||Ian Thompson and Gemma Cook meet on their third day at university in September 1993. He is twenty and she is eighteen. They become best friends. They say they are not attracted to each other, they tell everyone that a man and a woman can just be friends.
No one believes them.
Gemma had never really travelled. Spain, Greece, Dublin once for a hen-weekend - the usual holiday destinations that seemed so dull now that you could fly anywhere on earth for the price of a coffee table. The other junior architects laughed at her, because she hadn’t even been to New York.
“You haven’t lived,” they declared, chuckling.
She countered by boasting that her best friend Ian was a travel writer, he’d been everywhere, including places even these geeky architects with their Hoxton fins and latest Levis had never heard of like Krygystan, Kiribati and the Aleutian Islands. But he was no happier for it.
“Your best friend’s a bloke?” the architects smirked. “Is he gay?”
“I don’t think so,” she replied, testily. “He’s been going out with my sister for the last eight months!”
“Kinky,” they said.
“Piss off, idiots,” she retorted, and hurried to the toilets to worry, as usual, about her inability to come up with instant, impressive put-downs.
Gemma was afraid of travel. The word itself sounded like ‘travail’ – ‘a painful or laborious effort’. She’d looked it up once in a dictionary. It came from the Latin ‘trepalium’, a Roman instrument of torture. Which raised the question: “why you would willingly partake in an activity that derives its name from a three-pronged spear used to kill Roman prisoners?”
She admitted she was nervous of things she didn’t understand. She thought it was a natural human tendency – the fear of the unknown. Gemma was constantly surprised that so many people paid good money to go abroad, throwing themselves into situations that made them feel disorientated and scared.
Gemma wasn’t proud of her fears. She wanted to be braver. She wanted to challenge herself. Now, more than ever.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Ian. “There’s nowhere left worth visiting anyway. Everywhere’s accessible, everywhere’s touched by tourism, there’s no dusty corner of the world that a Canon Ixus hasn’t snapped to show the folks back home. There’s nothing left to explore.”
Of course, she nodded agreement, her instinctive reaction when faced with something she felt ignorant about. But secretly she wondered. Maybe there was somewhere left to explore. Maybe each of us was exploring new territory, new lands, every day.
“How’s that?” she imagined Ian questioning her, with his slyly debonair lop-sided grin.
“Love, emotions, relationships…” she imagined herself replying, faltering as she tried to formulate confused thoughts into words. “There are no maps, no charts anymore. We’re like those people who went out to Australia in the 1800s, they had nothing to tell them what was there, they had to draw their own maps, build new roads, new towns, new railways … We’re the same … with relationships. Everything’s new, the old maps don’t work anymore. Don’t you think?”