No matter how much we long to escape others, we can't. That is one of the observations I read about this collection in the introduction and it is a sentiment that comes out very clearly in this weekend's story, "Travelling Light", the titular story of Tove Jansson that I am reading now.
"Everything was in the past now, gone, of no significance; nothing mattered anymore, no one was important. No telephone, no letters, no doorbell. Of course you have no idea what I'm referring to, but it doesn't matter anyway; in fact I shall merely assert that everything has been sorted out to the best of my ability, thoroughly taken care of down to the smallest detail."
The narrator of the story has left no information, no forwarding address, or note as to when he would return. He says, "I've always dreamed of travelling light", and while he has packed the barest minimum and asked for a room alone, a better cabin at a higher cost all those careful plans are forfeited thanks to a full ship and a misunderstanding. How can he complain and know that someone must end up sleepless on a deck chair thanks to him. So, to avoid all interaction he decides to go to the bar for a solitary drink instead.
"I sat and pondered the Idea of Travel; that is to say, the act of travelling unfettered and with no responsibility for what one has left behind and without any opportunity to foresee what may lie ahead and prepare for it. Nothing but an enormous sense of peace."
Or, wishful thinking. Since the man who sits next to him in the bar, happens to be his cabin mate. At first the personable young man seems an enlightened and experienced traveller and the two men have an earnest and happy conversation.
" . . . nothing has become so completely foreign, almost hateful to me, to be avoided at all costs, as curiosity and sympathy, any disposition to encourage in the slightest degree the surrounding world's irresistible need to start talking about its troubles."
He broke his own rules, but then he thought he was on his way to a new freedom. He was being reckless thinking he would get off scot-free. So when the man set his room key down on the bar and it dawns on the narrator that this is his unseen but very 'present' roommate, he is stuck. Instead of complaining to the purser about the mixup and sending his cabin-mate to a deckchair, it is the narrator himself who ends up there! And even then, he can't get away from human interaction.
This is the sort of story that when I first read it I wasn't overly impressed, but on further reflection and skimming over the sections I marked and reading that last wonderful paragraph, I like it much more than I previously thought. Here is this man who thinks he can get away from the world except on his own terms, spends to much time reflecting in his mind, which the reader is-of course-privy to, of how wonderfully he has arranged to finally be On His Own, and then-hah, a wonderfully ironic ending. Tove Jansson's stories can be wonderfully light and playful even while they have a nice weightiness to them, too. They are sort of paradoxical, being two things at once--simultaneously one thing and another. I do love her writing.
Next week a very long short story: "The Garden of Eden".