Naked and spectacular

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When We Were Humans

I happened to be alone at the time the end of the world happened. I wandered off into the wilderness and never saw another human being again. I didn't take much with me, left quite suddenly. I would've left with someone if I knew I would really never be returning this time, anyone. When I look back on that time now I don't think about much, just all those people in the towns, all real people, not people of my fantasy or of my memory, but real living people that I could have asked to come with me and did not. I don't miss anyone in particular, none of my close friends and family, spread all around the world. I just wish I had asked someone to come with me, just a nearby person, to wander out into the wilderness forever.

It's amazing how quickly and completely it is possible to transform into a completely different lifestyle. I can't remember anymore what it feels like to sit in a little box-room with people all around me, to not want to be with them or to talk with them, to want to be alone. To have all the food I need just waiting for me to eat it, in the kitchen, to sleep in a warm dry cosy bed with a hot water bottle every night. And amidst this lifestyle, to be riddled with anxiety and dissatisfaction. To be weak and pathetic with the strength of human technology and organisation behind me. It delights me on quiet nights around the fire to imagine how I would use these things now, a kitchen with refrigerator, oven, stove, blender, electricity; all those people to share with and coordinate with and all those ways of communicating with them over long distances, phone, internet, mobile.

Now, I would love just to find someone to sleep beside in the night, to keep each other warm, to comfort one another. It amazes me that with all those people around we used to choose to sleep alone night after night, only sleeping with a single other person when we wanted to have sex with them, or if we were “in a relationship”. I can't quite put my finger on what that phrase used to mean. People used it all the time, but it was distinct from all the people we had relationships with, it meant something special, something more than just the people we had sex with. Maybe it did just mean the person we would sleep with every night, to keep each other warm and comforted.

I remember when I was living on the farm and the sow gave birth to nine little piglets. As soon as they were born they knew how to sleep. They would lay down in piles and if someone wasn't comfortable she would get up and squeeze back into the centre of the piggy pile. They were always warm and cosy, they were always together. As they got older and a lot less cute and more aggressive, competing for food, they would still lie together in piles to sleep. Even when they pissed each other off and oinked at each other they would consider no alternative to sleeping together in piles.

The sow would gather together some local long grass and dump it in a pile to make a soft bed for her and her piglets. The long grass would become hay in the sun and provide padding as well as insulation. Humans had been so good at this that we could just buy a mattress, buy sheets and blankets and arrange them in such a way, so brilliantly effectively, that we could sleep entirely alone and the body warmth of a single person would be enough to keep us warm all night. It was ingenious. Sad, to be alone, but brilliant that it was possible.

Sometimes in my wanderings now I come across the remains of what must have been an old farmhouse. There are a few remnants of what used to be there, usually a big square of hard brown dirt, not even much in the way of building materials. Usually the weeds and the grasses have already taken over the section where the house used to be. Usually everything has been taken, but once I found a little toy car in the long grass. It was all rusted over, so the wheels don't turn anymore. All the paint has chipped off and it's hard to know even what type of car it was. But I held on to that. It is so evocative of so many memories. I keep it very safe, wrapped up carefully in my pocket. Sometimes I take it out and look at it, just for a few seconds, and I am flooded with mountains of memories, huge waves of emotion, and I put it away and explore everything they offer me. I meditate on them, sitting alone by the fire after sunset, breathing into them. I can't really think about them, it's too much, but I think I am slowly starting to understand, somewhere in my mind beyond language, beyond thought. When I draw it forward into my conscious mind, what I usually use for important basic stuff like finding food and finding somewhere to sleep and looking out for firewood and potential predators, it just confuses and overwhelms me. I know now which brain is supposed to be used for which purpose.

