Any wonder, the cheapest rental car? The first hour I couldn’t figure the handbrake. It turned out to be a second foot break. The wind buffets us out of Wellington but I don’t mind extreme sensations. They calm me down. At least, most of the time, and I am calm until I realise I’ve never driven in another country. The delayed shock of this new experience, when I am already partway through, makes me pull over into the next town we pass, which is every town we pass. People are kind wherever we go. I don’t know why I expected hostility, especially when it reminds me so much of home. Then I wonder if that’s what I expect from home: hostility. I’m nervous about my driving. I’m nervous about your driving. The sheer landscape lends a sense of gravity to everything.
What I’m thinking about: death. In the hills fogged with moss so dense and fine it hangs in mists of green cloud. In the sheer blue of every water body we pass, its diamond sharpness. In the steam rattling solid white sheets of rock that cling to the earth. It reeks of it. We glide through country B&Bs and sleep through deathly silences. Bats beat back their wings like someone outside shaking a wet sheet. I begin to question my sense of reality.
On the third day we don’t start until noon. We drink espressos from porcelain cups and order complicated, extravagant breakfasts. How slowly Desert Road arrives, then all at once. The greenery flattening to wiry scrub that stretches into every distance. The powerlines that draw the eye beyond where the eye can see. The unbelievable sky. Volcanos glossed with ice turn grainy in the violet sand blown back against the windshield. Nothing here is intermediary. There are signs for wild horses everywhere and I become desperate to see them. Our time is completely our own. How easy it is to go anywhere we want. I look for trodden paths in snow grasses, mistaking brute shapes for what they aren’t.
Our hotel room is awful. Outside our window is a pit the size of a football field. We can’t tell whether they’re taking gravel out of the pit or filling the pit with gravel. Each night you walk me around Colaba to the places that were part of your life. From Marine Drive we look over the Arabian Sea and I marvel at its tranquillity. A singular plane that looks empty but isn’t, stippled by sodium lights, a molten repetition of the star-smogged sky. The buildings are monolithic. Stone windows project arches of artificial light and I am comforted by these other-era streets. I resist change, and any evidence against it means a great deal to my well-being.
In the gutter a cat cut from a piece of silk drags a paw across her face. I envy animals, how all they require is for you to meet their basic needs. The cat does not know, for instance, ennui. Then I wonder how true that really is. What do I know about the inner lives of cats or any other being, human included, for that matter? I have lost myself in this thought and you are halfway down the street in front of an ancient building, pointing at a third-floor balcony.
I don’t know if I mean it when I suggest we go up, but you blaze into the stairwell like a trapped lodestar, the stairs as stairs into another past as if muscle memory can override everything. The door is barred and an inscrutable melody drifts from the apartment you lived in once. You take a photo of the plaques on the wall, dark brass enamelled in fingerprints. A shadow stirs behind the door. I half-expect another version of you to open it. The air is ragged with our breathing when the lights extinguish.
My cousin asks if I like walking. I assume our ideas of walking correspond but I am wrong. By the end of the day my phone says we’ve walked 33,000 steps. On the Overground the clouds move sleekly against the sky and I bless my mind for being empty. We meet in North Greenwich for lemon granita then climb the hill to the observatory. My cousin suggests we walk to London Bridge and I, having no concept of distance, agree. I’ve been sightseeing all week and have failed to be moved by monuments or history. I’ve seen representations of this skyline so many times. It looks the same in real life.
Big Ben is shrouded in construction material and for some reason this moves me. I like to imagine it taking a break from the public eye, even if beneath the scaffolding its face is being smashed to pieces. We reach South Bank just after eight. I am struck by how many bridges spine the river. Shadows undulate in the golden water, the cement banks gleaming in the resin of the endless hour. I don’t know how to make sense of myself when time is so undefined. If I can’t trust in the effects of earth’s rotation what else am I supposed to trust in?
That’s what I’m thinking when suddenly I’m being hugged by Alina, who I’ve known since I was four years old. We are drenched in beer because she ran out of the bar carrying two full pints. I see a security guard coming towards us but he is smiling at the seriousness of our joy. Six seabirds carve half-circles then dip down in pairs, three neat rhymes. Moments like this happen everywhere in the world and, tonight, this fact keeps me sane and probably alive.
—Mindy Gill, 2020
Mindy Gill is an award-winning poet and editor. She is the recipient of the Queensland Premier’s Young Writers and Publishers Award, and has received fellowships from the Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship and the Australian Poetry/NAHR Poetry Fellowship in Taleggio Valley, Italy, amongst others. She lives in Brisbane, where she is Peril Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief.