Image of an ancient map of the world on an old parchment.

The Odyssey. A Journey Home

I’m not sure I can do this, I think with increasing certainty as I hover in the blustery blackness, silently suspended between moments. It’s as if I’m frozen, but the rest of the world keeps moving around me. I wonder where I am. I know my home is just over there. Just over there being less than fifty metres away, but it may as well be as far as the moon. Here between one second and the next, I don’t know where the footpath ends, and the road begins.

I listen for the space, which means the park is on my left, and just ahead. I listen for the wind rustling the autumn leaves. I listen for the car tires slowing down as they slide through the roundabout in the middle distance. I listen for the unmistakable thud of the units beside me. I listen for the gap between buildings. I listen for the sharpness where I know a spindly tree ought to be. I listen for the shapes and sounds to reveal themselves on the landscape of my mental map.

I compare the clues against my unreliable narrative. It’s a narrative based on self-doubt and sleight of hand. How could I get this so wrong? How have I ever gotten this right? The starkness of the streetlights, car lights and lamp lights from within the nearby dwellings confuse me. I listen to the receding footsteps of the person who just passed me in the hope they’ll provide the vital clue I need for my brain to begin working. But for now, I am suspended in this space of overwhelm.

I’d been doing fine. I’d almost reached the sanctity of home after what felt like enduring an odyssey until I heard the sound of someone else’s shoes approaching from behind. Of course my unravelling wasn’t their fault. How were they supposed to know? How is anybody supposed to know? It’s the kind of thing you don’t think about until you find yourself thinking about it. And here I am thinking about it, and wondering how it has come to this. What’s changed, what’s happened, and what has become of me?

Originally the footsteps had been on my left, but at the very last minute they abruptly switched to the right, throwing my equilibrium off its axis. Normally such a thing wouldn’t bother me, as it’s often easier to listen for the intent of a person when they’re approaching my back. Usually when people pass from the rear they tend to swerve or veer rather than suddenly sidestep. Whereas people in front, approaching side on or coming toward me have a greater tendency to dart and dash around, across or into me without warning.

Headlights and taillights zoom past, to and fro, as I try to get my bearings and shake off the unease of not knowing where I am. But the rumbling car engines which are usually so helpful confuse me even more. I’m unable to unpick their melodies to sing me home.

I want to cry and can feel the tears pricking the backs of my eyes. But I will not cry. This moment has been coming for months, I think as I desperately try to pull myself together. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry! This isn’t worth crying about, I tell myself sternly.

I’m so close now. It’s only a walk home; a simple walk home I’ve done thousands of times. The person with the footsteps is too far away now for me to follow their trail with any kind of certainty. The sound of their shoes is taken by the wind and flung in too many places at once.

How It All Began

It all started forty-five minutes earlier when a very self-important mother using her pram as a bulldozer almost barrelled me over as I exited my place of employment in the middle of the city. I try not to work late these days, but given how much we need the money, sometimes a girl has to put her wish for the situation to be different aside and simply get on with the sacrifice. Like many working parents, I’d prefer to be home with our baby girl, but that’s the role my husband and I agreed he’d have the pleasure of.

Mine is to continue up my straw-clad career ladder. I have to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table and shoes on our feet. My sense of ambition, or need for social approval is greater than his, so in many ways, more than the mere practicality of the situation, this suits us. Accept that I wasn’t planning on wanting to be home instead. Motherhood has me spellbound in her wake. I leave the house each day to enter a world I once wanted to conquer, yet imagine needing nothing more than a sunny day, a garden full of strawberries and our gorgeous daughter playing by my side.

I used to like working late, because it meant the streets would be empty by 7:00pm. But 7:22pm on a Thursday night is the harried equivalent of any weekday lunchtime. There are people everywhere, scurrying hither and thither like a colony of ants before it rains.

I’ve barely joined the throng when it happens. She holds that inflated self-entitlement some mothers get when pushing a pram. You know the type. I have a pram therefore you will move out of my way. In fact, I’m so important I don’t even need to watch where I am going.

She hits my toe without notice. I am stunned at the brazenness of her attitude. Things like this are always happening to me. People are always running into me, over me and in front of me. So her arrogance doesn’t come as a shock or a surprise. It’s the lack of an apology that stings more than anything. The projection of her voice as she brushes past tells me she’s by no means considering the needs of others, nor does she need to. Apparently that’s everyone else’s responsibility.

