I stepped on the treadmill today. It’s not my favourite pastime, but I did it anyway. At first, I recalled the time, many years ago, when I first attempted it and found myself winded in less than 3 minutes. I was still working in corporate. Life was lifeless, and purpose was found in servitude.
I travelled a lot since then. Mostly business travel. Staring down at the footplate of the treadmill, I found myself walking those streets again. The back roads of Nice, a short throw from the plush touristy area, the plaster was flaking off the walls of the apartment buildings, and the empty plots were unkempt and overgrown with weeds.
Then the cramped sidewalks of London, with its scarcity of smiles and less warmth to offer than its weather. I walked quietly through the neighbourhoods, distant from the bustling centre of wealth, and saw hints of warm homes and affectionately adorned window sills. The cold mist reminded me of my estranged nature in such scenes.
The quiet, unnatural streets of Jubail crept into view next, with fallen, premature dates melted and smeared into the sidewalk, and the mocking smiles from the police officers revealing their revolting oral hygiene. The thick air, laden with humidity and a scorching breeze choking me up as the treadmill continued its whine as I journeyed my way to the next city.
Tunis, with a touch of warmth, an uncanny sense of safety, and humility in large doses, prompted a hint of a smile as I recalled strange encounters with strange people. The trip on the metro passing Mandela’s stop, and the beautiful voices of the children singing their songs in Arabic each morning as I waited for the train to arrive. Probably the only wistful recollection of my time there.
The walk to China Town in Singapore, or to the Indian quarters, clinically clean and oddly cold. Buddhist temples and expensive shopping malls crowding all the open spaces, and cliques of old folks line dancing in the parks without a hint of interest in the rhythm to which they danced. Everything so detached and robotic, as if celebrating the privilege but disconnected from the experience.
And of course, traipsing the steps and the hills and tunnels of Monaco. Walking the length and course of the grand prix circuit, delighting myself like a little child as I recognised the bends and the straights from my hours on the PlayStation. But just as soon, the delight would fade to a subdued smile, and then nothing. Just a sigh.
You’re never lonely if you like the one you’re alone with, or so they say. So they say. An hour later, still barely exhausted from the spirited walk through my daydreams, duty interrupted my moments in foreign cities, each echoing the solitary nature of my life, and the isolation of my spirit. The photos and stories shared with others later on never compensated for the absence of one to share it with.
But, peace comes slowly and silently when we learn to embrace the inevitability of our lives, rather than yearning for what never was despite our best efforts. The sweat pouring down my face stung my eyes a little more than the subdued tears, as I realised the futility of tears that are left to dry on their own.
It was a long walk on that treadmill today. But there are still many streets to explore in stillness and isolation. Wanderlust has departed, and in its place it left a quiet composure of knowing that nothing more should be expected of what lies ahead. The weariness is finding its home in the same alcoves that were just recently filled with more. But it is an alcove and not a treasure chest. What visited briefly never intended to stay.
Thus, expectations are recalibrated, and life…life remains a stranger that prefers the company of others. Exhale.