Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Walker

I think about him often. Even now, after all this time.

We'd ran together a few times on a club night, and, after I'd heard the bad news, I really should have called round. But, to be honest, I didn't know him that well back then, so I didn't.

It was a chance encounter in the street months later that led to him becoming my best friend.

'Hey. Ok?' I'd said.
He'd nodded, kind of uncertain.

'What you up to nowadays?' I'd said.
'Whatever it is you do when you've lost everything,' he'd replied, matter-of-factly.

'Still running?' I'd asked. Dumb question.
'Not a lot,' he'd answered. 'Busy with something else.'

We'd made uncomfortable small talk for a few minutes more, and he'd invited round to his place. On a Wednesday night two weeks after, I'd found myself standing in the rain, knocking on his front door.

The table in the kitchen was large. Spread upon it was a map. Ordnance Survey, Landranger 122.

'Those dotted red lines,' he'd said, running a finger over the shiny paper, then looking up at me. 'They're footpaths.'

I'd nodded, mug of hot tea in hand, wondered where this was going.

'I'm going to walk them all,' he'd continued.

Why? I'd thought, but his face read Why not?

Every Wednesday for the next three years I'd sat at that table. I'd stared at the map blu-tacked to the kitchen wall, studied the spider-lines of fluorescent yellow marker - the paths he'd walked - and listened as he spoke of weekend adventures.

One time, he'd mentioned his wife. 'It must be hard, I know,' I'd told him, 'But you can't walk away from what happened. It just won't work.'

He'd just shrugged and smiled.

'When I walk, I'm walking with her. She's with me, and it's real,' he'd said. 'The rest...' - he'd gestured around him - '...the rest of it all - it's just dreaming.'

Weeks passed. Months passed. One step at a time. He grew thin, his face more weathered. But his eyes sparkled.

The map on the wall became a sea of fluorescent yellow.

And then, he was done.

That night, over a couple of hours and a few beers, he'd told me everything. And now what he'd been doing made some sort of sense.

Before I'd left, he'd got up from the table, carefully unpicked the map from the wall, folded it neatly and handed it to me.

'I won't be needing this now,' he'd said. 'And, you never know, it might come in useful some time.'

As I'd stood on the step by the front door, he'd extended his right hand. 'Thankyou,' he'd said as I shook it.

It was the last time I saw him.

No-one knows what happened. The next morning, it appears, he put on his boots, picked up his sack, closed the door behind him and never came back.

I think about him often.

And I hope.

Maybe, somewhere, he's still walking.  

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