I finally got to take the dog for a long walk today. It seems to have been raining for a fortnight and I confess the dog only gets the twenty-minute walk when it’s wet.
Today the sun shone and I happily strode around the 45 minute circuit enjoying the feeling of warmth on my face and a breeze on my skin. When I’ve been too much indoors my skin feels like it can’t breathe.
The challenge for me at such times is being able to still the voices in my head.
It sometimes feels like I’m walking around with a radio on my shoulder, like the kids you used to see on the high street with a ghetto blaster, in the days before iPods and tiny headphones. Freed from the constant chatter of the children, the kids’ TV, the family, the emails, texts and tweets, my brain runs like it’s on rails. A dozen different monologues chunter on, as I mentally write a blog post, plan my next novel and come up with a dozen marketing ideas I’ll never find time for.
Usually I take my phone, so I can write one thing down and silence the cacophony. Today I left my phone behind, hoping to get free from the noise, from the endless words. Too much time indoors, more children than I’m used to, and a serious bout of sleep deprivation, has left me full up to the brim.
Unfortunately the voices don’t stop. Try as I might to focus on the autumn leaves, the sun shining in puddles or the dog frolicking across the fields, the inner voice doesn’t shut up.
Sometimes when I walk I end up with a children’s song stuck in my mind. A repetitive marching one, like Grand Old Duke of York or Nelly the Elephant. It drives me nuts. Like someone tuned the radio to the most annoying channel possible before removing the dial.
Today I wondered if actually it’s my brain’s way of switching off. The equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and going “la la la la” to drown out the voices. Is that why people chant when they meditate? I’ve never tried meditation, but it occurs to me that the chanting might serve to block the endless chatter of the mind. If only my brain could settle on something less maddening than a nursery rhyme.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
The fireball sun hovered low in the sky, painting the clouds in lavish strokes of indigo and scarlet.
Claire followed her feet around the harbour, her mind moving as restlessly as the boats moored in the water. Beneath each straining white craft the sea rose and fell in gentle swells.
The scene was not the picture-postcard view of perfect reflections, that she’d seen hanging in a shop window during her evening stroll. Somehow, though, the endless motion of the tethered boats matched her mood. She could empathise with their constant urge to pull free and leave the safety of the shallow waters.
Around her an eclectic mix of buildings climbed the hillsides to overlook the town. A two-tone church watched paternally from above, while apartments and villas gathered to gossip on the opposite hill.
The moniker of English Riviera suited the place. It lacked the polished style of the Mediterranean, but still sat resplendent in its English charm.
The sun sank lower in the sky, its dimming brilliance picked up by streetlights and hotels, as if the baton for luminescence had been passed down to the them.
Calm fell over the water and, like children finally exhausted by their play, the boats ceased their bobbing and lay still. Gradually the surface of the harbour flattened until Claire could see the yachts and buildings reflected in perfect symmetry.
Her wandering steps led her out towards the sea which stretched not to the horizon but to more lights in the distance. She tried to work out what place she could see, but the geography of the area had yet to settle in her mind.
Turning her head back towards the town, Claire was surprised to see a bright white wheel dominating the skyline. The Ferris wheel hadn’t been noticeable in the daylight, with the houses and hillside behind it. Now it illuminated the harbour like a giant watching eye.
Around her Claire heard the sounds of Friday night revelry notching up a gear.
I guess in some ways we will never be like the Mediterranean.
From what she could remember of trips to Italy, night-time revelry mostly consisted of walking up and down the main street catching up with friends, followed by a late meal and even later celebrations at some nightclub in the hills.
Not drunk and rowdy teenagers collecting in groups and vomiting on the pavement.
As if to punctuate the thought, a huddle of bodies stumbled past and several people tumbled into the gutter amidst howls of laughter.
Her skin prickled as she sensed one of the men watching her. Aware of how far she had walked from the hostel, Claire forced herself to turn slowly and amble back towards town.
“Hey, pretty lady, wanna have some fun?”
Claire ducked her head and pretended not to hear. She felt his gaze piercing her shoulder blades, and every nerve zinged with the need to run. Reminding herself she wasn’t in a dark lane, but out in the open with plenty of witnesses, Claire concentrated on keeping her steps measured.
With a silent bark of derision she realised how soft she’d become in the months since leaving Manchester.
Once upon a time I would have told him where to go. She sighed. It seemed there was no end to what she had lost thanks to Carl’s machinations.
As soon as she was some distance from the group she lengthened her stride until the buildings came forward to greet her, providing the illusion of safety.
She tried to take in the details dispassionately; to generate ideas for her tourism report for Conor. Instead a wave of sadness washed around her, as if the harbour water had risen in a sudden squall to drench her tranquillity.
Ringing loud in her mind, as clear as if she had shouted it out to the hidden ocean, came the thought that she didn’t want to be here. No matter how beautiful the view or how peaceful the sounds of boats settling together like a flock of roosting birds, it was just another step in her endless journey.
What the hell am I doing? All I know about being a tourist is that I don’t want to be one anymore.
Folding her arms across her chest, Claire ducked her head and let her urgent feet carry her back to her borrowed bed.