The submission is officially due tomorrow, so I won't have any feedback from my lecturer for a few days yet. That's probably a good thing anyway, because it will take a few days to process this piece and determine if I'm entirely happy with it or not. We shall see.
What I will say is, keeping to a 500-word limit is very tricky. The lecturer was never going to criticise us for exceeding it - or even totally disregarding it - but I was trying to be disciplined.
The phone booth was a greenhouse that sunny May day; the unseasonal heat amplifying the typical phone booth smell of urine and stale sweat. I pulled the door shut behind me and resolved to breathe through my mouth. The conversation I was about to have demanded complete privacy; or as much privacy as I could expect to have in a public phone booth on a busy French street in lunch hour.
I had been making these distress calls home so frequently that I had committed the dialing codes to memory. Nevertheless my clammy hands rummaged for the phone card hiding in the abyss of my school bag. Brushing a hot, fat tear off my crumpled tee-shirt, I pondered my decision not to unpack. My clothes still smelled of home. Assigning them to unfamiliar cupboards would taint them with a sense of belonging that I knew I did not feel here, and maybe never would.
The blast of a car horn startled me. Looking out the booth window, I could see my language classmates across the street, sitting together in the dappled shade of the public park. No more than strangers ten days ago, this motley crew from at least nine different countries was effortlessly doing what I could not – swapping stories and laughing casually, in their wrinkle-free clothes.
Card in hand, I dialed the number, with no idea what time it was back home, or what my call might have been interrupting. The phone rang twice, three times, and then connected. I immediately discerned the sleepy voice of my father at the end of the line. It must have been the middle of the night in Australia, but Dad had answered the call because he had known it would be me. And that broke my heart.
For a split second, my breath caught in my throat and my vision blurred with new tears. Squeaking a hello, I could hear my Dad sitting up in bed and my mother leaving the room to pick up the phone extension in the study. It was the middle of the night and both of my parents were again ready and willing to provide telephonic therapy. More tears fell.
For ten minutes the calm common sense of my parents punctuated my incoherent, snuffling sobs. Falling into our familiar roles, I whined and wailed as my parents cooed and consoled. From somewhere amongst my self-pitying moans of homesick solitude came the firm voice of my mother. “You could just come home, you know” was all she said. Her words echoed in my brain. After a few silent moments, my father sighed, bade me goodnight and announced he was going back to sleep. I thanked my parents, made my own hasty farewells and quietly replaced the receiver.
With dry eyes, I looked up towards the park and heaved open the phone booth door, breathing in the warm aroma of freshly-baked baguettes.