Confrontation

People everywhere, rushing, heading in all directions, strangers passing through a foreign country, gleaming shops with marble floors, the hush of carpeted noise pervading the atmosphere. Iím in the bright exciting world of potential that is international land, Iím in London Gatwick Airport at 6 a.m. and full of excitement at the beginning of a sabbatical from my life. I can hardly wait; Iím like a child at the start of a new adventure. Hardly contained jumps of joy keep bursting up from inside, Iíve never in my life taken a step such as this. A song comes to me in the midst of this air of anticipation: ďSigned, sealed, delivered Iím yoursĒ. This song line would still be buzzing around my head three days later. I feel that this persistent song has a message that is trying to get through to me. Who do I belong to? Who belongs to me in this time? Before long Iím in the air and my dream has been created. At 11.30 a.m. I arrive in Malta airport and into the joy of hot sunshine, and in October too Ė at home they shiver now. Itís a hassle, however, when I discover that my suitcase is still in Gatwick, I would have to wait until 4 p.m. the next day to receive it. Eventually, I leave the airport to be met outside by a pre-arranged taxi that took me to the ferry. After a crossing of forty minutes, I am in another waiting taxi on the island of Gozo; at last, ten minutes away from my destination on an eight and a half hour journey.

I get to the apartment in Marsalforn, Gozo, my home for the next month, and immediately have a walk around the harbour. The hot, sunny day, which would become the norm for most of the duration of my stay, was beautiful, but my mood had taken a dive. From the unbelievably optimistic heights of early morning anticipation, I descended into the total opposite. Sitting having a late lunch on the sea front, I looked at the bathers and strollers aimlessly hanging around. What have I done? Life on holiday appeared so boring. I see some people looking for something - anything - to do; others lazing around reading to fill the long day; a few trying something new like going on boat trips or diving; others floating in the water; but everyone appearing disconnected, adrift and anything but happy. The whole thing is pathetic - humanity vainly trying to stay alive. How meaningless it all is. Here I am in ďparadiseĒ as a result of an insidious push of imagination grown and nurtured in a miserable climate. Indeed, Iíve spent years dreaming of coming away on my own like this - and this is what itís all about, hellishly empty and indulgent.

Having got up at 4 a.m. that morning to catch my flight I decided to return to my apartment thinking that my mood had something to do with being tired. Perhaps I needed some sleep to see things in a better light? I slept soundly for about an hour and awoke to the full wall-to-wall nightmare. The same feeling came back but much more shocking: my heart sank to its lowest ever. A wave of What...have...I...done? hit me. I just couldnít believe it. Iím not rich enough to do this; I canít afford to come away and then live a meaningless existence for a month; how selfish to do this and then hate it when youíre here. I am utterly distraught, just canít believe that I have to stay in this limbo for a week, never mind a fortnight and as for a month, I keep getting piercing shocks all over my body when I think about it. Despair and depression undressed itself so completely in full view of my eyes that a terrible reality stood there naked - I feel like a parasite on paradise.

I got up, made a cup of tea and dragged myself to the balcony overlooking the bay. I cannot tell you how miserable I feel, Iím in a perfect position up here on the third floor with views across the harbour but it means nothing. I watch, with total disgust, groups of swimmers below moving around like the shoals of fish beneath them, all suspended above a sea bed of sand and the turquoise rocks of the Mediterranean, while the emptiness weighs heavier than ever. At one and the same time Iím both sinking inside with the weight of it all, and also, Iím an insubstantial empty shell with the life energy drained out of me. After a couple of long hours of this awful state a thought caught my attention. It was hardly noticeable at first, but something relieved me a little. In the midst of these disconnected feelings and depression, I noticed that I didnít have the old crutches and habits that I have in my life back home; the old doings that keep me distracted from this dreadful emptiness. At least something more real could be here in the midst of this meaninglessness. There is no TV, no eating at certain times, no relationship dynamics. Work is left behind with its daily trains of habitual thought and behaviour. No goals too, nothing to attach to. There is something about these thoughts that is relaxing, something about looking directly at them that enables me to use steel in my eyes to perceive the world. Somehow, I have connected with a pure state of beingness rather than the forms that hitherto sustained me.