When it's not raining I usually sleep in ditches, when I can find them. This is the closest I can find to sleeping in a bed, and where I feel safest. One day I was walking, rather absent-mindedly because I had eaten and it was still a while until night, and I saw another human. He was young and a man like me and he just came around the corner out of some trees. We both stopped suddenly and surprised and stared at each other in shock. When I first left I had seen a few humans wandering around, but I didn't realise how quickly they would disappear. I hadn't seen another human in a long time. There had been so many of them, then there were only a few and then none. No one, for so long. We stared at each for so long, both tense and not knowing what to expect. Suddenly I had an image flash into my mind. It was night and I was asleep, in a ditch, soft with dry grass, but this time there was a body beside me, warm and comforting. It was him! I felt a wave of excitement surge through my body and I made a slight movement towards the human. I saw a jolt move through his body as a result of my movement and he panicked and ran away. I knew I shouldn't chase him cos he would just run faster, so I waited for him. I sat down exactly where we had met so he could find me easily, and I waited for him to return. It got dark and I made a fire and slept right there. In the morning I waited again, all day without eating anything, relit my fire and again slept alone. The next day I wanted to look for food, but there wasn't much close to the spot where we had met and I didn't want to go far away. Every time I walked too far away from where we had met I would run back, just in case he returned and I wasn't there and he didn't know where to find me.

Eventually I got hungry and I didn't know why he would not yet have returned. I guess he's not coming back. I still think about him sometimes and expect him to suddenly come back. He's been looking for me for so long and didn't know where to find me, but he never does return. All I wanted was to sleep with him, to be warm and comforted in the night. I don't know why he was scared of me, like I would hurt him. There is no reason why I would hurt him. On the contrary, just walk with him in the day and lay with him in the night. Maybe even tell stories around the fire at night. That's what we used to do, when we were humans. I'm sure I could still tell stories, though I haven't spoken in so long. I used to talk to myself all the time, it would help me think. But I don't anymore. Occasionally I will make a sound with my mouth, just to hear my voice, to assure me that I can still make those sounds, but I don't bother to make even a word. I know I could still make a whole story, with a bit of practice, but I don't suppose I'll ever meet a human again to tell a story to.

~ ~ ~

Sadness offers a new lease on life. To a certain extent I can't afford to get sad, not like I used to. But even a little disappointment can spur me to change my world. I have the energy and the impetus now to set out into the world. I waited too long for that man to return and of course he never did. I happen to know that the world is a big place and I can go further than I have ever gone before. I may not know where to find my specific gardens, the garden I visit every season, but I trust I will find food wherever I go and if I die I accept that. I just need to go out into the world and find what is happening. It is no life alone. I have been alone too long.

I head towards the rising sun, choosing to travel east all the way, or at least until my nose leads me somewhere different. I pass through the bush that has always bounded my wandering area and emerge out into the sun. The clearing is choked with thick grass up to my neck. This grass would swallow anything and even makes me feel a little claustrophobic, but I just breathe myself into calm, trusting I will soon be out of it. I emerge from the dense grass onto the side of a hill overlooking a vast river valley and harbour. The hugeness of it overcomes me and I get the feeling, the strongest I have felt for years, of the bigness of the world, the variety, the possibility. I feel emotion surge through me at the thought that there might be other people out there. I remember having other people in my life, but I mostly remember being scared of them or irritated by them. I don't have any memories of just being quiet and appreciating their presence.

The sun is hot in the sky and I can hear the waves down in the harbour or out on the coast, crashing on the beach, and the sound travelling up the hill like an amphitheatre. I head down the hill with anticipation, which I try to calm. I know I'm not likely to find anyone and I don't want to be disappointed. So I convince myself that I'm just walking, I'm just exploring, I'm just finding what's out there to be found. I am seeing where the world leads me without attachment to what it will offer me and what it will deny me. I can follow this river for a while, I can drink some different water and see the sun rise and set from a different angle.

