it was a dark and stormy night. no, actually it was a bright and sunny day in sydney, australia. only problem with the day was that i was bored being in it. i needed something to do. some direction.
i was walking along the docks of darling harbour looking for a boat to new zealand when a pretty blond carrying a pink bag passed hurriedly in front of me. she was just my type. i decided to follow her and see if shed stop somewhere, in a store perhaps, the aquarium maybe, so i could chat her up. cant really stop her in the street and start talking to her without looking like a stalker. hi, i noticed your cute butt and have been following you for 15 minutes. want to go out sometime? no, wed have to end up at the same place for the connection to occur.
i followed at a close distance and began dissecting my prey. was she local? was she a tourist? it appeared as though she was wearing a pink bikini under her sleek black pants. perhaps that was a towel and sunscreen in her pink bag? was she going to lay-out in a park? it was 10:00am on a monday morning. shouldnt she be at work if she was a local? maybe she was a waitress or a bartender. she wasnt looking around at the sites like id expect a tourist to do. she pointed her nose forward and followed it. where was she going? we walked the length of king street wharf but she never turned into a store.
i stopped to ask a water taxi about boats to new zealand but i kept my eye on her blond head. she steadily churned along. i hastened my pace to catch her again. i was so curious about where she was going in such a hurry. she looked at nothing around her. she just briskly charged along the waterfront.
we turned the corner in front of the sydney aquarium but she didnt go in - didnt even look inside. must be a local, i concluded. a silver designer watch was strapped to her slender left wrist and the pink scarf tied around her waist flapped in the breeze down her right side as she lead us under the pyrmont bridge which stretched across the harbor. i followed her over the cockle bay wharf towards the imax theater. she hustled to the right side of the pools of water so i took the left. i watched through the arms of playground equipment as her blond locks bounced with her quick steps. where in hell was she going? i wondered again. nothing in her actions gave me an indication of her destination or purpose. at one point i thought she was going to lay-out in the sun in darling park but she just scooted on past. then she stopped in front of the gates to the chinese gardens and paused by the water pool in front. she was about to sit down but reconsidered. she practically started running then, and my curiosity really took off.
we crossed over pier street headed towards the entertainment center, a big blue glass rectangular building. she jogged around it's corner and i kept up with her but i always kept one of the building's large support-posts in between her and i so she wouldn't see me. we raced past the entertainment center and she made her way toward the car park. a-ha. she was going to get her car after spending the night with her boyfriend - a girl like this surely had a boyfriend. in the direction she was moving she was either going to the haymarket monorail stop or to the car park. she was aimed to the right of the stations staircase so i guessed it was the car park, but then she stopped, looked around, and then turned back towards me. she started coming right at me. i turned and ran across the street, skewing off to the left. she headed back right to where she had just come from.
where in fuck was she going? i didnt even want to talk to her anymore; i just wanted to know where she was going. she headed back under the overhang of the entertainment center and i crossed the tracks on hay street to follow her again. i dont think she noticed me.
we eventually walked out of sydney right across the sydney harbour bridge as the setting sun blazed on the opera house. she kept steadily churning along, showing no signs of stopping anywhere. we walked to manly, to the northern beaches, to port macquarie, cobbs harbor, to byron bay. i was getting tired and was thankful when she finally stopped at a youth hostel. i checked into the place across the street and watched the exit for her but she never left the hostel.
the next morning i jumped up from my book when she spilled out the front door. she headed east and i closely followed her along the beach towards the lighthouse on the hill. she climbed up clarkes beach onto the palm walk. i ran the wooden path staying a safe distance behind so she wouldnt see me - she hadnt yet as far as i knew.
i found it so peculiar that she never seemed to look around her. she wasnt taking in the sites. no tourist here. i never heard her talk so i wasnt sure of her accent which might have told me where she was from. i knew nothing about her but i couldn't stop following her until i knew what was going on.
i ascended the stairs to the lighthouse. her blond hair shone in the sun, constrasting nicely with the deep blue water of the sea. she kept pushing along but then suddenly she stopped and stepped behind a tree. she slowly peered out from behind it, slightly crouched with her hands placed delicately on the trunk, like she was trying to see without being seen. i watched her, puzzled by her behavior. then she suddenly popped out from behind the tree and briskly scooted past the handgliding cliff and down the path away from the lighthouse, west again. she was acting like she was following someone. acting like me.
she headed west out of town and then north toward brisbane and the gold coast. i followed her over the hilly terrain, past kangaroos, through dark forests, along golden beaches. in brisbane she paused for a sandwich - her eyes searching ahead the entire time. but she suddenly dropped it and grabbed her pink bag and ran off again. i dropped mine too and chased after her. what drove her? i would find out soon.
when we got to townsville i was chasing her down the pedestrinized part of flinders street when i lost her for over a minute. i was running around a sunglasses kiosk when i bowled over her. she had been hiding behind it.
hey! what are you doing? she yelled.
