16 June 2017 by victoriaknowe
A story where one person on a dream holiday trip is surprisingly less enthusiastic than the rest of her tour group.
A Cure for Listlessness
I’m staring out of the window, watching the tiny island in the blue pacific grow larger and larger as the plane descends for landing. It must be an experienced pilot, because there’s hardly a bump as we hit the tarmac. The people around me immediately explode into chatter and action, talking excitedly and jumping out of seats to fill the gangway, although we haven’t yet taxied to a halt. It’s easy to ignore the commotion from the inside of my sterile bubble. I lean my forehead against the cool window glass, staring out at the shimmering heat haze, which makes the small terminal building blur and glitter.
“Do you need any help, Miss?”
I come back to myself with a start. The plane is empty. I must have zoned out for ages. One of the air hostesses is looking at me impatiently, while the other one scouts the cabin with a rubbish sack. I’ve probably got a red mark on my forehead where it was pressed against the window, but I can’t bring myself to care.
The heat is an oven blast as I step out of the plane. Despite its intensity, I welcome the warmth as I make my solitary way over the landing strip. I wish I had thought to put my sunglasses in my hand luggage, but being organised is just another thing that seems like too much effort these days.
The tiny airport is fiercely air-conditioned and I have goose bumps on my forearms as I join the messy group of the passengers in the arrivals hall. It looks like they were only waiting for me, and a couple of the most excited ones call out for me to hurry up. I smile and nod in response.
Our waiting guide starts her introduction. It seems like important information, so I tell myself to listen carefully, but I can’t catch more than a few words before my brain reverts to staring blankly at a nearby luggage trolley. The suitcase I brought is standing there. I would never have chosen hot pink for myself, but it certainly makes my luggage easy to spot.
When the luggage trolley starts moving towards the airport exit, I realise that the introduction is over and everyone is heading towards a bus at the front entrance the terminal. I follow mechanically and board it with the others and we are transported to our hotel; a standard white block which has the redeeming feature of overlooking a beautiful beach. The sun is sinking towards the ocean but I don’t hang around to watch it go.
The next morning, I don’t feel like braving the breakfast room. Since I missed the introduction, I have no idea what time we’re supposed to meet but I can’t face talking to anyone to ask about the schedule either. In the end I swing it by watching from my hotel room window until I can see the rest of the group beginning to gather in the parking lot for today’s excursion.
This bus has equally cool windows. I’ve brought my camera but it’s more to hide behind than because I’m interested in taking any pictures. I suppose I ought to take a couple for documentation purposes.
Our destination is a massive deserted beach. At first we can only see sand. Then the guide points out several hollows with deposits of perfectly round white globes. These are the turtle eggs that we’ve all come here to see. Apparently the ones on this beach aren’t quite ready to hatch, but tomorrow we’ll go to a different beach where the hatching process has already started. The eggs look like a bit like those plastic globes containing toys that you find in vending machines in shopping centres. I imagine someone breaking into one of those machines and then depositing their hoard here on the beach. This image makes me snort with unexpected mirth, but unfortunately my outburst interrupts the guide as she is saying something about the turtle life-cycle. One of the rapt turtle-enthusiasts shushes me and I go back to staring at the lifeless globes.
Later, back in my too-large, double hotel room, I think about going for a walk on the beach. I’ve never liked beaches all that much, but Sonya would have said I ought to make the most of the opportunity to walk on one while I can. Even if it’s only to remind myself that I don’t like doing it. I fall asleep before I can make a decision either way.
The next morning, I’m woken by someone banging on my door. I stumble to open it and come to understand that I’m late and holding everyone up. I mutter that they could have gone without me, but my beleaguerer either doesn’t hear or ignores it and entreats me to hurry as best I can. I board the bus 10 minutes later, where my half-closed eyes aid me in ignoring the glares directed my way. The guide reassures everyone that there will still be plenty to see at the beach.
I don’t have a window seat this time, so I lean forward to rest my head on the seat in front and stare at my boots. Good strong hiking boots. Perfect for turtle expeditions and climbing to the Everest base camp; the next expedition on my list.
On the turtle beach, it doesn’t look like anything is happening, and a couple of disappointed group members bemoan that our tardiness has resulted in us missing everything. The guide hastily shushes everyone, explaining that loud noises might confuse the freshly-hatched baby turtles.
We don’t have long to wait before we start to spot dark shapes moving on the light coloured sand, close one of the globe-filled hollows. The baby turtles hardly stop to orient themselves before embarking on their halting progress down the beach towards the sea. At first it’s just one or two of them, but then more and more emerge from the hollows, or from beneath the sand itself, until the beach is practically carpeted in jerky dark blobs; a slow-moving stream heading towards the water. After my initial disinterest, I have to admit that it’s an extraordinary spectacle. I even attempt to take a photo, but am disappointed when my images fail to capture the surreal nature of the jerkily moving blobs on the broad expanse of sand.
“Shall I take a photo of you with the turtles?”
Up until now I hadn’t taken much notice of my fellow tourists. I probably couldn’t even have identified my tour group from other groups. I’m probably lucky that it’s a fairly small island with limited tours. The person who has spoken to me is a young man wearing flip-flops. He has the same excited gleam in his eye as all the other group members.
“No thank you.” I say politely. I have no desire to be photographed next to a beach that looks like it has measles. His face falls a little. I belatedly realise that perhaps he was asking because he wanted a photo himself, so I offer to photograph him. He excitedly accepts and then directs me as to the exact angle and framing.
“That big group of them over there. The fast ones! Quick! Let me see… Oh… Can you take another one, this time with those spread-out ones over there….”
