Here cars run straight at you on zebra crossings
But the locals know they’re just getting on
Here manners are part of nature
And ‘bon appetit’, ‘thank you’ and ‘good day’
Are said by all, always
Here some things take weeks longer than they should
While moving house takes less than an hour
Here there isn’t the choice
To buy in the shops
But you realise you never needed it anyway
Here some houses are left unfinished and unsightly
Baring concrete, breeze blocks and metalwork
But indoors is a warm home with grandparents, parents and young
Here hardly anyone has a car
And carry heavy loads on backs
But they get to work together with friends inside the bus
Here children run wild and grubby
Always close to danger
But gleefully free of imagined fears
Here animals roam without leashes or fences
Living as they were meant to be
Here I don’t agree with things
Here I changed my mind
Every so often in my life, I find myself faced with a situation, that really I would rather not be faced with, but in time I find that I’m grateful for it in some way.
As I prepare for this time of my life (indeed I already believe I am having a time of my life, there’s no need to fly 10,000km to achieve that), the timing has coincided with the terminal prognosis of an old boyfriend’s dad. During my six-year relationship with Mark, his dad Bill became like the father I never had. Warm, kind and generous, and always up for a joke, I enjoyed spending time with him and missed him after Mark’s and my relationship ended. Bill since developed cancer that has now returned with full force that means he has been given three to six months to live. I went to see him for what is likely to be the last time just before I flew to Peru.
I found him in the corner bed of a hospital ward, the evening sun filtering through the vertical blinds. I had prepared myself for a change in his appearance, inevitable with such severe cancer and chemotherapy. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was that he would look like a small boy; it was as if I could see exactly what he would have looked like when he was 10 years old. Sitting in bed simply staring into space – the pain so severe he said that he couldn’t even bear to have the TV or radio on. The jolly, jokey man I used to know was no longer visible during my entire visit with him, replaced instead with a man that just seemed to be quietly shouting “Why me?”.
When I got up to leave, I told Bill I’ll see him again soon and slipped my arms round his sweat-soaked back for a long, meaningful hug. He just smiled faintly. I think him and I both know we won’t; but somehow we will.
And all I can do now is never, ever be afraid of anything – a dodgy flight through a mountain valley? Pah! A 12-hour bus journey on a non-existent Bolivian road with hairpin bends? Pah! Being a woman alone in a dark street in a strange city? Pah! I would rather do any of those than be sitting in a hospital bed asking why.