“I’m happiest when I travel. When I don’t, depression hits me the hardest.”
He was the owner of a retreat on a secluded beach, I one of his guests. We had become friends for strange reasons. A day before I was to check-in he informed me that women travelling alone were unwelcome at his property as a matter of policy. Furious, I berated him for being discriminatory and cavalier. He asked what I did. “I have a day job,” I replied scornfully, “by night I work as a prostitute”. He was apologetic but insistent on knowing what I really did.
“Find out; you have my name”.
Over the next two days, the staff at the retreat constantly fawned over me. He and I exchanged tales of our travels. He was about 45, well-traveled, polite, and a depressive. My psychiatrist had gingerly placed me at “situational depression with anxiety issues”. (When I first heard the diagnosis, I had given the doctor an incredulous is-that-even-an-illness look.) We concurred that travel was our refuge, opiate, and now perhaps, the only thing that showed us brief glints of happiness.
An affliction of the mind takes you to the troughs of nothingness. On especially bad days, it makes you wake up wanting to be dead. There is cold tar engulfing the soul. In travel, you seek the feeling of existence, however fleeting. From it stems the allure of lying spreadeagled on a rock while staring at clouds, the feet numb from the icy waters of the stream of a waterfall. Of riding a rickety bus that smells of diesel and decrepitude through hamlets slowly waking up and going about life. Of flying halfway across the world and back a few times. Of trying to speak alien tongues. Of tiptoeing precariously on a stone, struggling to get a view of the other side of a dam, and feeling like an explorer discovering a lost world.
You only remember a disjointed narrative of sights, sounds, and smells because your mind (or medication) plays strange tricks with your memory: The hiss of curry leaves being sautéed in a wok. Purple dandelions, tall milk cacti, anthills of red earth, and palm groves, all growing beside each other. Ferris wheels silhouetted against the sky at dusk. Sangria by the glass, for a Euro. Dancing and drinking the night away in a shady bar. Tiny, translucent crabs rapidly burrowing into sand and disappearing into the pits with a leap. Yellow sodium-vapour lamps lining a deserted street. Lying in sand and taking on the tide of the sea. Sometimes its foam tickles the soles of your feet, sometimes the surf threatens to sweep you away. (“Does it matter if I drowned and died? Not really.”)
Inside a tiny cottage made of palm fronds, at the retreat on the beach, I had survived another desolate night lulled to sleep by the music of the waves. Perhaps the only kind of night I can now survive is one that envelopes me but thrums up a tempo plucking the strings of life.