I try not to think too much of it as I continue to tip tap tip tap toward my destination, deliberately using my white cane in such a way that its sound bounces off the awnings above me. I try not to use my all too limited vision to watch where I’m going, because it cannot be trusted. I first listen for a break in the sound as the awnings part revealing an open sky for approximately three paces before returning to a covered area. This is followed by a second percussive shift when the ceiling height changes between two buildings. Finally, the pavement loses its slight slope telling me it’s time to curve left toward the low hum of the escalators.

The city is busier than usual. I tonk tonk tonk down the broken, stationary escalator stairs. At least they haven’t cordoned them off, I think to myself. That would mean an unavoidable detour through the eerie, echoey streets, and the minefield of steps, buskers and bullies before reaching the station.

My cane is in one hand and my other hand rests on the rubber rail for guidance. Put your listening ears on, I warn myself as I reach the base. Sometimes a cane doesn’t feel like enough. It’s so flimsy and there’s so much to take note of and read from it in order to transition seamlessly through the environment.

Unlike most evenings when I finish my job, the crowd seems to be heading in the opposite direction to me. Where are they all going? Just be aware, I gently tell myself as I continued to tack across the tiled floor. Remember the freestanding rectangular signs in the middle which sometimes seem to move, and the pole slightly to the left. I continue instructing inwardly as though I’m talking to someone else.

Past the fishy smell of the sushi place, the screeching sound of the key cutting place, the queue for the cake place, the silence of the money exchange counter, and so on. I seek out the familiar landmarks like a seafarer’s constellation. Their twinkling constancy and order reassure me I’m homeward bound.

What is it about the overpowering scent of the Lush shop that seems to make normally astute people blind? A couple make a b-line for the heavily scented entrance. They cross my path and don’t bat an eyelid as the man clips the edge of my stick, throwing it off course, causing me to tense my forearm and shoulder in order to keep hold of my mobility aid. It’s as if I don’t exist to them. Do you mind, I ask a little too crossly, with the pram incident still reverberating through my being from a minute before? However, it’s as if I haven’t said a thing.

The tick tack of my cane mingles among the bustle of shopping sounds as I walk, sometimes making a tock tock sound if I hit an area which is hollow underneath. That in itself is somewhat disconcerting, as I’ve only begun to notice it in the last few days, even though I’ve walked this path for years. I bet sighted people wouldn’t ever guess they were walking over patches of hollow ground. I chuckle as I move along. Ha, ha, I know something you don’t, I think with a cheekiness undeserving of the discovery. Sometimes it’s nice to have one up on them. I smile, as it so rarely happens, even if they don’t know about it.

Music comes from all directions, spilling out from shop doorways, cafes, and even overhead. Each tune is different from the last, but all designed to be loud, upbeat, make you forget your troubles and spend more money. It creates a symphony of activity which ricochets through the atmosphere. Coffee machines power, plates clatter, people chatter, and still I walk. One foot in front of the other. Just keep going. If I keep moving, I’ll be safe. I weave in and out of the waves of bustling shoppers wherever possible.

What planet do you live on, I silently question the threesome who were walking at a most awkward pace, blocking the entire area for other pedestrians. Surely it’s not that hard to sense there is someone trying to pass, I think as I squeeze between them and another pillar. It’s all I can do not to stick a retaliatory elbow out as punishment.

Up another set of escalators I stomp. Dink dink dink, says my cane with every purposeful step. If I stop or have to adjust too many times, it means the rhythm of echoes I use to orientate myself within the environment also change. I have to consciously take another hard listen and assessment of the situation all over again. Not that I’m not constantly doing that anyway, but it does add another dimension to the cognitive process.

Just as the scenery evolves as I pass, so do the sounds, smells and temperature. When a ceiling is low, the sound is much quicker to bounce and can almost have an urgent but stifled thud-like quality to it. It comes back almost quicker than it left. While if a ceiling is super-duper high, as in three or four stories, the sound is more crystalline in its character. It’s slower to respond, as obviously it has further to travel, but somehow it’s also more playful as it bounces off a greater variety of surfaces.

