R T Walton
Copyright 2014 R T Walton
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By way of an introduction to the stories and the poems in this book, much of the content was unlocked after undergoing a period of counselling as a result of reading M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled nearly three decades ago. The poem Alchemy was written as a tribute and in thanks to Easton Hamilton of The Reach Approach after my immersion into the rich dark waters of psychotherapy.
The Empty Window and Sky Bird were stories born from hours spent in the classroom as a teaching assistant, undertaking many of the tasks set during lesson time. The Girl Who Gave Everything Away, an attempt to protect one of my pupils, intent on running a reckless course, I hoped to discretely impart a warning by giving her the story as ‘reading practice’.
The short two to three line poems were my attempt at Haiku and though I might have been able to assemble my thoughts into seventeen syllables for the most part, am grateful for the feedback from an associate editor at Heron’s Nest a quarterly on-line journal. Nevertheless, I fondly include them here anyway, as mindscapes and meditations, and hope you enjoy reading them as I did composing them.
Finally, my thanks go to Christopher Baker, Easton Hamilton and Vincent Claridge for their encouragement and support in this project and for their loving friendship over the years.
By the time one realizes there are
but a finite number of opportunities,
the simplest act of kindness becomes
something akin to devotion.For Christopher.
Not too long ago and not too far away, in the foothills of the Great Mountain, there lived a giant. At the other end of the valley, in a small hamlet just around the bend in the river, lived the people of Satya, their friendly houses clustered together in comfortable companionship.
About them lay fields and orchards, yielding and lush in their grains and fruits. And so the people of Satya lived happily and gently, dancing with the seasons, accepting with joy what nature, in her own time provided.
But life was not so for the giant, where the barren and rocky land was swept by arid winds and burned by cruel frosts, so that no vegetation clothed the naked body of the earth. At night the giant took shelter in a cave. By day he roamed the rocky wilderness searching for insects and small creatures and they were his sustenance.
Now, as is customary among the good people of Satya, every child is named in the fifth year of life at the Choosing ceremony. And so it was for Greenheart, who as the Choosing implies, was bestowed this most fitting name in celebration and in thanks for a particularly good harvest.
At the end of the sixth year, when Greenheart had seen yet another full four seasons, the Choosing was still in place. And indeed, it seemed as though Greenheart had been born with the name and that the Choosing and the Child were one.
Late one day in the mid-point of the year, little Greenheart was returning home and having still some way to go, took the westward route into the setting sun and soon entered a strange and barren valley high up among the foothills of the Great Mountain. Little Greenheart knew nothing of the giant but the giant knew that someone had entered his valley.
For half an afternoon the giant had watched the tiny figure’s descent into the valley and now he could see it was a little child. All the while the giant brooded and scowled, jealous of his isolation, his brain filled with half formed plans of abduction and murder. The longer the giant watched the child, the greater grew his rage at the violation of his wilderness and now the giant spoke, his voice brittle with disuse and rasping with hatred, ‘Who comes to trespass?’
‘It is I, Greenheart’ replied the child and a thousand ice bells softly tinkled.
‘What business have you here?’ roared the giant.
‘I carry the seeds of Love in my heart’ the child made reply and the wind took the word love in its warm embrace and carried it here and there.
The giant seized Greenheart by the shoulders, ‘LOVE?’ he choked and spittle flecked his chin. ‘I’ll pluck out your heart before love comes to my lands’.
But the child did not flinch and held the giant’s eyes without a flicker.
‘Although you could not know when, you have always known that I would come. What would you have me do?’ asked the child.
‘Do?’ spat the giant, ‘DO?’ I’ll tell you what I’d have you do’ he mocked. ‘I would have you bring me the bitter fruit of hatred and the sticky fruit of sweet revenge and I would have you bring me the spiny fruit of the counterfeit crab apple. Bring me these three fruits or I will surely kill you!’
Each time the giant named the fruit, he shook the child and each time there was the sound as of a thousand petals softly falling.
