When you're a student, and you have no particular reason to get up in the morning, December is a month made entirely of evenings. The evening seems to start at around lunchtime, as the light begins to fade and keeps going until you go to sleep. If the stars come out at 4pm, it's easy to lose track of where evening ends and night begins, and if it doesn't get light until 8am, the shift from night into morning is similarly hard to spot.
On this particular evening me and Kristen had woken up at around noon, showered, and then gone our separate ways. We'd spent the previous evening shopping for presents that she could take back to her family and making our goodbyes to those who were getting on evening flights -- I think we finally went to sleep at about 4am.
In the half light of the early evening, I walked the eight metres back to my house, and settled down to finish writing my paper. It'd been a week or two since I'd last slept in my room, and longer since I last made any attempt to make it look lived-in. Most of the flat surfaces -- including the bed -- were covered by a thick layer of unwashed clothes over which lay piles of handwritten notes, photocopied academic journals, and dog-eared library books.
The next few hours were spent writing. With the curtains drawn and my headphones on, I was completely cut off from the rest of the world and so didn't notice the time passing as evening turned to slightly darker evening. I emerged from my cave at about 9pm, having gotten so hungry that nothing I was writing was making sense anymore. I made myself a giant sandwich with the remaining edible items in my fridge and wandered across to Kristen's house. This had been more or less my daily routine for most of the last month -- unlike every other house in Homestall, Kristen's front door didn't lock automatically, so me and the flat's various other nocturnal inhabitants used to come and go as we pleased.
I found Kristen upstairs, neatly folding things into her enormous bag while intermittently carrying on a conversation with one of her friends back home on messenger. I tried to help, but it soon became apparent that my folding abilities were way below par, and so I was relegated to the task of keeping her entertained. Eventually the time came for me and Kristen to head down to the station so she could catch the shuttle bus to the airport. It was about 4am at this point, and even the hardest partying kids at gone to sleep. The only lights left on in parkwood were those of the students who were either really obsessive about their work, or were even worse at managing their time than me. As we walked down the hill I was stuck once again by how alien Canterbury could still feel to me. Even in the dead of night, there are still signs of life in London — night buses and minicabs plying the roads, the odd dog walker or insomniac. In Canterbury, on the other hand, all was silent. We didn't see a single person in the 40 minutes it took to walk down to the station, I only saw a few houses with lights on. We talked in whispers, like we were walking through a dormitory in the middle of the night, and listened to the click-clack of the suitcase’s wheels running over the cracks in the pavement. Every sound we made seemed to echo off the buildings around us, which was a little eerie after a while.
While waiting for the bus to turn up, we curled up into a ball on a bench and talked about our plans for the holidays. We were both curious to know if our friends would think we'd changed in the time we'd been gone. The bus turned up early, and we made our goodbyes. It would have been romantic for me to have stuck around, but I didn't. I was really tired. I walked back up to campus and slept until the next evening. I had a dream that I was in South Carolina with Kristen. South Carolina looked an awful lot like Norfolk in my mind, but it made me wake up with a big grin on my face. I was woken up by my phone telling me I had a message. It said “I got through security with no problems and I've spent the last of my English money on coffee. I'm missing you already, see you in the new year.”
Up to that point I'd not been entirely sure what the status of our relationship was, so the realization that she was still thinking of me left me floating somewhere above my own head. I wrote something back, but I don't think Kristen got it before she got into the air.
I kept that text message on my phone for years, saving it to my SIM card each time I changed phones so I didn't lose it.