by Emily Oldfield
Felpham Community College
How should I begin? Our lives are comprised of journeys. Insignificant scattering from the bus station, to the train station, across corridors, carpets, walkways, up and down the stairs. Occasionally, though not often, you may meet someone who can say with a degree of honesty that they have never journeyed at all. I used to know one such woman with agoraphobia.
To think I would have considered that a suitable introduction! I am sure she would be capable of greeting you much more expressly. Confident in her confinement, she would be enthused to meet you from under the protection of her roof. “Hello, I am a musician”, she would explain, never having let it define her – she was more than that. “Or a singer, or painter, or a cook. Sometimes I dabble in writing.” She could do a thousand things. Must it be some great untold shame that journeying had never really been one of them? There must be more to life.
Most days, it seemed she had found it; plants would stand on her sun-bleached windowsills, meticulously cared for – as was all life that cared to stop by and visit – as if they were her own unmoving children; a new, manageable kind, free from wanderlust and rebellions against her double-checked doors and uneventful calendar dates. To her, a life of deliveries and isolation was no monotony – the chillingly warm (yet unpleasantly crushing) embrace of fear rarely left her space for loneliness.
I remember the ceaseless movements before her college years, barely being able to find her in the same place more than once a day, parents constantly complaining about the bus fare, an abundant whirlwind of rail tickets, ‘places to be’, ‘people to see’.
Now the slightest tentative step back into the house would be met with the neighbours’ pity; I recall how angry it used to make her. Why deem such terror a tragedy or loss, she would explain, when to her it was simply routine? This, she would explain – though I saw through her tensed stance and grit teeth – was how she lived now. For outside her door, she reasoned, would lie monsters in wait, readying themselves for her first step into the unknown; monsters that would draw in her ribs, shorten her breath. The ones that leave you nauseous, breathless, floored – often quite literally – for the monsters aren’t as fond of journeys as she used to be. They do not care for it. This was normal. Eventually, I pondered that the word she had been searching for was ‘tolerable’.
Not long after that, I ran into her at the shops. We chatted casually about nothing as she glanced tentatively around the aisles – made small talk as I watched each shuffle forward signify the loosening of another self-imposed restraint. Soon, I understood that she had managed to make a longer journey in twenty metres than I had in twenty miles – twenty years.
In my silent pride it began to dawn on me what a journey truly meant.