LEAVING MY HOTEL room I tread into early morning, out onto a street of shadows and darkness. It is hell to distinguish one thing from another, there are tangible objects like dull weights that lend the earth some concrete meaning: bricks, walls, streetlights, gutters, bins overflowing with shit, and waste, and refuse. But something else captures my dull morning consciousness, the sponge like sensation of cardboard moving beneath my feet, moving like tectonic plates, moving on the stone shifting the reality I am in, and leaving in its wake minor eruptions and minor marks of ruin. There are countless boxes broken and laid out under arches, inside doorways, beneath the rotting awnings of this tired Mediterranean dump. Grim shelters that call to mind a thousand lamentations: failed pasts, lost dreams, broken promises, and mostly misery, mostly the misery and inequality of this age we are in. Mega wealth, competition and success; poverty, defeat and failure.I’m on route to a funeral – on an island that I must take a ferry too. I hate the sea. I hate the sea twice over. I’ll walk the 10 kilometres down to the port, the prospect of old companions and water lend themselves to a long fruitless walk, and the constant reminder of my hate for the sea. There are only two ferries this week (even though it is high season), and on this route I anticipate a ferry packed full of old acquaintances. The face of my past, faces that once belonged to friends. I’ll know once and for all how much I hated them, each and every last one, and I’ll see my own hate reflected back at me. And we will reflect on how we have grown old, and fat, and bald, and ugly… mostly ugly and mean with age.
I begin my walk amongst long forgotten and decrepit buildings, on a side street that will metamorphose into an urban highway, a highway that runs to the port and along which I will chart my journey. A tired road, cracked and damaged like a skeleton, its walls stencilled with empty slogans. There is a madness to this world.
The footpath becomes narrower its surface broken. There are groups of scroungers by the side of the road. I’ll make my way down an adjoining street: find some peace and quiet and compose myself. I turn on my I-Phone and go to Google Map. I have been walking for some time and the water I have is empty. There is a hint of salt on the breeze. I turn a corner and discover I am back on that main road. Aren’t we always pressured and pulled towards the centre. Isn’t that life all over. One moment we make the call and we head out in our own direction only to be pulled back, driven towards the centre. It is hard to pull away, it is hard to chart your own course.Now I am descending further and further into the freeway apocalypse, the pit and the concrete labyrinth that surrounds the modern city. Its poison, and gas, and rage, and fury – somewhere beyond this is the water. Rising on elevated concrete pillars the road narrows like a funnel, higher, faster, madder, more unforgiving. Along the edge, the footpath is vanishing into overgrown vine: I have entered the hinterland. All the while the traffic becomes madder and madder. Cars hurtle closer and closer. Drivers thump horns and gesture frantically towards me as if I have intruded on a very intimate moment – finally the footpath is gone altogether. And the cars come closer, and the drivers’ faces feel as if they are pressed against my own. Mostly they look dead, angry, sad and desperate. It is hard to understand what this is all for. I turn back and very carefully follow the map on my I-Phone, and I go a long way down until I can exit back onto the main road… this time intent on taking the right turn… No! I realise I have made the same mistake, and the whole world is hurtling towards me once more, and I am hot and tired and there is no respite.
I start to visualise the players and pieces that filled my past down at the port in a long sensible line. My brothers and sisters, a school teacher, a friend now a lawyer, a doctor, a member of parliament, a teacher, a kid from down the rd, a girl I convinced myself I loved, an old man from the bottom of my street. I have taken the wrong path once more, made the same mistake again and again, looked back and retraced the footsteps of this life and lost my way having always angled away from the centre. I turn back carefully and retrace my footsteps, mindful not to look at my reflection, mindful not to tread upon my shadow.
And I find it, I find the way.
And I am standing at the port with one thousand ferries, the crowds, the ticket officers, the docks, the point of arrival and departure, revellers… And the journey has taken half the day.
The faces that strike me, they belong to strangers. All those people were never too bad (that inhabited the past). Fool that I was to consider that their journeys were any straighter than my own, any more orderly, any more predictable. I’ll mark the death of this friend on his island alone. I make my way to the waters edge, the water is still and calm, the hateful sea it is empty.
You can read, The Reprieve, by Tadhg Muller in the upcoming publication from Transportation Press, Islands and Cities, for updates on the release subscribe to our newsletter.