A day when everything changed – A story

So here I go again, thinking out loud through the letters of the alphabet. It‘s been four coffees already and I am still tired. Could it be the age? Long gone are the days when I could make it to the upper part of double-decker buses without grunting. The feeling of age finally caught up with me and my Young Spirit starts to lose the battle. It was about time – some folks, those who cherish their envious attitudes, thought me inhuman. I was not inhuman. I was a lucky human. At a very young age, that is an age of 21, I first encountered Young Spirit whilst he was wandering in my day dreams. Or was I wandering in his?

It was that special occasion, when two entities are open to interaction and their trajectories collide. So did ours. He was, and still is, this boundless source of energy, constantly moving around, rejuvenating, ready to construct and destroy. I was a bitter fellow. Frustrated by lack of clarity in my purpose. Frustrated by a lack of work results. Frustrated by my peers, by my writing, by being girlfriend-less. I was on the verge of questioning the purpose of my existence in this world, albeit not decided to make a silent sortie. Maybe I needed help. Maybe I didn‘t need anything. There are many a person who walk the road frustrated, bitter, unhappy, alone… But I was lucky. Plain lucky.

The day we started communicating is still ingrained in my mind in all its colourful details. The part of the year – autumn it was. The date – September twenty-sixth. Smell of mud and ground in the air, the rustle of fallen leaves on the pavement, the scent of garlic and peppers from chourico prepared on a cast iron pan by my neighbour. Me sitting in an armchair drinking my third coffee of the afternoon, when he asked me if I still enjoy drinking so many coffees.
“Of course I do” was my semi-automatic answer. Did I? Mayhaps.
“Do you like it?” I enquired.
“Not really – I don‘t need the caffeine and taste of coffee itself is usually slightly too sour.”
“Hmm” I replied, disappointed by the sudden shrinkage of refreshment options I could offer to my new guest.
“Do you at least like cookies, if not the coffee?”
“Now we are talking business.”

So I served him cookies. Many years later, when we talked about our first encounter, he confessed that it was the cookies that made him stay. And I remembered – cookies make a difference. I‘ve met a good deal of interesting people through cookie offerings. It was probably the single most important thing I have done whilst walking Caminho de Santiago. It was not the walk, it was not the struggle, it was not the holy clairvoyance – it was the friendship made through cookies.

Perhaps the sugar was responsible, or be it the small chocolate pieces, Young Spirit had stayed and spoke with me about a good deal of topics ranging from tribe traditions in the Middle East, the so-called “diesel versus petrol” argument or the cultural nonsense called St. Valentine. And then, right when I was defending the rights of beatles to decide, whether they would go extinct to make way to a brand new oil well or not, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. And that question changed my life forever.

As a kid, I had the traditional dreams of being a garbage man, a firefighter, butcher, gamekeeper and a few others. When I got older, my child dreams dissolved into dust and made room for the adult ones. Mind you, I was still desperately indecisive. I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to run a business revolutionising the obsolete educational system. I wanted to sail the seas and cross the oceans, but I also wanted to climb the tops of the Andes. I wanted to settle down, have a family and a dog, and take care of my garden. But I also wanted to be absolutely free, able to move off shore whenever I wanted. So far I have not revealed my name and you can, perhaps you should, guess that it is Mr. Contrary and you would be close. For our story, it makes no difference. Anyway – the exact same thing that you just read and that made many female readers faint (they simply love the indecisiveness, don‘t they?), I told to Young Spirit.

Under a window in my attic sits a solid wooden chest. It‘s covered by dust and yet I did not forget and I think about it every day, but I do not dare opening it again. Those times are long gone. I can feel it. It does however, especially after few glasses of wine, still radiate adventure and scent of exotic foods prepared by street chefs of Indian capital. The smell of curry, cinnamon and red paprika is simply unmistakable. All in all, it tempts my random guests to sneak into my room and peek inside when I‘m busy preparing coffee for those very people. But they never do. Since it‘s a special chest, one that Young Spirit himself picked out of many chests offered in the chest store in Chesterfield, it has its secret compartments and most importantly, a hidden lock. And when I say hidden, what I am really saying is “located on the lower side of the chest.” Why so much secrecy? Is the chest concealing something of such an enormous importance, or perhaps something dangerous? I‘m sorry to disappoint you as it is neither of these. It‘s there for the sake of my pure amusement I experience whilst watching baffled face expressions of my
would-be-Indiana-Jones random guests. But you and I, my dear reader, we are in this together, so I shall make and exception and share with you what‘s inside. I kindly ask you not to talk of these matters aloud in public places.

The inside looks messy. Life on the road is, ask Kerouac. And the chest reflects my life, it reflects the way I like it. Right on top should be, if my memories are still intact, a pair of masks. Painted in black and white, the masks of Greek tragedy and comedy. I bought them in one of the back alleys of Thessalonike as a token representing my Gods – Life and Death. Over time I realized how fragile our lives are and yet, how strong we can become. Man can achieve great heights, but one tiny cut from a certain angle, and everything crumbles. They remind me the uncertainty of tomorrow, thus making present moment the only time we have to share our deepest gifts. Underneath are some sketches of Polynesian tattoos, two of them are covering my arms. Every single one of these has a meaning. I am afraid I have forgotten the majority of them. There are two, however, which are strongly ingrained in my memory, those of numbers six and eighteen. Number six is about a man and a woman making love under the stars, both losing themselves and becoming one, which then dissolves into the ever surrounding presence of the Universe. The other, number eighteen, talks about ripping a man‘s heart out and putting it on a spike, letting the monkeys eat it, as an offering to gods. Life on the road with Young Spirit quickly taught me about different worlds that are out there, existing within the world we see with our naked eyes. Understanding and acceptance are of both enormous importance and difficulty. Many an item are scattered around, such as a small bullet I took from a poacher in the Kenya, a “I don‘t want to live anymore, let me go!” note I wrote to Young Spirit on a napkin whilst suffering monsoon rains in Laos, dreadful case of diarrhea, hunger, and cold. There is a map of Mexico City I failed to use in Paris, there is my university degree stained by glasses of wine, there is also, I hope, a key from a lock securing the canoe on Titicaca lake. There are stacks of letters sent to my former mailing address, then abandoned, covered by cries of my horrified parents asking, threatening… begging me to inform them about my whereabouts. There is a pact, sealed by blood, I made with Young Spirit. And at the very bottom lies my passport. From cover to cover, filled with the most bizarre stamps the stamp makers ever made. I‘ve been there. I‘ve been everywhere. And with Young Spirit, I‘ve done it all.

I like to keep these concealed from my visitors. As much as I like them, and some of them I am happy to count among my best friends, I am worried that they wouldn‘t understand. I am worried they would judge the people I have met and the things I have done. People starved because of me. Wives shed tears, pools of them. There is blood on my hands. Sometimes to lose one‘s self in an environment, one has to let go of standards and habits of his home country. Sometimes it is a matter of life and death. But people would not understand. They stopped dreaming. And dreaming matters. It was in my dreams where I encountered Young Spirit, an entity that gave me the courage, energy and openness of heart to live, on that special day when everything changed.

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About Petr Klíma