I swing back, however, into my heavy mood. The steel turns into quivering jelly as it suddenly feels that the relief was just some flimsy glimpse of something intangible. I am again enveloped by guilt and regret, guilt about coming here, guilt about not earning, guilt about wasting time, guilt about laziness, guilt about guilt - guilt, guilt, guilt. I hit rock bottom so hard that thereís nowhere to go but sit there, suffering with the distress of it all. And yet after some unknown time, I again pick up a different feeling; a little glimmer of hope in the midst of this suffocating cave. Iím getting a sense of meaning related to the disconnectedness again, there is a weird inkling of freedom lurking somewhere in the midst of all this banality. Iím feeling a confrontation with my own reality as I gradually stop my normal world; a confrontation with emptiness which is strangely tangible. I actually get the sense that in the space created from stopping my normal world, something of the miraculous could happen. And again, as a little hope rises the opposite crashes in like some enormous wave. It would indeed take a miracle to help me as the lightness is suddenly lost and Iím left again in this dark, dank hole.

The next day I have to wait in the apartment until 4p.m. My suitcase is somewhere in Gatwick, over Europe or at Malta airport. Iím in three-day-old travelling clothes and in this hot climate, too. People are working on it but I canít ring out, the phone doesnít work that way; and I canít go out in case they ring me. This predicament is simply a part of the whole scene of despair, one chord in a slow, clanging, depressing symphony. Antonio, the letting agent, eventually rings to tell me that my case is on the helicopter between Malta and Gozo and will be here by 3.45 p.m. Ė Phew, clean clothes at last!

I take the opportunity to hitch a ride with Antonio up to Victoria, the main town of the island, and get relief from ďparadise.Ē Thank God, a working town where people have things to do with meaningful connections, not floating around like drifting kelp damned to desperate happiness. Step one: you have your ordinary life and familiarity; step two: you cut it off by going on holiday, going to prison, losing your job, becoming ill, disabled or whatever; step three: you either go backwards if you can to the familiar way in step one, or forwards into the unknown, whatever that is; or you stay in limbo at step two. I have no idea how I will fare with any of these during the next twenty-seven or so days.

In Victoria I hire a bicycle.

ďYou pay me one pound fifty a day, I give you bikeĒ.

ďHow many lire is that?Ē I ask.

ďLire is pounds here,Ē

This is obviously a legacy of British rule. There is still much in these Maltese islands that retains a British stamp.

ďOkay, great, do you have lights for it?Ē

ďNo need, you have reflectiers, car see you with reflectiers.Ē

ďWhat about the police?Ē

ďPolice no problem but donít get drunk, you might hit car, dat no good.Ē

His hand makes a weaving motion; his mouth makes a smile as he studies me from under his eyebrows. I try to contain my own smile, after all Iím depressed, but I canít, I like his way. Heís an old rogue; a street psychologist that could get me a hire car, a scooter, a bicycle and probably a donkey if I wanted one - at the Ďright priceí, of course.

I ride around this hill-top town trying to get familiar with its layout and find out where the shops are; after all, Iím here for a while. The centre of Victoria is small with many of the main shops dotted around the very narrow side streets; streets wide enough for a donkey but not a car - cars donít bend. I am after one particular shop, one that sells televisions. I want to hire a TV so that I can blank out the train of incessant, miserable thoughts and leave the floaters and good-timers swimming under my balcony to wrestle with limbo Ė I want to go back to step one. I find out that I have to get a cable connection installed into my apartment to get English language stations but, in my depressed state, it appears too expensive. So itís back to confrontation with myself and step two. Who wants boring TV anyway?

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