Just beyond the second set of escalators I’m able to relax a little as the crowds thin slightly, and I can switch my cane technique to glide. This allows me to slide along the stout walkway with more ease and grace. Sometimes those five seconds I make up by walking a little faster where possible is the five seconds between hopping onto a waiting train or having a fifteen minute delay.

I’m minding my own business, following the same line of the tile pattern I always do, when the sea of people begins to get choppy again, tossing me about, first in one direction and then another. When it comes to orientation and mobility, most people who are blind or have low vision will tell you that consistency is the key.

I follow this particular line because it makes my life easier. I follow it because I know there’s no barriers in my path such as poles, chairs, signs, garbage bins, railings or shop displays. In other words, there’s no inanimate objects to obstruct my wayfinding. I follow it because it has the best contrast between light and dark. I follow it because it always remains the same.

The crowd thickens, seemingly out of nowhere, and person after person either knocks or jumps over my cane at the absolute last second as I loudly, definitely, defiantly arc it back and forth in front of me to let them know I’m coming. However, as if to mock me, I’m side-swiped several times with people’s bags or shoulders, but again with no acknowledgement of the interaction.

I know, pretty cane, you’re not made for this kind of rough-housing, I think as I increase the vehemence of my tap tap tapping. I can feel my mobility aid vibrate and wobble in protest to my frustration. Tapping is harder work than sliding, which is why I prefer not to use that particular technique unless absolutely necessary.

Each time I’m jolted or jostled it reverberates through my being like a harsh reminder of my invisibility, my inequity, my inequality and my incapacity within our society to operate comfortably, confidently, or with any kind of real value. It affects my stride, my bearings and my sense of safety. It’s as if I’m a piece of garbage to be carelessly discarded and kicked out of the way without any thought at all.

After the eighth time within a fifty metre stretch, I stop counting. I stop keeping score, but I don’t stop caring. I try not to panic amidst the mayhem, but it’s all I can do not to scream at the universe to stand still for just a moment while I figure out which way I’m facing and what I need to do to find my way.

A Welcome Barrier

Finally, after what feels like an eternity, I reach the security of the tactile wayfinding markers positioned on the floor which lead to the ticketing barriers for the train station. I am dutifully following them when some woman in very high, noisy heels decides to skip ahead of me, as in literally skipity skip like a trotting pony to get in front of me, and gets her designer stiletto caught on my cane.

This is the second time in as many days, I think, remembering the same scenario unfolding yesterday at this very junction. I roll my eyes in exasperation as the inconsiderate stranger struggles to stay upright. This time, like most others, I swallow my words and say nothing. What’s the point? It’s not as if she’s going to apologise. They never do.

Are you okay, the attendant asks me, obviously having witnessed the spectacle, as he ushers me through the shining silver gate into the belly of the six-headed monster. I shrug in response. I’m fine, I sigh as I continue along those handy little directional raised lines strategically placed throughout the station concourse, counting my paces until it’s my turn to turn right toward the stairs leading toward my platform. I mean, what else was I going to say? Umm, actually I’m not okay. I’ve had a shit of a walk to get here, and I’m not sure I can do this.

I briefly fantasise about my husband picking me up from work in the car, but that isn’t going to happen, so I dismiss it with a flourish. Luxuriating in the what ifs of this situation aren’t going to help. I can imagine him at home now, gently putting our daughter to sleep in her cot with stories of sweetness and declarations of love.

When leaving work, I can either turn left or right, and either direction will lead me to a train station that will take me home. I hadn’t chosen the station which is slightly closer to home because I’m not confident with the renovations, let alone the newly repositioned directional ticketing machines installed. Additionally, I’d have to walk two big blocks in a strobe lit and strewn shadowed street under twenty four hour construction and filled with temporary barriers, crossings and the sound of jackhammers. As it was, I hadn’t found the new pedestrian walkway in the daylight yesterday, so I wasn’t about to attempt it tonight. Who knows if it’s even in the same place?

My reasoning was that if I’d chosen the right instead of left option, it would provide more opportunity for people to bump into me, and me into them, and I was hoping to save myself the stress and humiliation. I thought by taking the route I had, which was slightly less distance, I could avoid all traffic lights and travel through the relative safety and ease of a well-lit mall. But so much for that idea. Here I was on the verge of a meltdown, which didn’t have to happen if people were more careful, or if I could see more.

