The Map

Nadina waited impatiently for the passengers of the recently landed plane to pass through the glass door with a bright sign which spelled “arrivals”.

After a few years of separation, her best friend is coming to visit.

Nadina thought that she would never get used to a life without Eva. They were inseparable and shared everything. Well, almost everything. What Eva didn’t know about Nadina was that she had always been in love with her. Eva knew that Nadina dated women, but she never saw herself as one of those women. She was Nadina’s friend, and that put her in a completely separated category. And Nadina, despite always being honest to Eva, never had the courage to admit the truth. She didn’t think it would make any sense to do it. Eva was always a friend, and that was something she was not willing to lose. It was perfectly fine the way it always was. All right, maybe not perfectly, but still fine.

For a moment, Nadina got lost in her thoughts, so she didn’t notice Eva until she got quite close to her. From the moment Eva sent her an e-mail explaining that she was coming home for a while Nadina imagined this moment. And she almost missed it.

“Have you turned blind?” joked Eva and hugged her confused friend.

Touch meant reality.

“You haven’t changed at all”, smiled Nadina.

What a stupid thing to say, she thought. She needed time to gather her feelings, but she didn’t want to sound weird. She couldn’t believe Eva’s return shook her this much.

“I haven’t changed? So why didn’t you recognize me?” Eva continued in a joking tone. She always talked like that, remembered Nadina.

“Of course I recognized you. You haven’t even changed your hairstyle since I last saw you. I would recognize you from a mile away”, replied Nadina.

“Oh, well, that wasn’t so long ago”, said Eva.

“It depends how you perceive it… Five years is not that short”, noticed Nadina.

“Five years!” Eva seemed stunned. “That much? It seems less… Well, that must be my vanity, bursting out at the surface. I don’t want to admit that I’m slowly getting old.”

“To be completely honest, it is a bit less than five years. It was summer when you left, wasn’t it? I remember we went to the beach the day before. You knew you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the sea that much once you leave.”

Nadina remembered it perfectly, but was afraid to admit. She had never been so sad. And Eva smiled, enjoyed the bright sun, sparkling sea and warm sand under her feet. A part of Nadina wanted Eva to be sad too. The other part was happy to remember her as she always was – irredeemably optimistic.

Nadina insisted that Eva lived with her for those few months she planned to spend in the town. There was no need for Eva to pay for an expensive hotel room. Nadine had a large apartment with two bedrooms which were mostly bare and lifeless. Nadina often slept on the couch, in front of the TV. The sense of loneliness eased in the presence of sound and moving images. Ever since Sofia left, Nadina felt surrounded by unpleasant emptiness.

“So, you never told me what happened with you and your girlfriend… Sofia, right?” asked Eva as she sunk into the bright yellow sofa, the only colourful thing in Nadina’s pale living room, and took a careful sip of hot tea.

“Not much to tell”, replied Nadine, looking thoughtfully at her cup. “It just didn’t work out.”

“Really? Just like that? After, how much, it must be at least seven years?”

“A little less than six, actually. Well, things like that happen sometimes”, Nadine looked at her fingers which grasped the teacup almost defensively. Her fingernails were short; she used to bite them. Somebody told her it is a sign of anxiety, or even depression, but she never believed it.

Her fingernails got uglier after Sofia left, it is true, but Nadina never really loved her. For Nadina, Sofia was a habit, and never excitement. They somehow ended up in each other’s lives, at that was all. At least in the beginning. It became complicated later on. Suddenly, Sofia cared too much, and the inability to respond to that pained Nadina. Eventually, it had to end. And now, sometimes, Nadine could feel that she truly missed Sofia. Everything was different. Sad and hollow.

Eva’s e-mail was a wake-up call for Nadina. An awakening from a long period of hopelessness. It seemed that nothing could be better than seeing Eva again. The unexpected visit soon became the only meaningful aspect of her existence. It was all she could think about, all she hoped for.

And now, Eva was finally here and it seemed there was so much to catch up with. But Nadine just didn’t know how…

“You know, Nadina, I didn’t come here just for a visit. To be honest, there’s a very specific reason for me coming here”, Eva said it all in one breath.

“So, why are you here for?” asked Nadina.

“You are probably going to think I’m crazy” snorted Eva.

“Well, I already think that”, laughed Nadina. “Come on! I have known you for centuries! You cannot surprise me anymore.”

That wasn’t true. Eva could always surprise Nadina.

“I know. That’s why I wanted to share this with you. But, please, listen to me until the end and don’t make fun of me!”

Nadine found Eva’s behaviour curious. Eva was never this careful and she always did whatever she wanted, no questions asked.

“Come on, already! You’re killing me!” Nadine hurried her.

“OK. But first there’s something you must see.”