‘For the sake of Love I will return in three days’ said the chid and was gone, even though the giant did not recollect loosening his fierce grip.
All the long day and the next, the giant waited for the child’s return and the valley was cloaked in silence and a gloom descended and for the first time, it seemed to the giant a most desolate place.
On the third day a pale sun broke through the clouds and a cold wind whipped up from the north, but by the noon point the day was brighter. The wind had shifted bringing warmer air and then at first, oh so faintly, carried on the breeze came the sounds of tiny, tinkling bells. At length the figure of the child could be seen approaching the barren valley.
As before the giant bellowed his challenge ‘Who comes to trespass?’
‘You know it is Greenheart’ chided the child softly and there was the sound of laughter as though from a thousand tiny throats.
This put the giant into a murderous rage and he would have seized the child save that he could not quite see well enough to do so. The giant rubbed his eyes – all else he could most clearly see – the rocks, the earth, the small pile of bones that were the debris of his meal, yet when he looked directly at the child, the tiny figure seemed to slip from sight, to buzz, to vibrate, to shimmer with light. In frustration the giant beat the air with his fists.
Then placing his hands upon his gnarled knees and bending low, the giant glared straight into the face of the child and with a cunning leer, for he thought to know the answer already, said, ‘What of the thing I asked of you? Where is the fruit of bitter hatred?’
The child gazed into the face of the giant, ‘You have wrongly named the fruit, it is the pomegranate of love you seek.’ And so saying, the child held out a fruit of palest yellow and blushing pink.
‘And what of the second thing I asked?’ sneered the giant ‘Where is the fruit of sweet revenge?’
Again the child said, ‘You have wrongly named the fruit. It is the soothing, healing papaya that you seek’ and the child held out an oval fruit of vivid green.
‘And what of the third thing I asked? Where is the spiny counterfeit crab apple?’ hissed the giant.
Once again the child said, ‘You have wrongly named the fruit. It is the fragrant apple of wisdom that you seek’ and the child held out an orb of deepest red and lush green.
A strange sound like a snarl and a sob exploded in the throat of the giant and he dashed the fruits from little Greenheart’s outstretched hands and turning away, the giant strode some few paces and flung himself to the ground.
‘I never should have let you enter my lands’ grumbled the giant petulantly.
‘It was you who called me’ said Greenheart, ‘or I never could have come.’
‘I ought to kill you now.’ said the giant savagely.
Oblivious to the giant’s threat the child continued, ‘And now there is something you must do. You must leave the valley and you must climb the mountain. That is all. I will see you by and by.’ And so saying, the child grew brighter until there was only a patch of glowing air which spread and spread until it became too thin to see and the giant hurled a rock into the place where the child had stood.
For a long time the giant sat with his back against the boulder where he had flung himself and for the second time the valley of stone seemed a desolate and lonely place.
An icy wind whipped up around the stones and moaned about the crags and from the giant’s right eye a single tear formed and was frozen on the instant. And the giant resolved that with the coming of a new day he should venture forth, for there was nothing for him here.
Before the day’s grey light had painted its drab monotone, the giant arose and stooping at the place where the fruits lay fallen, gathered them into his satchel of animal skins.
Now the giant greatly feared the mountain with its sheer rock walls and louring peak and he had never ventured into its stony ramparts. And yet it seemed that he should die of loneliness if he stayed, or perish on the perilous ascent if he should go, and although his step was faltering, he set his face toward the distant black cliffs not knowing how he should go, nor where he was bound, save that the rocky valley in whose confines he had dwelt so long had become an intolerable place.
All day the giant walked in the grey light, until at evening he came to the foot of the Great Mountain and there being no visible way up the rock face, he sank to his knees. Just then, the giant felt he was not alone, and startled by the unseen presence, looked about him wildly.
‘Who’s there?’ he cried dry lipped, ‘Who’s there I say!’
