“Each day looks as beautiful as the roads that lead to the sea.” – John Steinbeck
“Beep… beepbeepbeepbeep… BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP.”
I know instantly where I am. It is a new day. India.
I feel fired with purpose. It is the last day. Though, of course, there is no such thing as a last day. To make an end is to make a beginning. The end -the source of the river- is where I start from. So, while the light fails on a winter’s afternoon in England, I have crossed the watershed in India and am walking down to the sea. Downhill for the first time in India.
The quiet road curves away into the tall trees. I fill my water bottles from streams trickling down the steep slopes. I stoop and sink my head into the cold, gurgling underwater world. It is a blissful escape.
I lengthen my stride, through the morning, through the fierce mid-day hours and on into the afternoon. I have left the trees and hills behind now. I am on the coastal plain. I have left almost everything behind. The final few hours are ferociously hot. Approaching the end now, I force myself to slow down, to rest awhile, eat some food and savour it all. I want to enjoy the end. For this time it really does feel like the end.
Ahead of me, the sky is huge and empty. A sea sky. I pass beneath a final row of palm trees and out onto the beach. I have nothing left in reserve. I take off my pack and walk slowly down the soft sand into the sea. Ending a journey at an ocean is satisfying. It feels definite. I can go no further. The beach stretches away in both directions, white, straight and washed clean to the high tide line. The heat has gone from the sun, but it still shines brightly on the water. And I stare out to sea, beyond the wooden fishing pirogues, and out to the horizon. And I wonder what lies on the other side.
I feel absolutely drained and very content. It’s just the beach, the sea and me. There is no end-of-adventure hype, no World Record to validate or sponsors’ press release to issue. This is how I like it. I am alone except for one boy, aged about ten, with a red t-shirt and a crew cut. He comes and sits beside me on the sand. We have no common language so we just sit quietly. I like being able to share this moment with someone, even this silent little kid. The waves roll gently up the sand and the air smells of sea salt. This is a fine place to end a journey.
After some time the boy notices me watching the translucent crabs that scurry across the sand. He sets about trying to catch one for me. He darts after them, grabbing and missing, grabbing and missing. I watch and smile. The crabs bolt down holes as the waves slide in and out. He digs furiously at the wet sand.
Again and again he fails to catch a crab but we both enjoy sharing the futility of it. It is an endless task, an impossible task, but for that brief moment it is filled with purpose and pleasure. And that seems good enough for me.
The sun sets and the boy goes home. But I stay on the beach staring out to sea. The first stars begin to shine. The evening air is warm. So much has happened since I began chasing these journeys down the never-ending road. I haven’t done all that I want to. But it feels good to at least be on my way. These are the best days of my life. Out here I am free. I know what I am doing. I am good at it. I am happy. I am really living.
It is dark now. And tears are streaming down my face. It is time to go. I can’t keep escaping. I don’t want to keep escaping. But I know that I will never live the life of my choice in quite the same carefree way again. Opening the box never made Pandora happy. But at least she had the guts to open it. These are selfish tears, yes. But they are also tears of happiness. I have finished this journey. I’m a lucky man. For now it is time to go home. Time for real life. Time to really live. I’m going home to become a father.
This is the final extract from my book There Are Other Rivers. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.
Thank you to the many people who have kindly “bought me a coffee” for just Ł2.50 as encouragement to keep this blog going.
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