oh my god...im sorry, i hoped she didnt realize what i was doing. i walked away quickly and hid just inside a shoestore. she followed me for a moment with her eyes but then turned her attention back to what she was doing before i ran her over. she was looking at someone. i followed her gaze and saw a man sitting at a cafe sipping a coke. he was looking off into the distance at something. he suddenly slammed down his coke and ran off. i turned to look back at the blond but she was running down the street. i finally figured out what was happening.
she was following him.
fuck. i followed someone halfway up the coast of australia who was merely following someone else. i supposed i was actually following him. how disgusting. she was following someone for no apparent reason. what kind of life did she have to just spend all her time chasing someone? and who was the guy dressed in a green and yellow oz cricket hat, white t-shirt, and khaki shorts? his goatee and sunglasses reminded me of me. where was he going? i couldnt really see him well enough to figure it out so i decided to catch up with my girl and ask her why she was following him.
her pace really quickened though and it took all my energy just to keep her in sight. we crossed indonesia by boat, me following closely behind her on another ship. we bounced over the waves of the java sea past the tropical green islands of indonesia. when we arrived in singapore i had to strap on rollerblades and chase her, swiftly racing along the waterfront to keep her tail in sight. in kuala lumpur, malaysia, i finally caught her under the petronas towers.
hey, i said breathlessly as i grabbed her by the shoulder. she snapped her head towards mine. she was tiny and beautiful. her green eyes looked annoyed. she was breathing hard and was satisfied to stay there but not to talk to me.
what? im busy, she said. the bluish steel towers rose dramatically above our heads. she and i were reflected in a shiny silver orb mounted on the railing of a bridge. i looked into it at us for a moment and then back to her.
what are you doing? why are you following that guy in the ozzie hat? i asked.
instead of answering she asked a question of her own why are you following me?
what does that have to do with it? i shot back. i have my reasons. but really i am following him so i want to know what drives you to him.
probably the same reason she is following you, she said as she jerked a thumb over her shoulder. i turned my head towards her pointing thumb and followed it to a human figure slipping behind a palm tree.
holy shit, i said to myself. there was someone following me too.
my girl, the one i was following, started to take off again, but i needed to ask her one more thing. what should i do? i need to know what im following and why, i shouted after her disappearing shape.
why dont you do something different? she yelled over her shoulder as she jumped into a cab. she slammed the door and the cab darted off.
thats really what i was looking for in the first place, so long ago in sydney. i decided to do something different. i pretended to run off after the blond but then quickly turned around and reversed course, towards the tall dark-haired woman in the blue dress who was following me. she saw me and stopped dead in her tracks, staring at me with confused brown eyes, frozen in place for a moment. i pointed at her, laughed and started chasing her. she turned on her heel and bolted underneath the blazing icy petronas towers, past the fountains, between the cheesy nightclubs and towards the KL tower. i was now following her. i needed to ask her something.
as i jumped into a cab and indicated to the driver with my hand that he was to follow the brunettes cab, i felt like the world was different again, that i had found some direction and was now actually doing something. i also knew that i was no longer being followed. i was the leader but actually not leading anyone at all. the leader who blazes a new trail that others dont yet have the courage to follow.
in northern thailand, near the laos border, my tuk-tuk driver caught us up to the brunette's tuk-tuk. we pulled alongside hers.
why were you following me? i yelled at her through the thick, dusty air. she looked at me and then away again with a confused, frightened look on her face. dazed and confused.
i didnt have anything else to do, she blurted out. i was bored.
so what are you doing now? does being chased add excitement to your life? i asked as we swerved around chickens in the road. the dust from her tuk-tuk shot up around us. the cars coming the other way had to pull off to the side as we hogged the entire road.
before she could answer she was slapping her driver on the shoulder, stabbing her finger in the air to the right. the driver took a sharp, crazy turn.
now what in hell is she doing? i thought to myself.
over there, over there!! i heard her implore as she raced off down a side street. reality shone its light on me and i smacked my driver too.
go! i yelled, emphatically pointing my finger towards her disappearing tuk-tuk. she was now chasing someone too; the person who had been following her.
into laos we went, my low wooden boat slicing through brown river waters that snaked through thick, moist jungles and past towering mountains. into china and down the yangtze river, past the fields of terracota warriors defending their dead emperor. i chased her, as the sun set over the crumbling great wall of china, into mongolia. past fields of camels, under the shadow of massive vultures, on the backs of wild horses, through the gobi desert we streaked, under star-filled skies, into the black sands. we paused to sleep in nomadic gers at the base of white lake. it grew chilly and the warm day was overwhelmed by the frigid night.
in the morning, she scrambled onto a horse and shot off over a brown hill into the western gobi. i stayed where i was because i finally understood - i still wasn't really doing anything. i had decided in the night as i lay in my felt white tent that i needed to do something, something completely different: nothing.