A thin emaciated figure of a man, old, stoop-shouldered and without a hair on his dome-like skull, was standing at the base of a vertical shaft of rock in the mountain. Clad only in a wretchedly thin coat of some lightish colour which flapped about him like a huge bird, revealing scrawny thighs, bony knees, large bare feet, blue with cold, the joints swollen and painful, the old man beckoned to the giant and without waiting, turned and began to climb the rock face by some small pathway that had been undetectable to the giant until now.
The giant followed, terrified of his decrepit guide, keeping as much distance between them as possible, yet not daring to lag behind for fear he should lose him altogether and be left to spend the coming night alone.
The path was steep and narrow and in places where the route turned tail and redoubled upwards, there was barely enough room on the rocky ledge to hold the giant’s broad feet. Darkness came swiftly and the valley floor was mercifully blotted out in a depthless pool of inky black but the giant’s imaginings took hold of him and threatened to topple him from the treacherous ledges even if his feet made not the error.
The old man was a pale spectre in the deepening murk and just when the giant felt his courage fail, the ancient guide stopped.
They were on a narrow mezzanine chamber in the rock and now the ancient figure turned to face the giant. And the old man spoke with a reedy voice.
‘See this coat I wear? It is the garment of constraint. Many years ago I donned it proudly when it was a mantle of beliefs most cherished. But in my un-bending I forced others to wear this same coat and each time I cloaked another in my values, the wretched garment held me ever tighter in its grip.’
‘It is a garment most unbecoming. I for one would not wear it’, ventured the giant who had lost some of the terror he felt before the old man had started speaking.
The old man bowed his head.
‘It is a common enough conceit I know, that a father wishes to mould a son in his own image and the cause of great bitterness between the two. Come, for I may go no further as your guide. Free me from this straitjacket and we can part as allies, for have I not delivered you safely thus far?’
The old man held out his arms and the giant gripped the coat in his hands and pulled and pulled and pulled.
The coat flailed and quivered like some hideous living skin and little by little the giant wrenched the thing from the old man’s back and peeled the sleeves from the old man’s spindly arms. All at once the loathsome garment was flapping free and with a shudder of disgust the giant hurled it away, where it sailed out over the edge of the rock. As it fell, it caught upon the air, spreading wide its folds like two leathery wings.
‘It is done.’ said the old man. ‘Come you must refresh yourself and sleep for you have a long journey.’
Now the giant recollected that he had three fruits within the sling he carried and reaching inside, pulled one forth. In the darkness it was impossible to see which, but taking it between his large hands, the giant tore the fruit apart.
One half in each palm he made offering to the old man, who took and ate and the giant also. The fruit contained many pearls of sweet tasting juice which, as he ate, flooded his mouth with rose scented liquid, but each pearl also held a small bitter seed at its centre which lingered on his tongue long after the sweetness. And the giant was overcome with weariness and lying down upon the hard ground, he slept until dawn.
When the giant awoke, the old man was gone. He searched the narrow gallery to no avail but at the far end came upon a flight of steps, cut into the rock and with barely a pause he began to climb.
All through the day he climbed, quite alone, now and then glimpsing above him patches of sky between the gleaming black shafts of the mountain, but the precipice below swirled in mist and the valley floor was not visible.
All at once, at a turn in the stairway, stood a tall figure, hooded and cloaked and at the giant’s approach it turned and proceeded before him and eventually they came to a rocky plateau high on the mountainside.
Again fear gripped the giant’s heart, for the mysterious figure was terrifying to see, the face all hidden by the cowl it wore, but most terrifying was the eerie silence in which it stood.
Then the figure, raising its hands to its head, pulled back the hood and there, before the giant, stood a woman with silver hair. Still the woman did not speak but gazed upon the giant and with her right hand she pointed to a necklace strung with turquoise beads.
Again the woman raised her right hand in that same gesture, pointing at her throat. A band of precious stones encircled her neck in a grip that sought to choke her. A third time she pointed and entreated with her eyes in wordless plea and the giant knew what he must do.