Click click click, my cane sounds as I hastily trot down the stairs in a bid to hear what the electronic announcement is saying. There are two trains that leave from my platform and then branch off at a certain point. Where possible, I prefer to only embark once, because although chopping and changing trains mid-route is not a big inconvenience, it makes life easier and more efficient only having to find one door, one seat and one gap. Therefore, it’s important I catch at least some part of said announcement so I can glean which way the city rail wheel of fortune is turning.

The problem is though, there are three platforms on that level and three more below, and as one descends the stairs, she can make out but not always hear the muffled computer generated voice of every announcement across the network. Couple this with the clickety clack of the electric trains, the hum of their doors, the white noise of too many commuters in a confined space, and the oh so stupid multimedia advertisements blaring in the foreground, and it’s not exactly easy to keep track of everything. Let’s just say a girl has to have her wits about her.

However, just as I reach the bottom and am reminding myself not to get caught on the hook railing as I u-turn onto the platform itself, the gentleman before me abruptly stops, presumably to read the board, and I run into him. Sorry sir, I say probably too quietly for him to hear over the hubbub. What, you’re not even a little bit curious about what that was between your legs? I continue with my silent tirade against the world as I turn toward the tracks in a bid to find the next set of navigational markers on the ground.

I know I’m taking it all too personally now, and my thoughts are bitter in this underworld of weary souls, who like me are temporarily trapped in this vicious cycle of purgatory as we wait for deliverance to another hopefully happier place. I begin to brace myself for what needs to be done next.

The fact is, if I don’t make the necessary preparations now, and find my designated position on the platform to embark on the train, it’s going to be so much harder later to work out where I am at the other end. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven I count as I walk slowly, carefully and deliberately through the maze of commuters. I use the Hansel and Gretel pebbly trail of tactile wayfinding markers to guide me safely, letting me know the drop off to the train tracks is a metre to my right.

Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty I count before stopping. I breathe a sigh of relief as I take up residence in my usual spot, just after the railing and before the white Harry Potter door under the next set of stairs leading back up to the concourse.

In a stroke of luck, the next train is mine. I rest my hands on the handle of my cane, which when upright is about chest height. I tuck it in nice and close to my body so people walking past would not have cause to trip over it, but hopefully would still be able to see it and thus be mindful of my vulnerability. I mean, isn’t that part of why I carry this eyesore? Isn’t it a symbol to others that I don’t see well?

However, as the train is pulling in, one tall drink of water manages to kick it with his foot. Hey, I said before I could stop myself. Are you really going to hit my cane and not say anything? By this time he was three paces ahead, but at least had the graciousness to turn and apologise. Thank you, I responded. An apology was all I needed. I didn’t notice you, he replied. But you have to notice me. This is a crowded platform. There’s a lot going on, and I don’t carry this thing for fun you know, I nervously retorted.

I could barely believe I was saying something, let alone the exact, snarky, unedited commentary that was going through my mind. I could feel my cheeks flush as I spoke. I was ashamed of myself, and didn’t even try to make eye contact as the interlude unfolded.

I had other things to worry about. Things such as the woman in the white skirt body-barging in front of me, risking the safety of herself and other passengers in the process. Things such as the student beside me who pushes me, causing me to lose balance in that weird way where you know essentially you should be upright, but your centre of gravity strangely shifts, and suddenly you’re not in control of your faculties.

I find myself almost falling through the ominous gap between the train and the platform, without the ability to stop myself. It’s only divine intervention that allows me to regain my footing. I’m on a trajectory I cannot seem to escape, being pushed precariously along with the horde of home-goers to the open jaws of the waiting carriage.

All Aboard

Feel for the door with one hand, rest my cane just inside, hesitate for half a moment to make sure I’m stable, carefully step up, shuffle forward a few steps until I find a pole, then suffer the sometimes somewhat degrading ritual of asking for a seat please. I’m always well mannered about it, as I don’t think acting like an entitled brat is the answer, but it’s by no means the favourite part of my day.

