As I make my way across the stone roads, the quiet wind whistles by me. I wonder, apprehensively, whether I made the right choice, this career. My conscience screams, “NO!” I ignore the voice and keep walking, waiting for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
I trace the lane to a cafe by the side of the road. The cafe looks beautiful, comforting, calming. It pulls me in; all I need right now is a nice cup of coffee, handmade, not processed. I lug my small bag in and grab a seat that overlooks the gorgeous blue ocean. The view is just as breathtaking as the ambience of the place. At the beach, I spot a family of five walking, running, building sand castles, splashing water on each other. I keep looking at them, waiting for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
I sit in the chair, familiarizing my body with it for optimum comfort. I read through the menu aimlessly. I already know I want to order an irish cappuccino. The server comes and waits by my side silently. I finish skimming through the thin paper and look up at him smiling brilliantly, like I made his day so much better. As if that was even possible, what with my terrible state of mind. He looks old, worn out, but happy. I ask him for the irish coffee, he scrunches his face in discomfort, like I’ve hurt him. He introduces himself as the owner, and asks me to try the day’s special in his broken english. What he lacks in diction, he makes up for in hand gestures and animated expressions. I agree. He walks away with a dazzling white smile. I look at his retrieving back, waiting for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
I look out to the view again; mechanically my hands turn to my bag and pull out my laptop, as if rehearsed it a million times. With my eyes trying to spot the happy family again, my hands pull out my diary and my pencil. My eyes revert to my table; my laptop is already switched on and my pencil rests on my open diary, waiting to be used. The tip of the pencil is blunt. I try to remember the last time I sharpened it, and fail. I wait for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
The man comes back with my order. On the tray rests a beautiful, fluffy croissant. Next to it is a cream roll, a plate of saucy fries and a vanilla-caramel milkshake. Resting in a corner, behind all these items, is a small cup with something in it. The owner smiles, points to the cup and says, “Irish. It’s on me, mon amour. You need it, I imagine.” I smile at it, nodding my head gratefully. He taps the table once, and traces his steps back to the counter. Looking at this stranger who cares without needing to, without being asked to, I wait for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
I look back out to beach; the family has retired to their resting place. The parents are sipping cocktails, the kids are lying on the sand, reading, listening to music, living. I look at myself, alone, at a table somewhere in France, with a tray of food I know I won’t finish, with a blank word document open on my laptop, with an open diary mocking me. Am I not living? Am I just surviving? Still, stubbornly, I wait for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
I finish the delicious coffee, the croissant and, at a stretch, even the milkshake. When I ask for the check, the jolly old man is sad that I haven’t finished the food. I smile apologetically and ask him to pack it up. I compliment the coffee, he blushes and says it is also his wife’s favorite. I can’t help but hug him for his candid nature. He wishes me the best, I return the gesture and walk out with a small bag with the fries and the cream roll. I look at the stone roads again, figuring out where to go next. My conscience speaks up, reminding me of the deadline. I shut her down with a loud thump of my foot. Passersby don’t spare a second glance, something I’m thankful for. My phone vibrates in my back pocket. I pull it out. Mum. I push it back in.
Before realizing it, my legs start making their way downwind, instead of upwind, where I came from. I get annoyed; my body makes my decisions for me, not my mind. Maybe that’s what’s wrong. Maybe I should leave my body with my laptop and my diary, and let my mind wander. Maybe then I’ll make the deadline. I laugh at the mental image my mind conjures up. This time, passersby look at me like I’m crazy. I courtesy, not wanting to let them think otherwise. Inspiration still seems like a mirage; visible, but as soon as I reach it, it disappears, like wisps of dandelions. My mood swings are too much to take for me right now. I feel the need to stop, but with my legs leading the way, I find myself reaching the beach sooner than I would’ve imagined.
As soon as I spot the beach, my hands reach for my brown sandals, pulling them off in a hurry. My feet almost sing in relief. Mankind was meant to be barefoot. Shoes are constricting; like a straightjacket for feet. I again laugh at the mental image; my feet look shocked to be put in a straightjacket. They hate it, in my imagination. Their mouths are gagged by the smooth leather and they have a sweat trickle near the big toe, just like in the cartoons. I feel sorry and reach out for my feet, stroking them once before continuing to walk down the beach. The sand particles part between my toes, some falling away, some deciding to stay. I subconsciously start trying to spot the family again. They are nowhere to be found. I look up to the giant stone walls. Here and there, at odd distances, I see a break in the fort, where there must be cafes, stores, bars, I imagine. The beach makes a swishing sound in the background. The blue beckons to me. I look down to my beige shorts, my light yellow shirt, my bag. I decide to not take a swim.