So stepping forward he gripped the choker, and as he touched the stones, they burned white hot against his palm and he cried out in agony and tore his hand away with such force that the necklace broke and turquoise stones flew in every direction and landed on the ground about them, where they lay like liquid pools of pale blue acid.
And the woman let out a sigh that seared like hot sirocco and withered like arctic winds. At length she spoke.
‘A mother’s words can merely scold and chide the child, but if she is not careful, words grow in bitterness and condemnation and singe the delicate young wings of her fledgling child. Then words turning in upon the speaker who gives them utterance, smoulder deep within and blister the heart. But you have freed me. Come, do you have some healing salve within that bag you carry, for we are both in need of its cooling touch?’
The giant once more reached into the sling and brought out the second of the three fruits he had been given by little Greenheart. So ripe was the oval fruit that on striking it gently against the ground, it split in two, revealing soft, glistening, yellow-gold flesh which glowed in the dying light, and a seam of round black seeds gleamed like jet.
The woman and the giant shared the fruit and its flesh was soft and cooling, for it quieted the livid burn upon the giant’s palm and doused the smouldering coals of scorn within the woman’s breast and having eaten, the silver haired woman and the giant slept.
Now the giant passed his second night upon the mountain and on waking next morning, he was not surprised to find himself alone.
Once again the giant set his face toward the steep and rocky path that wound upwards and as before, he climbed all through the day until at last he came under the shadow of a great bluff at the mountain’s summit. Here the giant thought to take some rest and he cast about him for a place among the boulders, when suddenly, his eye fell upon the crouching figure of a young woman.
The giant started and with a voice that shook called out ‘Who are you and why do you fix me with such a look?’
The woman replied, ‘Help me. I am lame.’ and indeed the woman’s foot was terribly afflicted, being turned inwards, so that she could not walk but drew herself along the ground.
‘Help me,’ she said again and raised her hand and the giant drew her up whereupon the woman wrapped her arms about the giant’s neck in an embrace that was more pressing that the towering rocks, more stifling than an airless tomb, stronger than the serpent’s coils about its prey.
The giant was afraid and cried out saying ‘I do not know you woman, that you should clasp me thus. What do you want?’
The woman said ‘You have the fragrant apple of wisdom in your bag. First let me eat.’
From his bag of skins the giant took the shining red-green orb and bit the apple in two. One piece he put into her mouth, the other he kept and ate and all the while the woman hung about his neck like lead. But when they had finished eating, the woman loosed her hold and unsupported stood before the giant.
Now the woman spoke. ‘I have eaten of the fruit of wisdom. Hear me and my words shall set you free. I am she who shackles and keeps captive those who have bright visions of the future. I am she who fetters men’s minds and stills his wonder. I am she who with counterfeit ways makes him fall into dull sleep and forget his dreams. See this crippled foot and know that my deeds have turned in upon the doer and fettered me.’
The day was drawing to a close and once again the giant made ready to pass his third night upon the mountain but the young woman said, ‘Do not linger here. By attaining the summit this night you will fulfil your destiny and let me turn the course of mine.’
The giant who had also eaten of the apple of wisdom knew that the young woman spoke the truth.
In the dying light the giant heaved himself up the last few feet of the mountain, heedless of the rocks which grazed him, careless of the venomous creatures that dwelt in hole or crevice and into whose den he might unwittingly push his hands and feet. With the last of his strength and a terrible trembling in every limb, the giant laid himself upon the rocky summit, face up toward the sky and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Then the giant dreamed a strange and terrifying dream, that there did come a mountain storm, and thunder spoke above him with shock waves breaking over his body like a pounding sea. Jagged knives of lightning splintered the rocks beside him and now the giant felt his body start to shrink, growing smaller within the tattered garment fastened round his waist so that the folds of cloth threatened to stifle him like a dead man’s shroud.