People crowd in and out of the train without regard for one another. Are there any seats, I ask with a false cheer as I enter the vestibule. At first nobody moves. I grip the pole defiantly, knowing I will ask again if need be. I don’t even try to stoically stand up on a train anymore. I’ve got nothing to prove.

Finally, the little old lady on the opposite side of the carriage says she will exchange places. Are you sure, I ask as I reach for the pole opposite and begin to slide into the seat. I feel terribly guilty doing so, and hesitate when I realise she’s older than I originally anticipated. Obviously I will happily give up my seat for the elderly, pregnant women or other people with disabilities. However, everyone else can stand as far as I am concerned.

I wonder why nobody else moved or answered me. Why on earth would it be the frailest among us who thought it necessary to inconvenience herself and not the seemingly able-bodied person sitting closest to the door I entered, or any of the other figures surrounding me? But some clusters of people are just like that, I remind myself.

I’m busy being baffled, yet again, as I am every time this happens, when the little old lady answers with a resounding yes. I’m getting off at the next stop anyway, she continues in a softer tone.

Finally, something clicks in the collective. The onlookers realise that if a little old lady could rise for the woman with a cane, then maybe they too should make an effort. It’s as if a ripple of conscience passed through the group. Everyone’s going out of their way to move and make room. Phrases like sit here, no sit here, oh no no, I’m okay, and no I insist, echo through the small area as people rustle and bustle their bags, pick up their jackets and shuffle their feet.

I feel guilty creating such a scuffle. I nestle myself into the corner, placing my cane in an upright position next to me, wedged against the railing where it’s out of harm’s way, yet still provides a signal to others that I’m not hogging the disabled seat without justification. I put my backpack under my legs where I know it’s safe, and twist whichever foot is closer to the cane around its base in order to fasten it in place. Otherwise, it has a notorious habit of falling over at random times.

As a woman with a disability, society tells me to keep quiet, keep small, keep grateful and keep my inconvenience to myself. I think I broke every one of those cardinal rules in the last two minutes, which is why I find myself now wishing I were invisible.

I am ashamed. But it’s a shame I cannot articulate or pin down. A low-level shame that takes me by surprise every time it shows its face. An obscure, distorted reflection of what people must think of me – of what I think of myself sometimes. A shame that causes me to cringe and shrink from my surroundings.

I feel physically violated and mentally worthless as the train pulls into the next station; the station I would have gone to if I’d turned right instead of left. Oh why didn’t I turn right? I could have been on the train before this one, and maybe none of this would have happened, I think regretfully, chastising my choice not to be braver and take on the challenge of the construction work, the renovations and the technology. Why hadn’t I seen it as a glorious adventure instead of a Cyclopes I couldn’t slay? What’s wrong with me these days? Had my courage really deserted me along with the sunlight? Surely this had to be happening to someone else. Surely I would awaken from this nightmare at any moment. Maybe tomorrow would be better.

My reverie is interrupted by some woman entering my orb, deciding she needs to sit down. However, there isn’t enough space for her buttocks to fit in the seat between me and the next person, yet she insists on squeezing herself in. I bristle at her touch and obvious lack of social etiquette. I’ve been manhandled too often this evening already. She doesn’t even say excuse me as she wiggles her hips and attempts to push my thigh out of the way with her elbow.

I swear under my breath as my discomfort accelerates at an alarming speed. All I want to do is scream at her to get her body off mine before I slap her. But no, apparently this woman has no self-awareness at all, and continues to wriggle and squirm even though there’s no room for her ample tailbone. All the while, she looks intently at her phone, and either doesn’t notice my presence or pretends not to. Sometimes people think because you can’t see them they don’t have to see you, and can treat you accordingly.

I know it’s not entirely her fault. There’s a design flaw with these trains in terms of the pole placement. Fifteen centimetres in either direction would make a clear definition between a single or double person spot. As it is, it creates a one and a half person spot that invites this kind of awkward situation. To be truly comfortable you have to straddle the pole.

She must be able to feel me, I think as my stress levels rise. This continues for ten or so minutes, and still I stay silent, biting the bitter, brittle words off in my mouth. The truth is, I used all my courage on the tall drink of water at the station earlier.

It’s difficult to explain, but as a person with a disability, I feel there’s an invisible pressure to always take the moral high ground in these situations. For I know that unless I present myself well, with grace, composure and eloquence, I’m not going to be received by the collective in the same way that an able-bodied person suffering the same indignities or discomfort would be.