The days walking along the river are full of joy and excitement. Every day is radiant with hot sunshine and I swim in the river many times each day. As I dance on the grass by the river I get a vision of the man I saw for a few seconds all those months ago. I imagine that he has taken this trip with me and the two of us are dancing together like idiots on the grass here. I feel like I am about to cry but I push it up and out of my head as I furiously dance harder, leaping and shrieking until I get to a small tributary of the river I am following. I stop and look at it. It is narrow, though fast-moving, and I wouldn't even have to swim to get across, but I look at it. My eyes follow the stream up towards its source, a narrow dark gorge. After the sunshine and wide open space of the last days it seems silly to walk up into that dark gorge, but I happen to know that this is my route. I don't know, it may be an interesting detour, it may be the rest of my life.

The first night I find somewhere beautiful to sleep, in long grass that sinks into a soft bed beneath me, feeling secure beside a steep slope and some tall trees. In the morning I set off with great haste and determination and walk non-stop all day, up the slight slope into the gorge. It's like I know something is close and I'm almost running to get to it. It's like I know exactly where it is, like I'm just trying to get home through some familiar neighbourhood. It is like I've been here before, though I don't know how that would be possible. As the darkness slowly falls I try to continue, determined to find what I know to be just an arm's reach away. It is getting cold and it is finally the thought that whatever I pass I won't be able to see in the darkness that convinces me to stop for the night. It's too late for me to find a good bed or even make a fire, so I just focus on getting warm enough to sleep. I pile some grass under a low-hanging tree and try to make a bed. I lay there feeling silly, feeling unnaturally exposed on this flat open ground. Luckily it is is new moon and it is particularly dark and so the night shrouds me, this night that the earth cannot, and I eventually fall asleep.

I wake up to the first light before the sunrise and the sounds of birds singing. I feel strange, like I'm in a garden, not in the wilderness, slowly being reclaimed from human endeavour. For breakfast I eat the last grapefruit I carried from the tree down by the river. The juice drips down my fingers and my lips as I slowly fade from dream into the light of day. Today I'm not marching fast and determined into the gorge, today I wander and look at the sky and the tree-tops and the birds.

Suddenly, around a corner, I come across something that shocks me into stillness. It is a small wooden cabin, like a building, like humans used to live in. It is intact. Without broken windows and collapsed walls I feel like I am looking at something perfect, brand new, like an unreality, though it is clearly a part of its environment, having been here for a while. It might be what I have been looking for, but it terrifies me. I was not expecting it. It is not a person I can confront and communicate with, it is a dangerous structure that could contain anything and that I cannot know until I approach the danger and vulnerability of its threshold.

I leap behind some bushes and wait, watching and listening carefully, close to the familiar and comforting earth. The cabin is quiet and still and I eventually decide it must be empty. I slowly approach the door, which is open, and look inside. It is dry, clean and tidy in there. There are some well-made beds along the walls, with blankets and mattresses. I walk in and the unexpected familiarity and deliciousness of the smell hits me. Woodsmoke and dust and stale feet, cooking food and running water and fabric and that rich sexual emotional scent of human beings. Surely someone must live here, though it is so quiet and still so early in the morning, like no one has ever been here before me. It is like someone is here right now, but not inhabiting the same dimension as me, so we cannot see, hear or touch each other.

I wander through the details of the cabin like it is the spare bedroom that has been left me for the night and which is now mine alone, like no one will walk in and surprise me. I look at all the little tools and trinkets carefully placed on shelves and surfaces, everything having its place and its utility or sentimental beauty. I find a curious object like a long black wood chip that immediately draws me toward it. I pick it up and I know what to do with it. There is a circular button in the centre of the black chip and I press it long and slow. Some words come up on the screen but nothing else happens. I see another object, a couple of plastic buds attached to a long string, and I remember. I plug the buds into the chip and put them in my ears. I press the button again and hear the most amazing sound, loud and so overwhelming I have to sit down on the bed. I fall onto my back, close my eyes and let it wash over my body and my soul. It is music.

