I’ve been waiting to tell you a story. I wanted to offer up some hero or heroine, a struggle between good and evil, or a tale of loss. I sat down and never made it much further than the opening line.
It used to be easy, when the violent drama of survival was played out against each brilliant sunset. There were the terrifying and beautiful hunters, and the prey that ran, hid, and lived for another day or hour. I saw animals die, gasping for air in the death grips of the painted wolves and cats that instilled fear in every fibre of my being the moment I left the safety of my little home for the wilderness outside. It might sound strange, but that fear – that knowledge that I was always in danger of disturbing the bush and the mighty giants it hid – gave me peace. As my date of departure grew near, I relished the feeling of dry leaves giving way to dust beneath my feet, and the quickening of my heart at even the slightest noise that met me in the darkness. I had to say goodbye, but my chest ached at the prospect of leaving this place – and place is a word ill-suited to describe the Linyanti, the keeper of so many stories.
The constant dirt had made my fingers rough so they caught on every groove and nook of your surface and my hands wanted to keep searching, reaching for every undiscovered corner. Though my palms would not release you, it was time to go. I bent my head to the elephants and let the sand run through my fingers one last time, hoping it might leave some imprint there.
Part of me wonders if I will ever be able to write about anything else. Desire always brings me back to the page, but I’m not sure what’s worth recording anymore. I don’t know how to bring meaning to the simple ebb and flow of the everyday. I never intended to share many details of my life here, but in the absence of a thrilling saga, that is all I have to offer.
I long to be inspired as I once was, but I am also sure that I am meant to be here, far from the wilderness that I fell for with such abandon. Over a year has passed since I left, and I am struck by how much there is to be thankful for. I was home when my family needed me (and when I needed them). Mom is healthy. I get to see B and her little ones every few weeks, and J knows my name and greets me with a smile when I walk through the door. Months don’t pass between visits to my old home, and we get to do all the things I missed when I was away; coffee each morning, breakfasts at our favourite greasy diner, and long Friday night dinners with kind and familiar faces.
I found a job last January and moved to the city. I discovered brunch, and ordered dozens of eggs before picking a favourite. I saw many wonderful concerts and I remembered how happy music made me. I baked in my new kitchen and my mom taught me how to properly roast a chicken. The purchase of kitchen appliances, more than anything else, seemed to signal a genuine entrance to adulthood. In a further attempt to join the ranks of the young professional, I went on my fair share of first and second dates, discovering new favourite places in the process. I wore down my shoes walking everywhere I could, and rested my tired feet in the first apartment I’ve ever called my own. At the end of the year I went to Costa Rica and finally conquered my fear of the ocean. Thanks to a gentle surf and a fine and patient teacher, I caught my first waves. Today my dad sent me a picture of my sister and I watching the sunset on the last night of the trip. Back in a chilly city, I lament the lack of sunshine, but know too that life has been good to me.
It isn’t perfect, but then nothing, not even my time in the Linyanti, ever was. How easy it is to forget the difficult parts when we leave a place. Maybe it’s a sign of my age that I have begun to welcome life in a slightly rougher form. I like to think that the rough patches exist to bring what’s great into sharper focus. While there are days I miss Botswana desperately, I am equally grateful for the shape of things now.
Still, I have no story. All I’ve been able to muster are a few reflections on another passing year. I was always taught that a tale should begin and end. The lion takes chase and the impala draws its final breath. All my stories remain in progress. There is work, and a city, and hints of adventure hidden between the cracks of these weary sidewalks. This will have to do, for now.
Not for the first time, I’ve been drawn to my oft neglected bookshelf, getting lost in the words of those who seem to effortlessly give form to the human experience, both real and imagined. In these pages, if I’m lucky, I will find my way to the beginning of the story I am meant to tell.
“The book exists for us, perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered.”
– Henry David Thoreau