|The Southwest Path just north of Lizard Point.|
A woman was sitting off the path with her head in her hands. Alan stopped and gently asked, "Are you okay?"
She looked up at him slowly, her eyes red and teary, and said, "Oh, I guess so. I just don't feel well."
"Anything I can do?"
"Umm, not sure."
"Well...I'm not in a hurry."
She studied his face a moment, then waved her hand in a wide arc, "Sit if you'd like, there's plenty of room!"
"Um, okay...thanks. I could use a rest."
She looked to be in her late 30s, and wore the usual walkers' cargo shorts and a blue plaid long-sleeve shirt, which looked damp from that squall that Alan just went through. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a frizzy pony tail, equally damp, and the sun had been hard on her peeling nose. Her oversize backpack and a hat were cast off to the side, equally damp-looking, and coated with sand from where it had tumbled.
Alan pulled off his pack and sat down next to her. Neither spoke for a minute. Alan's mind was running fast - should I say something or just be quiet? I probably wouldn't say the right thing anyway...oh, what to do...? To resolve the question, he pulled out his water bottle and took a drink.
Finally, she let out a deep breath, looked at him again, then said, "I, um, I haven't talked to anyone in a few days, so I might seem a bit incoherent...and you probably wouldn't want to hear what's on my mind anyway..."
Alan looked at her, his mind fumbling about, but his curiosity won out..."Well, now you have me wondering, so why not, uh, talk?" Who knows? Maybe I'll learn something...
Tentatively, she started in. "I...where to begin...I don't know if I'm up for this trip. I should be having a good time. These Long Walks everyone raves about are supposed to be a 'Rite of Passage', right? But so far, especially today, I'm tired, and I'm beginning to wonder why I'm out here." She paused. "You're sure you want to hear this?"
"Okay, let's see. I left my house about two weeks ago. It started out okay, though I thought I'd die the first week -- my feet and legs were really sore. But I kept going. I camped when I had to, but I usually stayed in an inn when I could find one. At Oxbay, I worked for a few days pulling weeds, just to not have to walk for a while. And then we had that rain, and I just sat around in their common room, feeling bummed. So today I got a decent start and was okay until this rain-squall rolled through this afternoon, and I HATE BEING WET!"
The outburst startled Alan, but he had to agree.
"Well, sorry I yelled, but I think the real problem is I'm tired of hiking on my own."
"Aaah. May I ask where you started out from?"
"You walked all the way from there?"
"Not quite. I took the train down to Hazel, and then started walking. My plan has been to walk allllll the way around the island," she said sweeping her arm, "or at least the long way back to Putney!"
"Soo, you're not so sure about that now, I take it."
"Oh, I still think I want to do it, but I guess I'm carrying some sadness with me too." She looked at him, "Do you really want to hear this stuff?"
Alan shrugged, smiled at her, and then tried to act nonchalant as he reached into his pack for his energy bars. "You want one?"
"Okay, sure, thanks."
He adjusted his pack to make a back rest, and then stretched out his legs. I'm glad I'm not the only one being lonely or sad. I hope she talks all day... They munched quietly for a moment.
"Well, I'm Chloe."
"Hi. I'm Alan."
"Hi Alan." She munched on her bar. "These are good!"
She continued, "Okay, here goes. I took a leave from my job at the Putney Library, where I'm a reference librarian. Have you been there?" Alan shook his head. "I've always loved that library, and I have worked there since I graduated from university. I lived with my mum, who wasn't well, so I never took the Long Walk after public school. My friends all went, and I really wanted to, but I had to take care of her. No dad, and that's another story!"
"Anyway, when my mum passed away, I stayed on at the library, and have always enjoyed it there. Then they promoted me to Research Librarian, where I sit behind this large circular desk ready to answer any and all questions! The work can be fascinating, you know?
"And then I met Dennis. He came in there to research some obscure ruins in Roger's Dreamland....you've heard of that place, right?" Another nod. "There wasn't much about that in my library, but I knew the Antiquities Office or Putney University's library might have more of what he wanted. Anyway, he came back again, asking about other topics, and we got to chatting. He seemed such a fascinating chap. After a week or so, I realized I was constantly glancing at the door, feeling like Marion the Librarian from that American film - are you familiar...?
Alan nodded again, "Ah, yes, The Music Man..."
"Well, you might say I succumbed to Dennis's charms. At first he took me on picnics to the beach or up in the Yellow Hills during wildflower season. And then after only a few weeks he said he wanted to marry me! But I had a funny feeling about him, like he wasn't quite all there. He loved watching the television, and somehow he manged to acquire a set of his own. Later we got into the habit of me visiting him at his apartment, and instead of going out, he would offer me some snacky food and maybe a soda, and then he'd sit and watch stupid telly shows, some from the US - no offence, Alan - or Indian soap operas. He was totally absorbed, and sometimes I had to shout at him to get his attention! Then after a while he'd shift gears and suddenly want to, you know, do it. He was terrible at making love, and I was worried about pregnancies and such, and...oh, I'm going too far here!"
Alan looked up at her from his trance, and shrugged, "I'm still listening."
"So anyway, Dennis was really nice, but he didn't really have much going for him, and I didn't see any papers or a computer or any other signs of research in his apartment. When I asked if I could read anything he'd worked on, he was evasive, saying he did all his work in the library. Then we had an argument about food...I couldn't eat the junky stuff he was sharing, and he told me he wasn't going to change - it was his house! Dennis sounded a little too much like my dad, at least of what I remember when I was little. I told him that I didn't think this was working."
"Sooo...you decided this was a good time to take your Long Walk..."
"You got it!"
"Well, let's see, I'm not sure where to begin. I'm from the US..."
"Ah, I thought so," she said, smiling.
"...and I'm here to make sketches and pictures for your Tourism Office." He then told her a little about his life in Indiana, and about how his job here originated from a drawing he did from a dream. "It's so weird that the drawing turned out to be of a place here on New Island, but I had no idea any of this existed! Anyway, they sent me tickets with the job offer and here I am. Now I've been walking on this path about a week now, painting my first assignments. I'm otherwise staying in some inns or camping out, pretty much like you are."
They both looked at the sun hanging low over the shoreline, and then Alan asked, "Uh, not to be too nosy, but what are your plans now?"
"Well,I heard there is a nice camping ground near Lizard Point...and I was on my way there. I think it's only another mile or two."
"Ah...mind if I tag along? That's my destination too, as I'm supposed to make a picture of Vanessa Island from there."
She looked at him, ate the last of her energy bar, took a swig of water, and said, "Okay, let's go."