I had almost forgotten the sound of the human voice. It is a man's voice, old and rough, but full of intention and emotion. He sings of love and pain, expectation, disappointment, cynicism and hope. It brings too much of what I have not forgotten back to the surface, too much for me to confront, so I simply allow the music to wash over me and pulse through me. I can feel the intense reality of the music, the strength and meaning of the old man's voice, throb through my body and I let it take me over. I let the ecstasy encompass me and the music becomes my body, the vibrations of the soundwaves reverberating in my ear form a new temporary body which I inhabit as fully as I have inhabited my flesh body.

As the music fades into a dull warmth I turn my head and open my eyes, though I have heard no sound. There is a warm yellow glow and a man standing there facing me. I wait for my eyes to focus and see that it is the man I saw that day. He is staring at me with patient warmth, as if he had been waiting for me to open my eyes. I stare back at him, each of us as if he had only passed out of the room for a few minutes, as if we were expecting each other. He walks over the bed on which I am lying and climbs in beside me. I shuffle over to give him some space. We lie there together with our eyes closed and I can feel the warmth of his body and I can smell his scent. It is warm and dusty and familiar. I snuggle in closer to him and wrap one of my arms around him. He responds by wriggling in closer to me, fitting his body into the shape of my embrace. I even notice his scent change with the intimacy of our closeness, it is sweeter and more intoxicating. I allow the cosiness to overcome us.

I open my eyes again faintly and see again the warm glow and the order of the room, the tidiness, the convenience. My friend is still beside me, but somehow he is impersonal, like he's undeniably human, but not necessarily any particular person. I can hear a faint sound in the next room, a woman singing and the smell of warm comforting food being prepared wafts in. I feel like she is my mother and I am at home, like a child, and all my needs are taken care of. I feel safe and secure, though my mother never used to sing like that when she cooked. I tried to distinguish what the cooking smells were, but they were all familiar and yet mingled together and I could not tell. I again closed my eyes and held my warm companion

Feeling sleepy and only half-awake I move onto my back and stretch my legs and my body. I reach my arms out to the side in a stretch and feel my whole body respond, moving intuitively into the exact spot of tension or tightness, stretching and relaxing until my body feels good and ready to stand. I then realise that there is no one beside me and that this does not surprise me. I look around the room and it is as tidy and orderly as I remember it, everything one could need is present and close-at-hand. The room is exactly as I found it, but I notice the patch of warm sun that had been shining on me through the window was now forming a rectangular patch on the wooden floor.

I stand up and walk to the door. Outside is warm and calm and bright. There are huge tufts of grass and herbs, but no trees this side of the creek. I can hear the rushing of the creek and various birds singing in the trees maybe ten metres away. There are insects buzzing through the grasses. I recognise a few big bushes of edible herbs growing happily amongst the long grass and perhaps even some sort of citrus tree bearing fruit not far upstream. I feel a peace and a happiness as I sit down on the step to look out at the scene. I like this cabin and I like the feeling of sitting on something solid and dry, with the sun shining directly upon me. I feel rich, like the whole world is at my feet. A feeling of joys wells up inside me but fails to reach its full breadth when I realise there is no one to share this place with. How can I be rich if there is no one to welcome into my home and into my bed, no one to feed and laugh with? How can I feel blessed with abundance if I cannot give this abundance away? Otherwise, it is worthless. I can enjoy it for the rest of the day, and I can go to sleep in that clean dry bed, but I know that unless I plan to leave first thing in the morning, I won't be able to get out of bed. If my plan is to stay here the bed will paralyse me and I won't be able to move.

So I decide to leave in the morning. I'll build a little fire in that oven and make myself some food. I think I even saw a hot water cylinder, so if I get the fire hot enough I may be able to have a hot bath! I can sit by the fire and read a book, while waiting for the fire to get warm enough for my bath. I'll enjoy this cabin for just one night and then set off again into the wilderness to find my destiny, my life, a companion. I'll leave at first light, I won't even cook myself a breakfast. Maybe I'll take some fruit with me, but I will leave straight away. I won't carry anything else; no books, no bedding. I have to be light. I have to maintain my freedom. I have to follow that river upstream to its source.

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