People are very quick to blame something on my blindness, rather than the actual problem. Therefore, if I explode, which is what I really want to do, I’ll be perceived as the mad blind woman, and not someone merely having their body space invaded to such an extent it’s bordering on harassment.

Truth be told, I’m not sure I can control my tone. So I hold my tongue and hope to God she gets off the train sooner rather than later, because heaven help me if she doesn’t.

I am screeching on the inside with despair, frustration and fury. I am so angry. I want to knock her phone out of her hand, I think as she rests her elbow and forearm on my thigh and cuddles up even closer. I can see myself doing it, and it takes an Odysseus-like effort not to act on the image.

Several times I go to say something, but I’m not bolshie enough. What will people think? I open my mouth and then close it again like a guppy. I find it difficult to confront people when I can’t make eye contact, and I cannot make eye contact, therefore, it’s difficult for me to confront people. I’m enraged at her lack of consideration, yet all I can do is internalise my sense of being violated. I just need it to be over.

One of the reasons I don’t work late very often is because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to navigate in the darkness. I promised I would never allow my blindness to affect my life in such a powerful way, but I do. I absolutely do. To be honest, I just don’t have the energy to fight. As it is, I know I’ll have to walk home in the dark. It’s a massive task I need to factor into my daily allotment of cognition, emotion and physicality. Blindness takes a great deal of concentration.

I just need some space, I think as my chest tightens and the anxiety creeps through every cell in my body. Finally someone else moves, creating a little more room on the bench. The intrusive woman resettles herself, but not without causing maximum bodily contact between us. Just when I think I have my space back, she rests her upper arm against mine and her thigh touches me again. I snap.

Do you want to sit in my lap? My anger spills out. Jesus Christ, you may as well, I continue with my torrent. She says nothing, continuing to play with her phone as though I haven’t said anything. I want to get off, but that would take so much effort. The worst thing is, the carriage isn’t even particularly crowded anymore. I’m fairly certain she would have found a seat either upstairs or downstairs if she bothered to take a look. I was seriously considering my options in terms of disembarking and waiting for the next train when she grabs her bag and gets off at the following stop. It was all I could do not to surreptitiously stick my foot out and trip her over on her way out.

Some people have no idea, I think as I breathe deeply. However, no sooner have I done this, and begin to relax slightly, when a businessman sits down beside me and puts his elbow momentarily on my thigh. This is almost enough to make me punch him in the face. Luckily for him, he moves it, and must sense my agitation, as he’s meticulous about not letting his leg brush against mine even though he is physically more robust than the woman from moments before. My relief is palpable as he disembarks two stops later, and the train announces it is now an express, meaning the next stop is mine.

Free At Last

As I step off the train, the cool winter air hits my chest. I feel free. For a moment, I don’t even care about the night I have to navigate. Maybe I should ask a random to walk me home, I muse as I cross to the scaffolding which takes me to the lift.

Oh God, I counteract almost immediately. I can’t be that blind person. I cannot be the person who needs to be picked up from the station every single time, I continue, mortified at my previous thought. I will not be that person, I reaffirm as I approach the doors. After all, it’s bad enough taking the lift in the first place. I used to scoff at those elevator hogs, I think as the doors slide open in readiness for their cargo.

The reason I like the stairs is because I feel more in control. Why didn’t I take the stairs? The stairs give me a say in how and when I move. The stairs offer me choice and equity in how fast or slow I take them. Well, the stairs are fifteen metres down a platform I don’t want to walk.

What am I doing in the lift, I ask myself as people begin to encroach my body space for the zillionth time. A lady in a white coat steps back as she spots my approach and gives me plenty of room to walk in. I am so grateful for this small act of kindness that I’m about to say something when her friend starts chatting with her in a foreign language. I say nothing for fear of not being understood.

As I exit the lift and turn left to walk across the concourse, a couple step in front of me and the lady trips over my cane. Oh my God, I exclaimed. You’re the fiftieth person to do that in under an hour, and I’m just not coping, I try to explain. But I’m embarrassed as so many people around us turn to examine our encounter. My words get tangled in the end of my tether.

