She wasn’t afraid of death. On the contrary. As she stood on the dock watching the boat leave she felt an immense sense of relief. She had never felt she belonged with the crowd of refugees. She looked at them, huddled on the boat’s deck waving goodbye to everyone and no one in particular, using their handkerchiefs and any other piece of cloth they could find. As she stared, she wondered what it was that compelled us humans to behave that way. What made those leaving wave? Was it to feel a sense of belonging, even when on the run? Was it death, those on the run, were waving goodbye to? Why were people on the quay waving? What made curious onlookers wave back at total strangers? Those were people who had never met and most probably would never meet again. And even in the improbable scenario of their paths crossing in the future, they most certainly would never know they had waved at each other some 10, 20 or 50 years ago. … If their paths met. That was a big “If”.
Those leaving would witness the distance grow between them, dangers and their past life. The past would die a little more with each knot travelled.
Those on the Quay were going nowhere. She was going nowhere. Or was she? Weren’t we all going somewhere all the time? Weren’t we all trying to escape some way or other? Mostly, people were afraid of death and were running away from it their whole lives. She had seen some people run towards their own death with open arms and hearts but those were quite rare. Most people turned their back and ran. She was not afraid of it. She had once been so afraid it had almost totally destroyed her life. It had maliciously permeated every pore of her life. For some years, she took no decision without consulting with death first. Needless to say death always had the final word, if not the only word. Redundant to add that these had been the saddest years of her life. Those years when nothing had been done or achieved and the hole that would never become her grave had been dug deeper and deeper. She had fantasized about hiding herself in that hole, she had lived in it but she had never died in it. And on a dark and stormy night she had danced her one final tango with death. She had grabbed it, she had clutched it, she had swirled and tried to make it go her way, but no matter what she did, death was the one leading the dance, deciding on the tempo, spinning her around, holding her tight, sending her away, keeping her at arms’ length, then retrieving her with a forceful snap of the wrist, holding her back softly but firmly with its fingers spread when she bent backwards, scratching her, resisting her pushes, preventing her to hit the floor or hit herself. No matter what she did or tried, Death was always the strongest. So she quit the dance floor in tears, bruised inside but with a new understanding about her life.
As she looked up one last time, she saw a little girl drop the teddy bear she was waving goodbye with. Its fall seemed to be happening in slow motion, like a feather elegantly zigzagging its way through the pure air before delicately landing itself on the blue waves and sailing away. The little girl’s reality was completely different and much harsher: the loved and dirty plushed beast fell heavily and quickly in the muddied waters, where in less than a split second it disappeared under a cruel mothy wave. She saw the girl’s mother or elder sister grab her with strength and move her away from the scene of the tragedy while the little girl was wriggling in her arms, trying desperately to set herself free, unable to understand, or appreciate that, what she had just witnessed was freedom in its purest form.
With this image, she turned away, readier than ever to face her destiny. Her man stood next to her. He knew how she must be feeling for he felt the same. A mixture of pain and grief and fear and love and abandonment and pride, but most of all, a tremendous feeling of excitement. He was not afraid of death either. He had seen it eye to eye, just as she had, making it cease to be the feared enemy it was for all those people who had boarded the boat. To him, death had become some sort of a road companion. They had a silent agreement and kept a respectful distance from each other, but they knew they could turn to each other for help at any time. He was aware his road companion was not exactly the joyous one, although, when brushing past it close enough, death most certainly can get the most of a man’s humour. He had had some of the most colourful and droll moments of his life when crossing death’s way. Those moments when tears of pain mixed naturally and unabashedly with tears of uncontrolled laughter. He had felt the hilarity and the worst pain a man should never have to feel at the same time. Don’t they say tragedy and comedy have always been the best bed partners? He looked at her with love and pride and took her hand. As he did he felt her shiver.
They turned away from the boat as the crowd started to disperse on the quay. They boat was becoming a small point heading in a straight line to the horizon.
They had to rush back to their hotel and pick up the bags and papers necessary for their departure. Now that they had freed themselves of all the others, they could finally concentrate on their journey. The train ride ahead was very long, and their paths would be full of unknown and unforeseen dangers. They could not afford to miss the train, lest they lost “their” death and met someone else’s.
(March 19th, 2014)