The People in the Journey

by Emily Carter (Sweden)

I didn't expect to find Spain


“How are you even replying from the desert?” “The soul of the world has good wifi!” I grinned when I read the message. It seemed like an absurd statement in contrast to its reference – the journey to find oneself described in exquisite detail in The Alchemist, what seemed to me to be some sort of bible for hundreds of long-term travelers looking for greater meaning in life. I had seen the book lying casually in the background of one of your travel photos, and it wove its way into the many things we discussed, for hours, as we each made our journeys of self-discovery across the European continent. Now you were in Morocco, cycling across the Sahara, and sharing your experiences of thirst, of the vast, echoing beauty of the landscape, and of frustration with the fine grains of sand that found their way into every piece of clothing and equipment you owned. I was in London, shocked by the normality of day to day life there, in a culture not too different from the one I had left behind and hanging on every word of adventures unknown. When I heard the drifting notes of the jazz band winding through the back streets of Seville and turned, on impulse, towards them, I never expected to find myself standing in front of a mirror. I remember the dim light of the bar, the familiar smell of old beer, and my awkwardness in ordering a drink I can’t remember in clumsy Spanish, just to have a reason to sit there. It often happens that those on a journey encounter others on similar paths. A glass of wine. A shared understanding. Stories of aching feet, missed trains and broken bags which strew the handful of items representing your life across the ground like garbage. Great food. The people you’ve met. Heroic tales of duct tape. Then the moment passes, and you go your separate ways, remembering them fondly. The universe in which you were aligned and connected fades softly away. But here we were, on separate journeys but sharing every step. Place by place, day after day, month after month. We were both on a mission – maybe to find ourselves, or a place in the world. We crossed paths a few times, but mostly we crossed countries on separate trajectories. We spoke of things we saw that were good in the world, and things that made us sad. Gradually, my journey began to fill me with energy, an increased confidence that I knew who I was; I called out, and the soul of the world had answered. Here you are, and this is your path. It will lead you home. Like the shepherd Santiago, I followed the signs, though the path led finally to an unexpected belonging on the other side of the world from where I’d begun. You grew tired, and followed the call back to your childhood home. Our journeys ended, and that travelers’ moment – the moment in which we were aligned and connected, although a long one, faded softly away. I kept the memory that we had somehow, strangely, shared the same journey, like two sides of a coin, or the slightly strange other-world you can peer into through a mirror. From time to time I thought about what I had found on that quest, and why somehow you felt that you didn’t, despite the experiences that you had, whether I had been there or just glimpsed them through the mirror. The connections with old travelling friends. The surprising joy of tasting a simple pizza in Milan after weeks of eating almost the same tagine meal after meal. The astonishing beauty and coldness of lakes that stretched away before you, to the feet of mountains you determined to cross. I never expected the shock and loss I would feel, a year later, when I scrolled suddenly past a Facebook memorial to you, and the inexplicable decision you had made to take another kind of journey. Sometimes I think about telling you of the places I’ve been, and the things I’ve seen. Perhaps you’ll get the message. After all, you did say the soul of the world has good wifi.