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A father’s quest to see his dead son again

Short excerpt from the forthcoming book…

He wasn’t much to look at. Not tall, not short. Five-seven, five-eight. Slight. A man of middle age, sandy hair, greying at the temples, a bit dishevelled. Transparent grey eyes, not blue. Pale-skinned. Face lined but not deeply scored yet.

An anonymous kind of man.

His walk was steady, mechanical, neither fast nor slow, each step deliberately chosen, quietly so. He was not built like a bull or muscled like a boxer. Neither thick nor thin, heavy or fat. It was a lean, efficient body, but never one to stand out and make you pay attention.

At first glance he seemed watchful, but in fact he gazed ahead without deviation, eyes fixed on some distant point, as if in a trance. But you probably wouldn’t notice this and passing him by you would barely be aware of his presence and a hundred yards on you wouldn’t be able to recall anything about him.

A quiet, almost invisible man.

But looking more carefully, especially at his eyes and the way he held his body you might sense there was something more within him, an inner tension and determination, without aggression or violence, a stubborn self-sufficiency, a separateness that did not repel or exclude the company of others but did not invite it either. There was nothing dangerous about this man except that here was someone who knew his mind and was, it seemed, at least on the surface, in full possession of himself.

But looking more closely still, if he would allow you, if you could enter the tunnels of his eyes and peer down into his heart, you might discover a well of pain, so deep, so fathomless, that it might never heal. He carried this pain secretly within him, like an invisible companion, to the extent that now he was almost immune to it.

It was this pain that had driven him from his homeland, from friends and fellow workers and what little family he had, from spring meadows and soft streams. This pain drove him and he could not say where he would go, or why, or what he was looking for. He could not tell you who he was or where he’d come from. He only knew he could not stay living his old life. The pain, like a creeping mist, would slowly overtake and consume him unless he did something.

This pain, which he barely understood, which was more like a void, was hard to bear though he hid it well within his lean body and in his occasional speech. Only Rolf, his closest friend whom he had known from childhood, knew something was wrong.

“You have to walk,” Rolf had said.

“Where to?”

“Anywhere. The answer is in the walking.”

He remembered this much.

It wasn’t quite enough. The pain was always there but walking, day after day, seemed to keep it at bay. The regulated movement of blood and limbs, the new sights and sensations that entered him, meant that the pain could not get a permanent hold. He had to keep walking, keep moving. He daren’t sleep too long, if sleep he could, nor stay more than one night in any place.

So he wandered, eating wild, sleeping under hedges, in ditches, in nested woods. For weeks he had no plan but gradually, not in words, but as an image, an idea formed in his mind, without explanation. The ocean. He must get to the ocean.

He had seen an ocean and had no idea which direction he should take. All his life he had lived inland, amongst well-tended towns and leafy valleys, and now he had already wandered far from his homeland. His hair was growing longer, his beard, streaked with grey, concealed his set jaw. He was now a stranger wherever he went and when he asked passersby the way to the ocean most looked at him with fear or confusion and hurried away. To their eyes he was a vagrant and probably crazy.

And maybe that was true.

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