Eva searched her travel bag and carefully drew out a large, yellow envelope, and presented Nadina with a weighty, brownish paper which looked like some sort of a parchment.

“I found this in an old book, completely by accident, while I was, bored as I often get, browsing through the oldest books I could find in the library. I don’t even know why I did that…” explained Eva.

A large map was opened before Nadina’s eyes. It was obviously drawn by hand, but it still looked very detailed and precise.

“See this?” Eva pointed at a little red cross.

“Like in a pirate film!” Nadina laughed out loud.

“Yes, with a slight difference that this is not a film. Who knows what lies there?!” Eva gently touched the little red cross.

“You can’t be serious?!”

“I might be…”

“But…”

“I found the place that the map represents. And guess what! It’s here! Just a short ride from the city. Can’t you see? The river is there, so the city should be below… It matches completely! Don’t you think it’s weird that I found a map of this place in a country so far away?”

Nadina didn’t know what to say. She wouldn’t like to hurt her friend who smiled so enthusiastically. Eva really believed in this insane fantasy. She had always been quite childish, and Nadina used to like it. Now, it seemed quite ridiculous.

“So, what are you planning to do?” asked Nadina warily.

“Find it, whatever it is, marked by the little cross.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit silly to believe you’ll actually find something there?”

“Maybe, but don’t you think it’s worth a risk?”

Nadina wasn’t sure, and Eva realized that immediately.

“It’ll be fun. Just you and me, a real little adventure. So what if we find nothing! We never needed a reason to do something crazy.”

Nadina remembered the time when Eva persuaded her to sneak into their school at night. Nadina was very afraid. Eva wasn’t. There was no plan, and no point to that adventure. They did nothing, but they did have fun in the end. And that was the point. Fun.

Nadina didn’t have fun for years. She was always tense, a now Eva seemed to be her cure.

„You are right! We need to find the buried treasure!“

***

Lunch break. Nadina normally had no trouble concentrating on her work, nor did she find it tiresome. However, today was different. She couldn’t bare sitting at her desk, and she felt as if she was losing her precious time with Eva. Her friend came back after so many years, and she felt she should be with her. Strange how Eva’s arrival completely changed the pace of her life… And in just one day, Nadine stopped thinking of her office as a sanctuary. Today, she thought of things she should say to Eva, details of her life she could share, small things she has to show. She was scared they won’t be able to talk like they used to, and that they might run out of topics. She feared she might realize that something between them simply and irretrievably changed. That just mustn’t happen! Eva was always the most important person in Nadina’s life, and that cannot change.

“What’s with the frowning face?” chuckled the cheerful voice which belonged to Nadina’s colleague and friend, Lee.

Lee was an interesting girl, seemingly quiet and serious, but actually quite goofy. She always wore simple black dresses which got along perfectly with her completely black hair and eyes, and contrasted her pale complexion. Nadine imagined Lee’s closet was just a never-ending line of black dresses. Nothing ever distorted Lee’s black and white image, she even painted her nails in one of the two non-colours.

“Am I frowning?” Nadina was surprised. “I’m actually very happy. My best friend lived abroad for five years and now she’s back. She’s staying with me for a while.”

“Really? That’s nice”, replied Lee and put her lunchbox on the table.

Lee never ate the food they offered in the canteen. She was extremely picky with her food and she preferred to torture herself with cooking early in the morning, than with eating in the afternoon.

“Have you got any plans for the weekend? I assume you plan to hang out until you get tired of each other”, smiled Lee.

“Well, yes, actually, I think we are going on some sort of a field trip”, Nadina remembered the old map and realized how the whole idea still seemed absurd. And she feared Eva would be very disappointed when they find nothing. If they find nothing… But Nadina doubted it.

“A field trip? Sounds interesting. Where are you going?”

Nadina didn’t know where the map would lead them. She was ashamed to admit what the whole insane trip is really about. She bit her lip nervously.

“Well. You know, Eva is the one who organizes everything, so…”

Lee looked vigilantly at Nadina, who wanted to hide her face but couldn’t.

“Spill it out. Why don’t you seem thrilled by this whole field trip idea?” Lee asked starkly.

“I’m not sure myself…” admitted Nadina. She felt the need to share her feelings, and Lee was the only person she could call a friend for the last few years. “I’m acting like a boring, old woman. This trip should be fun, right? Eva stayed her same fun self, ready for action. And I… I want to be fun, but I am afraid I’m not anymore. And I don’t want Eva to see that.”

“You don’t have to do things you don’t want to just to prove you’re fun”, frowned Lee. “I don’t see you as old and boring.”

“I don’t know… Eva was my protector when we were in school. She was loved by everyone, and I was mocked for my ugly, round glasses. Once she started hanging out with me, everything got better. Nobody is as important for me as she is. And now, I’m afraid that changed. And she is not the one to blame for it, she stayed the same, I am the one who changed. When have I stopped being a little geek impressed by little things in life?”

