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Sport 39: 2011

If you want to find land

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If you want to find land

That Sunday morning I knew only that losing a person is like losing your keys. You try to find them by remembering the last few things you did with them and sometimes that works. But sometimes all it does is leave you with a hole in your vision. In that hole there is nothing.

I told the policeman about the fight. I told him that you had been gone a Sunday morning sized piece of time, and that having carried out a grid search of the neighbourhood and my conscience, I was sure you had left. I told him that you might have gone to the shop for a paper, seen a big green bus with no passengers, and decided to catch that bus. I did not tell him that the words ‘called away’, in my handwriting, had appeared on a piece of paper beside my bed a few days earlier. I did not want him to think badly of me.

He asked me what you had been wearing that day.

I told him that when I woke up, there was silence. There was also an empty teacup upside down on the bench.

He asked me if you had any identifying features.

I told him that yesterday I cut your hair with clippers while you sat on a chair on the lawn. I told him that you chose number 2 because the comb for number 3 was broken. I told him I rubbed your head in circles, pretending to look for hairs that I had missed.

He asked me if I had any friends or family I could call.

He asked me to sit down.

That’s when I realised that he knew where you were.

Floating in a pool of blue light was the husk of a man, watched over by a woman with tired eyes who said her name was Louise. The man was naked. A tag on his arm said ‘Anon’.

Louise asked if this was you. As much as this was anyone, it was you, I said. That was good enough for her. She changed the tag on your arm.

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Louise spoke with great calm.

Most people think the best thing is for someone who is loved to come straight back to their life, because they are missed, but that is wrong. It is a problem of time, she said, and of fate. When someone has been called away, they have been called away, and they should stay away until their fate catches up with them.

When the men found you, she said, you fought them off with your long thin arms. So they did what they did whenever they didn’t know what to do; they thought of their own lives and their fathers’ lives. That’s how they came to the idea that a grey-haired man might feel as if he were a boy again, lying still on the grass in the Sunday morning sun.

They were not sure that you wanted to be found, Louise said, so they sent you and your fate away together for a while to sort things out. It seemed best for everyone.

Louise consulted her notes. She told me the name of the park where the men had found you. She asked me if the name meant anything? I said it was your favourite park.

The ventilator lifted your chest in perfect time. Waves passed and repassed on a screen above your head.

Louise said I could sit beside you. I reached under the sheet and took your hand.

Louise said I was welcome to talk to you, although no one knew where the words would go. She did not know exactly where you were, she said, or whether there was a sound connection between there and here. That’s when I realised that you must be further away than the top of Mount Everest, because a dying man was able to call his wife by satellite phone from there to say goodbye.

Louise walked in circles around your bed, speaking softly to herself in single words. When I asked her what these words meant, she said each was the name of a substance which you needed to have on board. I pictured you dark in the water like a wooden canoe, lifted and set down by deep ocean swells. Your eyes were closed. Light would be flickering through your eyelids. The shadow of an albatross. Blue and blue and blue.

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I knew then that you were travelling alone across a sea so wide that you might never come ashore.

I held your hand and kissed you. I felt a wild urge to tell you to come back. That everything would be all right. But I whispered only true things in your ear.

I don’t know where you are, I said. But I am here.

One morning, which seemed no different from the ones before, Louise said it was time to see if you would come back. It would not be easy, she said. It would be a test of your will.

What ending are you looking for? I said, in your ear.

There are places where the water rises into the shape of a mouth, I said. Whole canoes have been sucked under in these places.

If you want to find land, you must open your eyes now and read the waves. Look for where the sea turns brown with earth washed out from a river mouth, I said. Search for shore birds.

You will see many canoes passing and re-passing—these people are all watching you. Some of them are waiting to guide you in. Others are just interested in what you will do.

I saw a tree trunk floating just under the surface, dark in the water like a whale, you said, when you could speak. Then, as I came closer, I saw two canoes lying silent and motionless in the water near a river mouth.