I don’t want her to feel bad, I think as she fumbles and stumbles to get out of my way. Normally I try to be nicer to people in my suburb, as you never know when you’ll see them again. However, I’d been sharper with my tone than intended. Her husband seems to recognise what I’m trying to convey, and is sincerely apologetic.

Within three seconds she manages to find herself in my way and trips over my stick again. This time I say nothing, but carefully and deliberately side step around her and continue on my way. It isn’t her fault. I’m tired.

The entire experience, from the pram until now, has rattled me so much I can’t face the seventeen micro actions it takes to swipe my ticket to signify the end of my journey. Just keep moving. I’ll be safe.

I can’t do this, I think as I trudge down the ramp toward the zebra crossing. Listen for the cars. Remember the low brick fence. Search for the next gutter. Just keep going.

Tonight there’s something different about the area, I think as I turn right and search for the non-legislated wayfinding markers to let me know where the next curb is positioned. I have to listen for the traffic. There’s too much to concentrate on for me to put my finger on what the difference is.

Nope, it’s safe, I say under my breath. I can go. I step out onto the next road. This one is much darker than the last. If I don’t get my trajectory exactly right from this point, it will throw me off the entire rest of the way home, so I have to focus.

Then it dawns on me as I hit the next set of why are they here and not anywhere else wayfinding markers opposite. It’s the streetlight that’s changed. They’ve finally fixed the streetlight over the zebra crossing, making it much brighter and safer for a girl to cross of an evening.

I brush against a shrub, but rather than judging myself for it, I take it as a good sign that I’m in the right place and nowhere near the road. In fact, I’m almost happy to feel those scratchy leaves on my face. For whatever reason, the vehicles feel too close for comfort, making me extra cautious and a little crazy. I slow my pace to a snails crawl, take a second, pull myself together and continue on my way.

I can hear someone approaching from behind and it’s putting me off. If they’re on my left, then surely I must be nearer to the road than I think, I conclude as their steps quicken and begin to intrude into my inner circle of echolocation. However, just as I think they’re going to pass on the left, they switch to my right and continue in what I feel is a strange direction in comparison to where I think we are.

I hover in the blustery blackness, silently suspended between moments. It’s as if I’m frozen, but the rest of the world keeps moving around me. I wonder where I am. I know my home is just over there. Just over there being less than fifty metres away, but it may as well be as far as the moon. Here between one second and the next, I don’t know where the footpath ends, and the road begins.

I listen for the space, which means the park is on my left, and just ahead. I listen for the wind rustling the autumn leaves. I listen for the car tires slowing down as they slide through the roundabout in the middle distance. I listen for the unmistakable thud of the units beside me. I listen for the gap between buildings. I listen for the sharpness where I know a spindly tree ought to be. I listen for the shapes and sounds to reveal themselves on the landscape of my mental map.

After what seems like forever, I suddenly find my way. It’s as if something has shifted within the universe. The heavens have opened and all is clear again. I know exactly where I am, and the walk becomes easy. The air is buoyant and happy. My feet are floating on fluffy clouds instead of merely walking along an earthbound path.

Oh, the rough part, I am so close, I think as I hit the lumpy patch of tar being pushed up by the big tree outside our complex. If only they put a light in the archway, I wish as I sure-line to the step.

I’m home! I’m home! I want to shout it out loud as I skate down the walkway toward our house. I actually made it, I think as I approach our gate. I’m surprised it’s closed. I expected my husband to have it open, the front light on and the wooden door ajar.

He must be still putting the baby down, I think as I carefully lift the latch. I’m not particularly adept at sneaking in, which is why my husband usually prepares the landscape for me ahead of time. I stealthily slide between the wooden panels and the brick wall like a cat. I close the gate with an unusual degree of quietness, letting myself inside.

There’s nothing but the crackle of the radio talking to itself in the kitchen as I put my bag down. Hmm, I think as I walk in to put the kettle on, half-expecting to find my husband, even though I’m sure he’s upstairs.

He seems absolutely shagged as he comes down the stairs to greet me five or so minutes later. How are you honey, he asks with exhaustion in his voice. Umm… I respond as I kiss him. It’s a long story.

Clearly I’m not the only one who’s been on an odyssey today.

Posted in Wayfinding Is The New Lost and tagged , , , .