Mauritius

Sunburned in a taxi, feet gritty with coral sand, wet and tired and exuberant, all I see is just Mauritius.  Blue sky and cerulean oceans clash with green forested hills and the black and white traffic.

Suddenly Prague explodes in my memory.  I see the sunlight glistening on the water, hear the dinner boats motors’ murmur, feel the crisp April air toying with my long hair, brushing it against my cheeks and nose.  But it’s just a billboard. A Fly Emirates billboard, displaying the Charles Bridge in Prague, at sunset, the 12th century statues dark against the orange sky, the guard tower’s jagged roof scraping the atmosphere.

This one billboard was the single most provocative thing I saw in all of Mauritius.  Never mind the foot-wide sea urchins glowing red and blue.  Bother letting my legs dangle over the side of a catamaran, dolphins eyeing us with tired frivolity as they come up to breathe.  Not even 100 feet of Shiva-esque statuary could spark a fire in my soul as much as this image.

I blink, and what I see is myself in a trench coat, orange duffle on my shoulder, bedraggled and unshaven on Easter Eve, alone in a foreign city, grieved and relieved that I am alone at last.  I’ve been wandering through the urban jungle all day, camera dead, wallet empty, and the sun is setting as I contemplate the viability of sleeping on park benches or under bushes.

I am the hair-wrenching, teeth-gnashing visage of uncertainty.  I am the culmination of weeks of suffering, in the midst of wonder.  I am the consummate vagrant, the haggard hitchhiker, the lonesome wanderer.  I am an existential shipwreck. My traveling companion having left for Rome while I was asleep in the Czech countryside, I stagger back into Prague at 7 am and find myself too captivated by irresponsibility to find rest for my travel-wearied body and spend most of the day staring at the river or poking around where I ought not.

As sunset glows over the city, I march the melancholy march to Fun Island, the only vacancy in town, and pay my eleven dollars for the right to not sleep in a cold, wet tent once again.
As I put on my sweaters, jackets, hat and gloves and lay down on a bag packed with notebooks and socks, I reflect on the isolating freedom I live in.  With no responsibilities for anyone, no need except the immediately physical, I am the essence of hobo-core.

 

And as I weep for the loneliness, a smile crosses my face.

 

We turn a corner, and the soothing balm of paradise washes away the bittersweet memories, and I am lost again in blissful now.  That moment came and went, the only taste of passion in a land of creature comforts.  There was no confusion in Mauritius.  It was simply nice.  Simple.  Idyllic.  I was never challenged, never provoked.  I never had to fend for myself.  I saw the tourist sights, danced the tourist dance, scubaed the tourist scuba.

 

It was a catalyst for nothing.  Everything I wanted, I could have.  It was a break from reality, a fading dream, far away from the confusion of finding dignity in desperation.  Far away from the ramshackle shacks of Ghana or Cape Town, that depth of despair an impossibility to my self-servile mind.

 

In retrospect: It was god damn boring.

 

 

—Bryan Dodson

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