Monday, April 16, 2007

The World-Weary Shoes

Walking to work today, there were hoards of elementary school kids, lined up in buddy-system rows, waiting to get into the theatre for a play. Some of the girls waved and smiled and said hello to me. I smiled back. I remember being that age. For a moment, I saw myself through their eyes--just a brief glimpse. Through their eyes, I’m an adult. I’ve got insurmountable debt, I’ve got jobs, I have an education and I even have a small amount of furniture.

But I'm not quite there yet.

In a month, I’ll be turning 23. The number feels somehow substantial, weighty. I'm moving back in with my parents in only six days, for one last time.

Will I ever really feel like an adult?

On my last days in Australia, I got off a train in Katoomba on a chilly, grey morning. The wind and rain whipped at my face, and I wandered the streets in search of my hostel. I was tired, alone and had no clue what I was doing there.

After spending nearly three months constantly surrounded by people—sharing the nighttime shelter of a mosquito net, avoiding the sparks and ash that shot off our cooking fires, taking quiet comfort and pleasure in the hot tea from the morning billy before the hot afternoon sun made us crave nothing more than grapefruit and fresh bread, scrubbing cement-covered clothes at sinks plugged with old flyers, standing lengthwise at mirrors wet and wrapped in sarongs, swapping spit and stories all the way up the Australian east coast—I was completely alone. I had come to Katoomba on a whim, with no purpose and no reason.

This is where the owner of the hostel found me, lost and worn, but in no rush. Pulling over with his dog’s salacious tongue hanging out the passenger side window, he offered me a ride. Why had I decided to come to the Blue Mountains?

“I don’t know,” I told him truthfully. He was appalled. I didn’t come to hike? “No, I honestly don’t know why I’m here.”

He insisted that before I went back to Sydney, I had to go for a hike. I agreed, but only to humour him. I intended to sleep and read and maybe do some paperwork. Hiking wasn't on the agenda.

That night, I took myself out for dinner: half a bottle of local red wine, beet root juice dripping down my chin, one hand scrawling furiously into my journal and vegan lemon square for dessert. Back at the hostel, a conversation with a Dane born to Swedish and Finnish parents, but raised in South Africa. A midnight payphone telephone interview across the world, while cargo trains rumbled beside me, and I shivered in the night air. Feet touching those of a young British hiker’s, sitting comfortably in front of the fireplace until our words collided and intermingled, and there was nothing more to say.

In the morning, I showered, packed my bags, tied the laces of my worn shoes and found the Brit.

“I want you to take me hiking,” I said. An instant grin was my response. The hostel owner, overhearing this, couldn’t help but let a slow smile spread over his face, too.

So, with wet hair and running shoes with holes in them, I hiked. We followed the trails, until the markings no longer mattered, and we made our own. We washed our faces in waterfalls. We climbed into cool, damp caves for breaks. We left the path and sat with our feet dangling hundreds of feet above the earth as we watched cockatiels swoop through the blue haze of the eucalyptus trees below us.

This is the last time I felt like an adult.

Later that night, the train rolled back into Sydney and anonymity swallowed us again. I packed carefully, folding my clothes and shaking dirt out of my bag. My cement-caked, world-weary shoes—the same sneakers that had carried me across Europe, to Toronto and around the world—I threw in the trash, without one trace of hesitation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, just in case you are still trying to figure out the meaning of the letter about the "benfriend" (15 march), her is my translation ("Kat" = "got"):

    Tom's sister Julie would like you to find her a penfriend in Canada. She is 18 (I think this is Julie but it may be the potential penfriend?). When you find her one, let me know, and give the penfriend Julie's address.

    This is a common request - I don't think she wants a boyfriend, at least her mum probably doesn't want one for her!



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