I sit down, legs crossed at a distance from the water. The sand is warmer than I imagined. I tie my hair up in a pony; the wind is not worth the tangles and the sand particles my hair will be ridden with for the rest of the day. A man from a nearby beach bar walks up to me, asking me if I want any refreshing drinks. I am very conscious of the heavy meal I have just had at the cafe. I contemplate whether or not to order something. Before my mind can think, my mouth speaks out, “A beer would be super.” He nods and walks away to a pair sitting close by to ask them their order. I am very annoyed at my body. Taming is necessary. I can’t have two entities deciding my fate, my body and my brain. Hasn’t my family done enough of that in my 22 years? With a sour expression, I wait for inspiration to hit me. It doesn’t.
The beer is chilled when it arrives. I thank the server profusely. I sip it cautiously, like I am waiting for myself to throw up. My body accepts the beer. I breath deeply in relief. The sun is setting slowly over the city, the hues of orange and purple filling up the sky are oddly uplifting. I refuse to fall prey to the beauty of nature, but with every growing second, I find myself caring less and less about my troubles. My conscience has settled in a corner, watching the sunset with me. I no longer find the need to shut her up harshly, for she doesn’t find the need to nag me anymore. My phone vibrates again. I ignore it. For the first time today, my body complies with my mind. I smile with vindictive pleasure. Got you, bitch, I think to myself. My worry about inspiration is fading away even as the sky turns a shade of blue I didn’t think existed.
A catchy tune holds my attention. I look around trying to spot it. I find it at the same beach bar I ordered the beer from. I realize I haven’t finished it. I gulp it down quickly, stand up and walk towards the bar. I reach out to my bag to pay for the beer, but someone grabs my hand and pulls me to a section I just now notice. There are a bunch of people dancing in the section. The music is warm and catchy, my body reacts to it before my mind registers the surrounding completely. Traitor, I think to my limbs. I finally get a chance to look up to the culprit, the thief who stole my self-control, again. The hand-grabber is a local, a young guy. He is still holding my hand firmly, swinging me around, as I desperately try to catch up. His smile is infectious, my face is the next one to betray me and start smiling. I dance away with him. I am conscious of the drinks I’m downing constantly. I am aware of the decreasing distance between me and the handsome stranger. My body and mind are again on the warpath, I realize, as after a while I feel a softness on my lips; something only another pair of lips can provide. Even as my mind is screaming anxiously, my body makes its way back to his apartment.
The next morning I sneak out. I was never big on confrontation. I leave him my fries and cream roll, as a cruel way of saying thanks. I make my way to the main street and find out the handsome stranger didn’t live farther away from the beach. I enter a coffee place, nothing like the gorgeous one yesterday. As I fumble into my bag to look for change, my palm comes up with a foreign piece of paper. It doesn’t look like my post-its. I shove it in my jean pocket, pay for my coffee and exit the place; it smelled nothing like coffee. Outside, by a tree shaped like a pear, I see a stone bench with randomly placed colorful rocks. I make my way to it, touching it with my finger tips to check the degree of cold. It is harsh and cold to touch. I sit cautiously and fish out the piece of paper. Something is scrawled across it in a dirty yet endearing handwriting.
“I know you will sneak out. Call me. We can grab a bite somewhere. I know great places, being local and all.”
I smile. The stranger, who signs as Leo, is more intuitive than I gave him credit for. I save the number for later and start walking to my hotel. Reaching the hotel room, immediately, my shoes come off and before I can even take a shower, my laptop bag is strewn open across the desk, its contents buzzing with action. I start typing. Words spill out before I can register the meanings, sentences emerge before I even knew they had conceived in my brain. I call up mum; she sounds so worried, it amuses me. My story is complete, my deadline is no longer a matter of stress. A calm befalls me. I realize I was so focused on tracking inspiration that it eluded me. Right up until I decided to do the one simple thing one has to do to be inspired in life. Live, not survive.