the days went by and i ate camel, sheep, goat, potatoes, noodles, and mutton which the locals prepared for me. they never asked me anything. they just brought me meals everyday at the same time. i hiked around the lake and over the rocky hills, admiring the wind-worn art of the granite. the lake froze and thawed again. i waited outside my ger, facing east.
and then one day, as i sat cross-legged outside my ger, the blond from sydney appeared on the dirt road that cut between the lowest point of two mountains. i had been awaiting her arrival. i no longer wanted to ask her anything; i wanted to tell her something. she stood near a pile of rocks adorned with blue buddhist scarfs and marked with a large log sticking straight into the air. she waited there in her warm north face jacket, frozen like the ice on the winter hills. she could see even from that far away that i knew she was coming, saw the confident look in my eyes. eventually, with a sigh, she accepted it and slowly made her way down to me.
she sat with me and i offered her some sheep soup which she greedily slurped up. a few minutes later, we both looked up as the sun washed the mountain pass and illuminated the goateed man in the ozzie cap. he could see that we were awaiting this inevitability and, like her before him, made his way down to us.
more soup arrived as each new person, each new follower, broke the hilltop horizon and came down to join us. after a week, one million people filled the white lake valley of mongolia. we passed our time by singing, talking, and drinking fermented mares milk. when the brunette in the blue dress that had once been chasing me finally appeared over the hill it was time. she gave me a long, interested stare as she walked down to join the masses. we were all seated inside a brown horseshoe of mountains when someone climbed the eastern most peak and yelled:
what are we doing here? will someone start moving again? i need direction! i need this!
murmurs passed around the river of the crowd. some people shouted responses but before long another voice, a commanding wise one, spoke from the western most mountain peak as vultures swirled overhead. the sun shone around him like a spotlight and the audience had to shield their eyes from it as they looked up to a man who instantly gained their respect.
a tall thin man wearing a sharp black hat with a wide bill and a long black trench coat smiled down upon us. his albino face pulsed with knowledge. his eyes opened wide and sparkled brilliantly. he smiled menacingly revealing razor-sharp teeth. he was clutching at the middle of his coat with his boney, white hands when he dramatically threw it open. he laughed wickedly as everyone stared in wonder at the glowing globe that spun around his body. all eyes in the valley were locked on him. who in the hell was this? was the question written on everyone's face. i looked over the dazzled crowd. i was perfectly calm but many people were terrified of the laughing, smiling, magical man standing assuredly on the mountain peak.
i looked up at him and saw myself. i caused this, i murmured, too softly to be heard. i started this and i will end it.
the man's voice thundered down the mountainside like an avalanche, his smiling mouth synched with my flowing thoughts.
i joined you so i could understand you. i was once just like you. i had no direction. i was somewhere around the world, far from home, when i really began to question what i was doing. when the nightlife and sight-seeing grew tiresome i didnt know what to do with myself. i couldnt go home and wasnt interested in going somewhere new. i merely followed someone who looked like they knew more than me - knew better about where to go than i did. you all had that same moment. i know you did.
the mass of people turned to one another and reflected on that statement. they all nodded in recognition. i felt confused; how was he speaking exactly what i was thinking? was that me up there? who was that?
you joined a circle that you set into motion yourselves. i joined it when i decided it was time to end. do you realize that you were actually just following yourselves? and that in following yourself you were really following no one at all? you were chasing an idealized version of yourself - a person that doesnt exist.
each person looked at the person next to him. they discussed the announcement, one that still echoed around the open, brown valley. they began to chuckle. they slapped each other on the back, they laughed, and tears streaked down their faces.
look at this world we live in, the dark stranger continued, seemingly a puppet for my thoughts. the people stared in wonder as he opened his coat more widely. the twisting, transparent globe spun and grew enormous, shining bright like a freshly cut diamond. the massive, swirling orb illuminated the entire valley from it's high point on the mountain peak. it moaned as it spun. the continents shone red upon it, sparkling and buzzing like living creatures. the crowd sat hypnotized as deep sound and splendid light cascaded down upon them. they saw the world, they saw life, they saw each other, they saw a path.
after several hours, they each stood, the firmness of decision hard upon their faces. some joined together, in pairs or in small groups, and some remained happily alone, but whether alone or together, each stood as an individual in a giant hollow circle, all facing outward. they looked to the horizon of the gobi desert, over the mountains, across the volcanoes, over the lake, to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west. with one large step, the hardest one of any long journey, they simultaneously marched confidently ahead, each setting out on a unique, new course.
soon they were gone, each on a path, not necessarily joyous, not necessarily painless, but necessarily necessary. i sat alone in the vanished circle and looked to the man on the hill. he looked down at me as he buttoned his coat around his amazing globe, light beaming from the gaps. he winked at me and tipped his black hat as he disappeared over the mountain from which he had given his powerful speech.
he was so interesting, i thought to myself. his globe was so cool.
i couldnt help but wonder what more he knew, where he had come from, and where he was going.... i had to ask, i had to know, so i scrambled to my feet and ran up the mountain after him.
April 2005 - Sydney, Australia