Beside An Arrogant Stream

I have this fat little notebook. It’s leather bound and it smells like the magic of a mature man. Inside, it’s full of fragments of thoughts: dreams, questions, ideas, momentary flights of fancy. Drawings, scribblings, light and shade. Mainly it’s where I remind myself to remember. Not the extravagant splashes that dominate the pathways of memory; the spillages and the explosions, the crashes and the fireworks, the breaks, the cracks, the butterflies. Rather the more mundane moments. Little things that would otherwise pass by to make room for all the drama. Special enough in their own quiet, small way, that I take a moment to scrawl, to doodle, to record. A few words. A peek, a smidge, a touch. Just little things. It’s only for me and into it I empty my silent voice.

I took this fat little notebook with me when I ran away from the chaos of keeping up with life. Took an impromptu trip away from the noise and the squalor of the everyday scramble to survive. It would have been forever, if I had my way, but instead it was five days. Two absent days from the luxury of a full week smirking like well-delivered insults up from my hastily-purchased tickets. Still though, it was enough and little enough to allow me an instant immersion in self-indulgent solitude. Something I crave and chase through all my human relationships, ever more complicated and sublime.

With countless citrus-scented avenues and cobbled side streets to explore, more content than ever in my aloneness, the foreign tongues of all my momentary neighbours drifting from every second window and the seductive glow of warm sunlight seeping into skin, I found some peace of mind. My notebook was ever by my side, at my fingertips, killing time, helping me unwind. I doodled, I dawdled, I dreamed, I drew. There was a baffling blend of romance and laughter, imagination and adventure appearing within those pages, a perfectly fulfilling soliloquy.

My poetic soul was aflame.

One afternoon I sat by an architecturally decorated stream, an arrogant trickle of water with delusions of grandeur, with little swallows nesting in huge arching bridges worthy of a body of water ten times the volume and high walls protecting each side. I sat by one such wall, the late evening sun flirting and dancing with a lightly chilly breeze all along the playground of my goose-bumped flesh. The sound of water bubbled unimpressively below me, as I sat on this high perch and looked down my nose at the tourists taking photographs of the picturesque scene.

Perhaps I had too many refreshingly green glasses of white, because when I returned to my room that night, I realised I no longer had my precious notebook tucked into my handbag. I could see it perfectly in my mind’s eye. Pages left to ruffle indignantly in the lonely winds of twilight, abandoned atop that wall until one errant gust would pick a perfect spot and delicately toss the whole thing over, to tumble, flightless, into the gurgling waters below. Whistling and flapping, I watched my notes to myself sail through the air and to their damp demise over and over that night, sad and frustrated all the while.

Though perhaps it was for the best. I would rather have seen the damn thing destroyed, water-logged and ink-run, than plucked from my bedside locker by sticky fingers and snooping eyes. Or picked up from a coffee table for a disinterested browse; my small, quiet thoughts and wishes and dreams making unknown lips curl in disdain. That wasn’t a fitting destiny for dreams. Flying through the air, victim of tragic neglect… Somehow that was better. With this in mind, I fell asleep, and though it was a fitful rest, I woke somewhat refreshed and resigned to the loss.

Nonetheless, I did find myself retracing my steps back through yesterday, back to that very cafe on the verge of the wall, my table unoccupied and small, when I looked up at it from a distance below. I hauled myself up the steep little cobbled bridge, all the while scrolling through the scene for a sign of the waitress from before. Perhaps she had taken my little homeless book in overnight.

But as I scanned the bumpy, lumpy landscape of tables and chairs, cobbles and stones, my eyes registered and simultaneously refused to focus on an impossible sight. I blinked once, twice. Despite the wild winds of my imagination, the rattling of the windows in my sleepy mind’s eye, despite how many times I watched my fat little notebook dive to its watery end behind heavy eyelids; there it was. Gently berating me with tiny paper undulations, my book of quiet dreams sat precisely where I had left it. Unmoved, apparently untouched by man or nature. Each tiny step I took towards it was a question mark; was it really there, or would it just disappear if I tried to grapple it into my greedy grasp once more?

A playfully strong gust of wind chose that moment to shift the book just a touch towards the edge, and the shock of finding it intact redoubled into the shock of potentially losing it again, springing me into action and sending me leaping across several surprised customers to reclaim my prize. Murmurs of discontent only added to the strange sense of betrayal within my gut. I didn’t want to so much as look at this notebook of mine, which had defied all logic and survived a lonely night under the stars without my protection.

I don’t know why I resented my brave little book for not being as I’d imagined it to be. How I managed to assign blame to an inanimate object  for refusing to be lost forever to me. But I nonsensically did and my punishment was burying it in a suitcase for the rest of the trip, ignoring it and discarding instantly every tiny, sweet, potentially poetic thought that dared to rear its cheeky little head in mine from that moment forth. I was disquieted by the strange and sinister way something so unremarkable could be such an affront to my established view of the world, how it could render everything somehow changed, never to be the same.

It was only when I returned home and began the reckless process of unpacking that my fingers found the leather bound cover once more. And that hard-to-identify, vaguely frightening feeling suddenly took shape inside and identified itself to me as a sense of inevitable transformation, another way to see and to be, lurking just behind the curtains of my conscious mind. I knew before I opened it that there was something to find.

On the last filled page, after mine, was a perfectly rendered portrait of me. Writing these little notes to myself in this self-same notebook, the pages and my hair gently ruffled by the wind. Both of us in profile, beside a high wall, overhanging a tiny stream, evening sun and playful breeze casting shadows across the scene.

It was a deeply relaxed version of myself I’d never before had the luxury to look upon. Happy. Sunlight in each pencil-stroke, rising from the page. Each eyelash a love-song, the curve of my neck a tribute to all the little beautiful things I consistently refused to see in my own reflection.

It was the finest memory, the sweetest dream, the best reminder I ever laid eyes on, gifted by a stranger.

And just like that, I believed again, in everything I’d forgotten to remember.