The pouch of animal skins slung about his shoulders became a living, breathing green eyed leopard, which snarling, sprang away from the body of the sleeping man. The strips of leather bound around his feet and legs began to writhe and in the vivid light of the storm, two huge serpents unwrapped themselves and fell away in gleaming coils to hide among the rocks. And the giant had become a man.
This was the dream.
Presently the coming dawn sent forth its airy messenger and a breeze sprang up about the mountain’s sides, leaping from spar to spar until it found the man sleeping soft. It caressed his cheeks and playfully ruffled his hair and over his tunic, spun from finest wool, made ripples like soft desert sand. And the man awoke.
All about him the air was stained a deep and gentle pink, brightening from the east, spreading gold far up into the heavens, turning to palest yellow, through which the blue began to show. The man sat up and looked around in wonder and there on a rock a little way off was the child, playing with a rainbow.
The child slid from the rocky perch and alighted close to a patch of alpine flowers, then skipping delightedly around the tiny blossoms who nodded their translucent heads, little Greenheart laughed aloud for joy and said ‘You have come at last!’
And the breeze took up the joyful welcome and sped down into the valley.
‘And do you have the seeds of Love in your heart?’ said the child.
‘I do’ the man replied, and his face was radiant.
Then taking the man’s hand the child said ‘Come then let us walk a while.’
Little Hari tumbled out of school along with the other children in Standard Three. Fifteen flying pairs of heels stirring up the smooth red-brown dust left the surface of the road pock marked with the imprint of small feet. Fifteen pairs of sharp little elbows flashed in the sunlight like pistons.
Hari didn’t stop running until he rounded the bend in the dirt road that skirted the edge of the jungle. To the right lay wide water meadows, and beyond, the river. Hari lived in the small village which he could just see, now that he had come to the turn in the road. There in the distance, made watery in the heat haze, was his mother’s house. From the small black rectangle that was the door, a tiny figure emerged into the fierce light and disappeared around the back.
Hari dragged his toes through the warm dust and began to loiter. He did this for two reasons. The first was that this was the place where his mongrel dog, Fatakri, usually greeted him and the second reason was that once home, his mother would set him to work, fetching firewood and helping his sister with other household chores. He would be kept busy until the evening meal was cooked and his father came home.
But on this day, Fatakri was not there to meet him, bounding up and throwing himself upon Hari gleefully, leaving powdery paw prints on his ragged cotton shirt – until Hari would repulse the dog with playful smacks. Then the dog would trot along in front of the boy until they reached the village.
Hari was puzzled by Fatakri’s absence. He shifted his school slate from under one arm to the other and picked up a few stones, throwing them one by one. They landed with a dry plop on the dusty road.
As his eye followed the arc of each stone’s flight, he noticed in the distance, some dark specks wheeling about in the sky further down the track. Carrion birds. Forgetting Fatakri, the boy started to run. As he got level, he saw a water buffalo. A large beast, lying on its side close to the road in the spiky grass at the edge of the field.
At his arrival several crows flapped upwards into the air, squawking their displeasure then grounded themselves almost at once, eyeing him sideways. The boldest crow hopped back onto the scrolled horn of the beast and cawed raucously. The buffalo was like a huge black tent that had fallen sideways, the ridgepole of its backbone parallel to the ground. One raised hip bone now formed the apex over which dark grey-black skin sloped away and this was why Hari did not immediately see Fatakri greedily feasting on the innards of the buffalo’s split belly.
Fatakri was blissfully unaware of the arrival of his outraged young master. Whiskers red and sticky with gore, his jaws fastened upon a strip of gleaming pink flesh, Fatakri chewed and worried the carcass. His front legs were braced, paws splayed, head going from side to side, as he yanked at the dead buffalo. Slowly the fleshy ribbon came away with a wet, ripping sound.
Intent on eating the dead animal, Fatakri was taken unawares by his young master who was raining blows down upon the back of his velvety head. Surprised though unhurt and undeterred by the ferocity of the small boy’s attack, he clamped his jaws deeper into the animal’s viscera and from his mucous lined throat, emitted a deep, gurgling growl.
