Dawn was just breaking over the rain drenched trees when he woke up that morning. That early morning. No one was awake yet apart from all the other unlucky kindred spirits that did not make it to sleep the previous night. He could feel their restlessness tremble on his skin like sparks of electricity. Tonight, he had been lucky to catch few drops of a peaceful sleep, which was far from enough but it could always be worse. He did not bother to wash his weary face or even put on an indecent pair of pants, instead he walked to his vantage point. This was a spot behind the huge French windows that made most of his back wall. It was a low armchair with leather cushions and a leg rest that was probably meant for a midget. It was the brass lined ash tray on the stand next to the chair that was slowly turning smoke grey. It was the place he could watch the world unfold before him like the birth of a baby. He sat down heavily, still in his boxers and stared away.
As the yellow light gradually bathed the drowsy sky, he felt his heart rise to his mouth and out of his body in longing. Longing of a distant place where he did not belong. Longing for something yet to be touched by another. He saw his heart limp away towards the distant, leaving in its wake a bloody trail of past lovers and broken promises. He watched as it chased after the retreating night where nothing was constant and the dynamics of life shifted with every passing minute. He felt the wrenching pain as it dragged itself through thorns and shattered glass in pursuit of something it could not have. Something so obviously out of its reach that anyone carefully watching would so easily assume it insane to attempt such a feat. But what’s a heart, any heart, if not insane? With the brain so hell bent in its logic ways, the heart needs to break free.
Sitting in his chair, heartless and cold, he thought he heard a faint knock on his door. But he could not afford to pay any attention to it. Instead, his eyes fell on the small packed backpack that was at the foot of his bed. With its half open zipper and sagging straps, it was almost staring back at him. Daring him to decide. Begging him to walk over, close it and begin the journey that his heart had already left on. In his mind, he saw himself chasing the night too, but in reality, both of them remained as still as broken trains.
Inside the bag was two pairs of jeans and about three t-shirts; an unopened toothbrush set with the matching brand of toothpaste; cut out travel brochures selling bright cities, the vast peaceful country and an exotic island; and just about enough money to get him away from this place he was currently buried in. Underneath his own inhibitions no less. The morning sun shone upon his brow before he realised that the knock on his door was gone. It might have been important but no feelings of guilt or curiosity coursed his veins. Whoever it was should have known better than to rap at his door at six in the morning. A little laboured, and as so many times before, he walked to the closet drawer and pulled it open. There it was, just laying face up looking at him; like it knew he would come. Almost flapping in the anticipation of routine. Of course he had to pick it up.
It was a photograph from when he was eight or nine, he can’t quite be sure. He was standing on top of a grey worn out hippie van, arms stretched out wide with the sun setting over the hills behind him. It was at the edge of a farmer’s market in Maun, North Western Botswana, at the place where the stalls were just beginning to thin out. His father (now long gone) was leaning arms crossed by the right side headlight, smiling straight into the camera. If anyone asked him to describe what perfection felt like, he’d show them this photo. It was that moment in time when everything aligned to birth fulfilment. He remembered swearing that he would visit again, someday.
Even now, as something lumped and got caught in his throat, he could still smell the rotten tomatoes discarded by tiny abandoned pathways. He could still hear the giggling and laughs of naughty children taunting customerless vendors. He could still feel the flood of nostalgia wash over him like a tsunami. But then, he realised that he was probably looking at his old man more than he was looking at himself in splendour. He had been a traveller, his old man. Which meant that his mother was still nursing bruises within from every time he left. He had gotten over his own the day it dawned upon him that the curse of wandering had now infected his own heels. He had understood.
He thought of his mother and the monthly visits he paid her. He thought of her stories and the ways her fists clenched when she struggled and held back a river of emotion. He felt the pain of the promises he had made to her dig deep into his bones . He saw her face waving a sad goodbye to the second man in her life. He felt the ground shake when the hole in his chest (where his heart should have been) throbbed for more. He vowed in his mind to never leave again.
But he knew futility when still his feet ached to leave their prints on the sands of far, far away lands.