieve the independence he had never had, and grabbed it with both hands.
They were anxious to leave, but Colin felt he needed time to put his thoughts in order before he arrived, and so the decision to backpack their way north was made. Now, six weeks later they found themselves on a train from Marseille to Paris, to begin the last fraction of their journey, accompanied by this red-haired young woman. And as the train rolled into Gare de Lyon, and people started gathering their luggage from the overhead shelves, she woke up with a start.
"Welcome back to life," Colin said, "Do you know where you are?"
Red sleepily turned her head towards the window, rubbing the back of her neck gently. Her eyes searched the platform in her typical way, and Colin waited for a response. When they had gotten on the train earlier, she had been too worked up to for them to be sure if she understood where they were going. She quickly lost interest in the platform, however, and got up on her feet, pulling her messy hair away from her face, and yawned.
"We're in Paris," Colin continued, not sure if he felt more disappointed or amused by her lack of interest in where she was. She looked up at him, her eye brows lifted, as if to say "I'm not stupid, I know we're in Paris," and smiled softly.
When he helped her down with her backpack, he noticed a small flag on the lid, and recognised it as Norwegian. Her mood seemed better after a bit of rest, and out of fear of setting off another fit, he just handed it to her without a word.
The journey on the train had somehow felt really quiet, all sounds muffled by the rhythmic sounds of the wheels against the tracks. Now, as the train stopped and the sounds of it died out, it was like resurfacing after an underwater swim, and with the everyday sounds of people talking and shuffling their luggage around on the concrete platform outside, it was as if time finally caught up with them again.
Brian's heart sank as he left the train and was met by what seemed like a compact wall of sound and heat. His backpack felt heavier with every time he lifted it, and although he had by now gotten used to carrying it around and sharing room with strangers at hostels, he was still glad the journey would be over soon. His lust for adventure was more than satisfied, and he was looking forward to staying in one place for a while. A place where people had the good sense to be speaking English, he added in his mind, as a tanned, dark haired man with a little moustache swore loudly into his mobile phone, while gesticulating wildly with his free hand. The longer he stayed on the road, the more people looked and sounded like mere caricatures of themselves, he thought wearily.
He stopped for a second, just below the final step from the coach, adjusting the reins and buckles of the backpack, strongly aware of the weight being poorly dispersed inside it. He should have learned that lesson by now. Someone bumping into him from behind didn't exactly help the matter. He turned around to see Red, her backpack only thrown over one shoulder, smiling apologetically at him. He moved a few feet away from the steps, and returned the expression, his head swimming a little. Behind her, Colin exited the train, his face beaming for no reason that Brian could tell.