‘Haat sala! Bad dog, dirty dog Fatakri!’ Little Hari took hold of Fatakri’s golden brown scruff and tried to drag him off the buffalo. More in confusion than aggression, Fatakri continued to growl. With his small open hand Hari hit Fatakri squarely on the skull which made a hollow clunk. Fatakri blinked, let go and Hari fell backwards onto his bottom, one hand still clutching the pliable roll of fur and skin around the dog’s neck.
The water buffalo now forgotten, Fatakri exuberantly greeted his young master Hari, shoving his wet nose into the boy’s face, which for once was on the same level.
‘Chee! Get away!’ Hari slapped out and again crowned Fatakri. The dog stood there, head on one side, unsure if this was a new game. He tried wagging his tail to see.
Hari shouted again ‘Dirty dog, how could you? Chee!’ Hari jumped to his feet and made a grab for Fatakri and hauled him off across the field down to the river.
Only a short time later, had anyone used the dusty road that led to the village, at the place where the water meadows run down to the river, they might have seen death in the form of a motionless black buffalo and heard the ominous drone of attendant flies buzzing about the creature in dark spirals and clouds.
Or, they might have glanced out across the fields having heard the sound of a child’s laughter and seen a small boy and a dog, happily splashing in the bright shallows. The boy standing waist high in the river, a dog barking and jumping playfully about the child.
They would have seen the boy scooping up handful after handful of water, throwing his arms high above his head, and the glittering droplets raining down upon them both in a celebration of life and laughter.
Like most symbolic journeys, the path begins pleasantly enough. Through the village, out into the cultivation between cool vineyards, then beyond, the fields gently rising, dancing with summer flowers. The way narrows, hinting at what lies ahead. Now it climbs steeply and twists and turns among shady trees. Hawkers post themselves at natural resting points to sell votive candles.
The real pilgrims have set off long ago in the cool of the early morning. Some of them are already on the downward trek, weary and joyful. Ahead small groups are dotting the hillside. I’ll pass the old and the slow ones, the barefoot pilgrims doing penance along the rocky path kneeling and praying at the stations of the cross.
For today, and I mean to make the most of this beautiful summer’s day, I have taken my sun-glasses and a hat, protection from the Croatian sun. My shoulder bag contains a bottle of water, some bread and several oranges, a little money and a small hardback book of poems.
From the window of my whitewashed cell, I have been looking at these hills ever since arriving at the guest house here in Medjugorje, the huge horseshoe shaped ridge bearing the tiny cross on its summit and I’ve chosen today as the day to go walking.
For me the stations of the cross hold no significance, at least that’s what I tell myself, merely resting places on the climb, to gaze across the expanding valley and the village becoming smaller and smaller as we wind upwards.
Since early morning, pilgrims have been trailing past the guest house in their hundreds, out towards the escarpment. There is no need to ask the way. As I set out, it is already hot. Gaining height, the hillside loses its garments of green and the steep sandy coloured hillside glitters with rock crystal.
It is very quiet on the hillside. Far away, below the rocky path, the little village of Medjugorje shimmers in the heat. Carried on the dry wind comes the sound of a bell tolling dolefully. I feel very detached yet very safe.
At length I reach the top and only now, it is apparent how enormous this concrete cross really is. The plinth alone reaches above head height. At its base the ground has been scooped away and in the dusty craters, hundreds upon hundreds of candles burn in the already intensely hot Croatian summer’s day.
Ripples of heat dance horizontally and the air is filled with the fumes of burning tallow. Dozens of people standing silently, others approaching the pits with candle offerings walk into the searing furnace to place their lighted gifts upon a framework of metal stands. I watch for a while but am eager to leave this burning place and find an airy path.
