On walking

I used to be a fast walker. The men I walked with had to ask me to slow down. I left everyone in my wake.

One day in 2001 as I crossed Church St in Bega, striding out across the old cobblestone gutter and onto the blacktop in my jeans and shirt and RM Williams boots, feeling sturdy and strong, I told myself, “One day you’ll remember this.” And I do, I hold that memory like a precious jewel. “Walking, walking, walking,” I told myself that day. “Just walking”.

Now as I step out to cross Church St, the cobblestones have become a trap for my stick and the blacktop an expanse to be covered one unsteady step at a time.

*

It’s not always so hard. Footpaths give nothing back, but the soft roadsides of my village are a mine of information for the enquiring foot. Here, I always know where I am.

*

I had just purchased my first walking stick and was taking my first few tentative, public steps with it. I saw her as I turned out of the pharmacy. Long blonde hair, blue jeans and jacket, she was engaged in conversation with friends on the corner. But it was the stick that caught my attention – against which she leaned, languidly. She looked so cool. I stood a little taller and stepped out along the street.

*

At the traffic lights on Carp St, the driver in the car ahead opens her door, hops out and darts round to the boot, takes out her purse and races back in time to take off when the light changes. I think to myself, she makes it look so easy.

*

A new symptom. I now stall if I get the idea I’m being watched. Sometimes if I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, I can start again.

*

In a book I’m reading a character walks to town, rejecting the offer of a lift. No, I say, take the lift, it’s too far! Another character walks downstairs holding two gin and tonics, and I’m lost in admiration.

*

Memories today of the times I spent walking down the Cox River when I was young and sturdy. Sukh and I would drive from Bondi out to Blackheath at dawn, turn left across the train tracks and park at a property where the owner was happy for bushwalkers to cross his land. We’d swing each gate closed as we crossed the farm, then mid-morning we’d squeeze through the fence which held back the forest, at a point where a ridge jutted out towards the river. Here, propelled by the weight of our backpacks, we’d plunge down the steep escarpment, lurching from tree to tree for handholds, our boots finding purchase on roots and rocks, until we’d burst out at the bottom onto a grassy flat beside the river.

In those days the river roared and was as clear as glass. We’d hop from rock to rock, pink granite and sandstone. Out there on the river we could sing and shout and not hear ourselves, the torrent was so strong.

*

Others see people walking down the street, but what I see is people walking down the street. Are they not aware how lucky they are? I have to stop this.

*

An email today from C. She has returned to Scotland to find that her business partner has committed fraud and disappeared. She is facing litigation which could bankrupt her, and everything she has created with her life – the youth employment programs, the legal business, the house in France – could go. “There are no more tears in me to fall,” she says. And it’s a measure of my current pre-occupation that all I can think is, “How bad can it be? You can walk, can’t you?”

*

I like to push a trolley up and down the aisles in Coles. With my stick stashed in the trolley I can move as well as anyone. Well, almost. No-one rushes at Coles, Bega. And no-one looks askance at my troubled gait. In Coles, I’m just another shopper pushing a trolley.

*

Making my way down Carp St to the bookshop today, carefully, with my stick, I think, “I’m walking. Still walking.”

2 thoughts on “On walking”

  1. I love your ability with words, Jen. A beautiful expressive, descriptive style and humour in there as well. I can see you are grieving over your lost ability to walk without support. Your writing must be very therapeutic for you and lovely for the rest of us. Keep talking, talking, talking it may help you reflect on the fact that others cannot do this as well as you can even though they keep walking, walking, walking. J.D.

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