On the road

Singing clock faces in the Amsterdam morning. (Photo supplied)

Singing clock faces in the Amsterdam morning. (Photo supplied)

Last stop. Bienvenue à Amsterdam.

5:43 AM.

The night was a blur; the bus driver had made excellent time. I sat in the bus/train station.  Nothing was open. Even if I had booked a hostel, I wouldn’t have been allowed to check in for another six hours. My sleepless body was numb, my mind hushed. My reflection dulled by the mist on the window.

Nowhere to go, everywhere to go.

Stowing my money and passport in a safe, dry pocket I pulled the rain cover over my backpack, marveling at my existence. Everything I needed was stowed in this chunky scarlet sack secured on my shoulders.

Autumn in Amsterdam.

My feet led me splish-splashing in search of the dawn. A smooth asphalt path ran next to a canal, luminous white sentinels transforming the cold rippling waters into funhouse mirrors. The water whispered to me through sweet air while Apollo readied his chariot.

I moved in a daze. I felt no pain, no happiness, no sorrow, no smile.

I stretched my bare arms in front of me, waving them in the half-light, wiggling my fingers, but I couldn’t feel a thing. Suddenly the mist evolved into a downpour, and I was soaked to the bone. I did not shiver; the ember of my soul was hidden, protected.

I wondered and wandered as the city wakened. A bike whizzed by me. And another. Soon I was forced from the path by crowds of eco-commuters. Heading down a residential thoroughfare, droves of families sped along on human-powered transportation. As I walked, it became a common sight to spy a mother or father settling three or four kids onto a single modified bicycle before clambering onto it themselves and setting off for school with ease, a feat of cooperation and collective balance.

I meandered for hours in my dreamlike state, before locating a hostel with comfort and very reasonable rates. The only car I encountered was a street cleaner.

Midafternoon rain pelted the sidewalk as I peered out of the window. I admired the cleverness of my backpack; little water had seeped through in the hours of roaming in the intermittent rain. I peeled the folds of soggy cloth from my body the way one might shed a skin. After wringing my clothes out and hanging them to dry, I stepped into the welcome embrace of a hot shower. Through my dreamwalk, worry and fear had seeped from my pores, and were now washing down the drain under the therapeutic drumming of cascading water.

Reluctantly, I switched off the water jets before I grew gills; I had been wet for hours. As I absently toweled off, I looked at my nakedness in the mirror. I had lost weight since the beginning of the trip two weeks ago. My solid structure and musculature, no longer hid under layers of fat, self-pity, and grief. Despite weakness and fatigue, my spine held me straight and tall.

I didn’t smile nor frown into the mirror. I simply looked.

As I lay on my bunk, I felt an afternoon siesta take hold and pull me under the covers. My body melted into the mattress and I swam in my unconscious mind amid visions of acrobatic cyclist families and singing clock faces.


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Josh Fraser

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