This post is Part Two of two. If you haven’t read Part One yet, you can do so here: Part One: Road trippin’.
Sprawled in the dirt you watch the dust from CF’s abrupt departure disappear into the wind. You drop your forehead to the ground oblivious to the gravel needling your skin. A couple of tears leak out. There is a dam’s worth of feelings threatening to break through and overwhelm but you fortify your walls and fight the feelings down. The feelings won’t help, instead, they’ll pin you to the ground with waves of emotion. Ok, you think to yourself, ok. This is an unwelcome development. This situation needs an injection of something pretty special to turn things around. Step one: get up off the ground. You reach deep down inside of yourself and scrabble around, searching for scraps of energy and determination to raise your head. Blinking away the last of your tears you see blurry figures coming to your aid from the trees. They lift you to your feet, wipe the tear trails and dirt from your face. They help you hobble into town and tend to your wounds. You sleep and escape. When you wake you learn that your dreams were just that – dreams. You are still in Timbuktu.
The town is full of people wondering dazedly how their road trip was so suddenly, flawlessly and thoroughly hijacked by the illness they used to control. You find some first timers and huddle together in an anxious dither. Locals come up and insert themselves into the group, draping their arms over shoulders, breaking the circle of tension. A short time later, installed in comfy chairs with steaming drinks, you and the other newbies start to relax a smidgen.
Everyone’s road trip has a unique flavour. There are different happy snaps on people’s phones, various routes were taken, personalised road trip soundtracks were belted out at full volume. Some roughed it, others preferred a bit of luxury. A few were flung into Timbuktu pretty early on in the piece, the majority took a bit longer getting here. Most have gone and come back, time and time again. There is no one-size-fits-all pathway to or from Timbuktu: you are at once both comforted and concerned that your Timbuktu experience cannot be predicted.
Incarceration in Timbuktu has left distinct marks on each individual. Their body betrays how they’re faring no matter what they choose to tell you or the spin they manufacture. There is a stoicism that runs through your new friends: everything is A-ok, not a drama, a mere flesh wound, right as rain, no worries love up until such time that it is undeniably, patently and very seriously not ok. A black sense of humour is passed around amongst the group. You are a random clump of people tossed together like blue cheese and pear – it just works. Your new pals make Timbuktu bearable.
A question swirls around in the minds of the newbies: How do we get out of here? For most, Timbuktu is a detour after which CF returns and collects a traveller for the next instalment of their journey. The truth is, CF is fickle and cruel, a first visit to Timbuktu is rarely the last. Each stop over in Timbuktu stretches longer and inches closer together, until one day, CF doesn’t come back for it’s passenger.
There’s a pause as the newbies absorb this truth. Your minds consider the question: What next? Well, there’s a choice to be made. Out the back of town are two tracks. Eventually, when it is exactly the right time, each person in Timbuktu must pick a track. It’s a hard decision because each track is weathered, arduous, treacherous, wild and woolly, and not for the faint hearted. Although gruelling, each traveller has made the treks just a little bit easier. Travellers are no longer pioneers. Every now and again there’s a cairn by the side of the track. There are arrows carved into some trees, initials into others. A clearing remains from the last traveller and a pile of kindle awaits. Each journey calls for courage in the face of fear; belief that the sun will rise again when twilight is settling upon you; stubbornness of mind and spirit over a failing body. When courage, belief and stubbornness have carried the traveller as far as they can, to the very end, the tracks ask for one final tariff: to let go. To let go of the trek and experiences in Timbuktu, the road trip with CF – and to instead, embrace the destination with abandon. Exhausted, the travellers want to let go, to lay it all down and cleave to their new life – of one sort or another.
One track leads to The Very Brink of Life. And Beyond. It’s tranquil there, beautiful, sacred. It’s a place where travellers go to rest, in peace, forever, below the rippling green grass, the defiant flowers, the trees stretching up and out to tickle the wide blue sky, the scudding clouds and the golden sun.
The alternative track leads people in a different direction – right up to The Very Brink of Life – before it peels away. Not everyone makes it. Not everyone has the pluck to try. Not everyone wants to try. The weary traveller pops out the other end of the track and falls to their knees. They sink down against a tree and rest their head back, close their eyes, relax. After some time, when they find enough energy to move on, a car appears, slowly crunches along the gravel road and stops. CF sheepishly steps out of the car – shiny and clean with a full tank of petrol. CF helps the traveller to their feet, hands over the keys and meekly slips into the backseat, quiet as a mouse. The travellers are always stunned. They haven’t seen CF quite so contrite in a long time. They shake their head in disbelief and allow themselves a tiny, tired smile. Slowly, they fold their beaten body into the driver’s seat. And then jump a little, do a double take. There’s another passenger: Transplant.