Walking along the crest of the hillside like an ant might crawl along a garden path, I find there is nothing to follow. I simply have to concentrate on keeping to the ridge and staying upright. A gentle breeze replaces the sound of human voices and soon I am out of sight of the cross and following the ridge’s gradual descent. Curiously there is a donkey, tethered to a boulder.
Quite abruptly the path drops steeply and there, about a hundred feet below me, is a small glade. A living gem of green, held in its glaring white stone setting. Almost at once I feel the sweet, cool updraft of the tiny verdant oasis. I clamber down rough chalky boulders, the flimsy leather weave of my sandals straining to contain my feet.
It is enclosed, the grass meadow is protected by thorny fortification. Here the boulders are chaotically piled, not stacked as before. Spiny brush has grown up between the rocks, creating a woody enclosure, beyond which I glimpse the sun filled meadow, a place that would in any story book, be enchanted. My legs and arms are bare but something compels me to gain entrance. Inching my way over and between the huge boulders, I reach the thorn barricade, then half turning, push against the springy scrub, almost wading as if in water, arms up around my head to keep from being grazed. My shirt catches, rips, tears free and I’m through, a little scratched, breathless on the edge of paradise.
After the hellish heat of the baked rocks this glade has the coolness of a cave, though sunlight is pouring onto every blade of grass and the green oasis shimmers and glints with light.
Wild flowers and grasses play host to darting winged insects and the air hums with the beating of their wings. The sound abruptly stops, seems to hold on a heartbeat as if my arrival has interfered with the cosmic play of things and there is deep, deep silence. I stand stock still on the edge and then the music of the insects’ wings, like the sounding of a singing bowl, resumes. Time passes.
Sitting in the glade, with the grass and flowers waving around my shoulders, and slipping into that rare moment of disconnection until my thoughts eject me, I become aware that I have been thinking about ‘peace’ and of course this cerebral act has broken the connection and once again I am on the outside looking in. Unqualified and unequipped, coming from the world of men and women as I do, to even think I can be a bringer of peace is silly and naïve. The best I could have hoped for has already happened, to have, for a few moments, been its guest. But now these thoughts like stones dropped into a pond, have made ripples and I come awake and realize it’s time to go.
Once again I push through the spiky ring of thorny bushes and suddenly, like a new-born, burst out onto the blinding white rock of the mountain. Opening my bag – it’s strange I did not think to eat or drink whilst in the glade – I take out the water bottle, its branded label reminding me of supermarkets and shopping. The water is warm in the mouth and tastes lightly of plastic. I gulp and gulp realizing it’s been too long to have gone without a drink. The oranges are lovely – warm and sweet with the bread. Looking about I see far below and to the east, the village of Medjugorje.
The next three and a half hours were spent in coming down off the mountain and what a gruelling walk. Every single step had to be negotiated, feet placed carefully on the tops of rounded boulders, judged, felt for, tested for slippage. Mostly I had to clamber downwards or else I slither over the giant, chalky marbles heaped one below the other.
Pretty soon I was exhausted because of the exertion, the heat and not having eaten enough or drunk enough and eventually landed on the back road at the base of the hillside, legs trembling so violently that I needed to lock my knees to keep from collapsing.
Somewhere, high on the slopes, I unwittingly walked into a large spider’s mountain lair, triggering its signal line with my face. The animal had come scuttling down its thread in search of prey. I might have screamed aloud but all that escaped my throat was a strangled yelp.
The spider, sensing my size retreated back up its thread where it became invisible against the chalky white stone. Pulling backwards was my only means of escape and I felt the strand of spider silk snap, strong as a snagged stocking. I crouched on the hill, shuddering, and taking great care to give the creature a ridiculously wide berth, resumed my descent.
Climbing down the hillside, I’m telling myself the story, as if I’m already home and safe, victorious from the day’s adventure. I stop to sit on my haunches and rest my legs, drink the remaining water and still my babbling mind. So hungry and exhausted was I from the exertion of the day, that I just about fell inside a tiny shop on the roadside, miles from anywhere and bought four bananas and ate them all as I walked.
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