I’m walking because I couldn’t rent a car because the rental lady wouldn’t take a risk because renter’s insurance wouldn’t cover me because I’m not 25 years old. Along the Tobagonian highway, I walk upstream (here, the right side of the road) against traffic, so that oncoming cars can see me and I can see them. I’m safe from the upstream cars too— they whir past from behind me, on the other side of the road. I’ve become comfortable— with the mixture of sunscreen and sweat between my pores and with the feeling that beyond following what seems like the main road, I don’t quite know where I’m going.
Somewhat infrequently, I’ll check the map supplied by Google on my smartphone. The lacking 2G service means that Google can’t quite draw the dotted line from my current location to the red pin 4 miles ahead. 20 minutes ago, I dropped the pin’s location at an umbrella icon—any icon— which meant beach, which sounded nice. I’m grateful for Google here, because I’ve downloaded an offline map that allows me to see, with my GPS location, which direction I’m moving in. At the very least, I hope, this will prevent me from wandering into a foolishly dangerous place — dangerous because I have two thousand dollars of camera equipment slung over my shoulder— on this tiny, foreign island.
I’m not lonely or tired here, likely because I’m not thinking about it. I couldn’t tell you, though, what I was thinking about. Perhaps, it’s each step, avoiding potholes or sewage drains or small pebbles that get stuck between my heel and sandal. Or the poisonous-manchineel tree, indicated by red letters and signage along the side of the highway: In the event of a sudden exposure, DON’T PANIC!
Beyond the sign, I turn a corner to a small, sloped ridge of rocks: Lifeguard not on duty. Swim at your own risk. I’m nowhere near the red pin, but this seems nice too! A rusty blue sedan is perched on the gravel at the top of the slope, on the shoulder of the road. In the distance, I see dark hair, then a head, then shoulders, peek from beneath the surface of the water on the beach below. I descend the slope of rocks, change into a swimsuit— I forgot to bring a towel, but no one is around to see or care anyways— and plunge into the light blue water, fifty meters from the single pair of hair and shoulders.
There’s nothing to achieve here, and that’s different, because often we (my friends, young people, most people in the Western world) feel compelled to jump from one red pin to the next. I suspect that had I ventured onto this tiny island with company— a friend or two or three— we would have an agenda— six to eight red pins organized chronologically, on a neat spreadsheet. I can see how it’s nice though— having red pins to achieve. There’s a sense of pride associated with it— with reaching some destination that is well-known or recognizable— to climb a mountain to prove one’s stride. But whose mountain is it? Does it belong to us or someone else? How honest are the steps we take?
I dry myself off and sit on the beach, under some shade, under any tree but the manchineel. I want to read, and I’m finding my place in my book. I read a page before flipping through to the back cover, as if counting the number of flips until I’ve achieved the end. But that’s not reading is it? There’s a kind of reading described as ravenous— when we surrender our own time and place for the ones between the pages. That’s reading— when there’s nothing to achieve, no flips to count!
I’m watching my steps again— avoiding pebbles, poisonous trees, and every once in a while, foolishness, with the help of Google. I’m carried by a sort of rhythm that relinquishes any effort in the process. As the sun grows weary, the red pin has yet to grow closer. But no matter— I’m here.