His excitement is almost making him rude with his demands, but I find it refreshing to have a distraction. Ultimately, all the photos look like my original attempt. Just a beach with some indiscernible dark blobs on it. But I refrain from saying so. Then he has the idea of taking a video, so I have the new task of recording him while he points excitedly at the moving turtles. I also have to zoom the focus in and out as he directs me. I’m beginning to tire of his zeal, but thankfully, he finally declares himself satisfied. He busily starts uploading the video to Facebook or Snapchat or whatever, so I go back to staring at the moving carpet.
“You don’t seem that interested in the turtles.” Having presumably completed his social media mission and put the phone back in his pocket, he’s regarding me intently.
“Oh they’re ok, I suppose.” I probably ought to try and make an effort to sound enthusiastic, but I haven’t got the energy.
“Why are you here? It’s quite a lot of money to spend if you’re not that bothered.” His blunt question takes me by surprise.
“I was going to come here with a friend…. but she couldn’t come in the end”
His eyebrows raise. “Let you down, did she? That wasn’t very nice.”
“It wasn’t her fault. She… She died.” It’s not first time I’ve been forced to say it out loud, but I’m still affected by a wave of grief. My throat closes up.
His face creases in sympathy. “I’m really sorry. Was she your best friend?”
Tears are threatening. I force them away with a harsh tone. “She was my partner.”
He blinks at the implication. “Oh”
“Yeah, well here I am.” I turn and start walking away, not caring if it seems rude.
“Was it something you planned together?” He’s following me along the sand. I wish he’d leave me alone, but politeness prevents me from saying it outright.
“Um, no. It was Sonya’s dream. She always wanted to see this.” I stop and look again at the parade of mini turtles. She would have commented on their courage and resilience. I only see a pointless march towards inevitable death. I’m struck again by this unconcerned, arbitrary world, where my luminous, passionate Sonja should be gone, while I, her melancholy, fatalistic other half, remain alone.
“Oh that’s so cool. And did you guys plan something based on your dream as well?” He’s caught up in the imagined romance of it. But his question is a little unexpected.
“Well yes. You must have something you’ve always wanted to do as well?”
“Not really… She had so many ideas, and it didn’t really matter to me.” To tell the truth, it never even occurred to me to suggest anything. She’d always been so enthusiastic in proposing and researching her ideas. It hadn’t seemed necessary for me to contribute anything. Rather, my proposals wouldn’t have been as good as hers, because I didn’t have her strength of conviction or the drive to endlessly search for the perfect flight, hotel, everything.
“But what would you do if you could do anything in the world?” He’s gazing at me curiously, the turtles forgotten.
“I don’t know. I’m going to Everest base camp next, and then to Uluru in Australia, but they were her ideas as well.” His stare is making me uncomfortable. “What would you do?”
He ignores my attempt to change the subject. “So you’re fulfilling her dreams, by yourself, in her memory. Wouldn’t it be better to do something of your own? I’m not saying that Everest and Uluru aren’t great things to do, but surely it’s just making you think about her the whole time.”
He has a point. I can’t think of anything to say, so I stare at the turtles. I’m getting sick of them to be honest. Sand-coated, crawling pests. They remind me of huge cockroaches.
“Come on, there must be something you’ve always dreamed of doing.” he prods.
“I really don’t know. If you don’t mind, I’d like to be alone now.”
He retreats, obviously hurt, but I ignore the guilt. I’m probably never going to meet him again after this trip, and I didn’t come here to make friends. What did I come for? – the question niggles at the back of my mind, but I ignore that as well.
That evening, the other passengers have a noisy party in the hotel restaurant, but I go out for a walk along the beach instead. I was right in the first place. I don’t like beaches. But I’m glad that I went for a walk, even if all it accomplished was to remind me that I hate sand. The young man’s question comes back to haunt me, like a song I can’t get out of my head. What would I do, if I could do anything in the world? The sea view doesn’t give me any answers. I go back to my room and get into bed. Maybe my dream holiday would be one where I can just sleep for days on end. And be away from everyone. Perhaps in a tent. Out in the wilderness. Just me and my excellent hiking boots.
The sudden image of the tent hovers in my mind. Actually it’s quite a good idea. Isolated and close to nature. And best of all, far from any horrible sand. More and more details occur to me, only growing in number and extravagance. I could go somewhere in the Alps. I’ve always wanted to explore them. And I could take my sketchbook and practise drawing the plants I see. Half an hour, I’m still thoroughly awake and I sit up in exasperation to turn on the light. On the bedside table is a notepad with the hotel’s logo on. I find a pen in the drawer underneath and write “TENT – WILDERNESS” on the paper. It’s funny, but as soon as I have released the words onto the page, they cease to nag at me, and this time when I turn the light off, I fall straight to sleep.
On the plane home, I don’t get a window seat, but it’s alright. Strangely, the image of the tent in the wilderness has returned, to parade through my mind like a calming, visual mantra. I even manage to respond to a couple of friendly comments from fellow passengers. I try my best to fake some enthusiasm about the horrible turtles to avoid ruining anyone else’s trip.
The young man from the beach is sitting a few seats away. He has apparently forgotten my rudeness and comes by to show me his video. I exclaim over it in the appropriate places, while my mind is still seeing the peaceful mountain waterfall next to my tent where I’m going to wash my breakfast dishes.
“So did you think any more about your own trip?” he asks.
I smile and show him the notepad that I took from the hotel room. It’s only a short list to be sure. But it’s a beginning. My beginning.