“You never have. You are still that person”, smiled Lee. “You keep forgetting I know all about your collection of dragon toys. I even gave you one.”

Nadina cheered up.

“I still feel guilty because of that. You’ve had that dragon since you were a child.”

„I think he’s happier with others of his kind.“

***

Eva checked the map once again while she fastened her seatbelt. She insisted that she would drive, since it was all her idea in the first place. There is no need for Nadina to bother driving, she explained, especially if her directions are wrong and they end up driving for a very long time. She pushed the seat forward and put and old CD in the CD-player.

Nadina finally felt that this could be fun. The music was loud and they sang along the long forgotten tunes from their childhood. They couldn’t believe they still remembered the lyrics. They talked about nothing else. Nadina feared that this was all that bonded them. Memories of some really bad songs.

Then Eva stopped the car.

„We have to walk from here“, she said..

Nadina followed her without a word. The silence made her uneasy.

„You haven’t really said much about your life there“, she muttered.

„There’s not much to say. It’s fine“, Eva was focused on the track ahead of her.

„Have you met any interesting people“ tried Nadina.

„Yes, many. But none of them interesting enough to… Stay. You know?“

„You made no friends?“

„I did, actually. Just not any close ones.“

„I understand. I don’t really have friends either. Maybe just Lee…” Nadine started, but Eva stopped her.

„That sounds boring. Who do you go out with?”

„Well, since Sofia left I haven’t really been going out…“ admitted Nadina.

She did’t feel like sharing this with Eva who surely had a lot of fun. She was always surrounded by a bunch of people, and Nadine was her complete opposite. Eva never quite understood Nadine’s need for peace and quiet, but she respected it. And now, somehow all of their differences seemed greater. Insurmountable. It was so much easier once…

Nadina and Eva were silent for a long time. They weren’t on a path anymore, they walked on grass. And then, Eva cheered:

„It’s here!“

Tired, Nadina dropped her backpack on the ground and pulled out a bottle of water. Eva was still full of energy. She started digging.

„C’mon!“ she called Nadina. „Help me! It’s here, it must be here!”

Nadina sighed, but joined Eva. As the time passed, she stopped believing they would find anything. The hole in the ground was getting deeper and deeper, and then she finally gave up.

„I can’t do this anymore. There’s nothing here…“

„No! We must dig some more.“

„For crying out loud, let’s at least eat something!“

It was past 5 p.m. and they hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. For some reason, Nadina remembered Lee and her carefully prepared meals. The sandwiches they brought were quite dry, but they ate them quickly anyway.

“When you’re done we can start digging again”, said Eva.

“Already?!” mumbled Nadina and almost choked on a bite of her sandwich.

„Ok, we’ll rest a bit. Just don’t die on me“, Eva smiled.

„Maybe I made a mistake. I don’t understand…“ Eva looked at the map and started measuring distances again. They dug until they reached a giant stone. They couldn’t proceed.

“I think I took a wrong turn… We should have driven a little more… That must be it.”

„Eva! The sun is almost down! This is insane, we should go back! We won’t be able to reach the car at night.” Nadine was starting to panic.

“Well, we have sleeping bags. We can proceed in the morning”, shrugged Eva.

“Sleeping bags?! No, we should get back on the road and find a motel. I saw several…”

“I don’t see a problem with us staying here.”

„I’ve got only one sandwich left!” cried Nadine.

„I think you should leave it for breakfast“, was all that Eva had to say.

Nadina didn’t sleep at all that night. The sleeping bag wasn’t comfortable and she kept having a feeling of something slithering across her body. Each time she heard a strange sound, she would turn and desperately look at Eva who breathed slowly, safe in her dreams. Nadina felt like she was in a horror movie. And besides all that, she was agonizingly hungry.

Nadina regretted going to this crazy trip. She did it for Eva, but her friend showed no consideration. She barely spoke to her. Nadina felt like crying, but was too scared that something would hear her sobs.

In the morning, Nadina ravenously ate her old sandwich. Eva ate peacefully and looked rested. Then she went to check the map.

„It’s not here!“ Eva was distraught.

„Where did you put it last night?“ asked Nadina.

„Here, in this pocket! And now it’s gone!!“

Nadina pretended to look for the map, but was actually really happy that it was gone. Soon, she suggested they should go home.

Eva went mad.

“I thought you wanted this!” she yelled. “You don’t even care!”

Nadina drove home, and Eva stayed quiet.

When they came home, she moved to a hotel.

***

“I didn’t want it to be like that. I’m really sorry, Nadina. When I find the map I will call you and I promise it’s going to be great this time.”

A text from Eva came the next day. Nadina didn’t text back.

She called Lee instead.

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