Beginnings of Journeys
It was cold, freezing cold. Stepping out of the train at Central Station, Amsterdam, I glanced at the time. Not too clever, not too clever at all, arriving in Amsterdam at midnight in the middle of January. I followed the few passengers that alighted with me as they hurried away from the platform. Walking slowly, I thought about asking one of them for help. A woman in a thick, brown coloured overcoat strode purposely by. Her face was grim, unsmiling.
With a growing sense of foreboding, I watched, as one by one, my fellow passengers slipped away into the dark. I had not expected the journey to take so long. I thought I would get here by late afternoon, giving me plenty of time to look around. I had never been abroad before and did not stop to think about booking a place to stay. I did not check when I would arrive, just jumped from train to ferry and train again, and here I was wondering where to sleep tonight.
I only knew that I must get away, escape from my troubles, go somewhere different and that I must leave immediately.
I stopped at the entrance of the station and shifted my rucksack into a more comfortable position over my shoulder. Bracing myself against the cold I took a step forward when a shadow detached from the darkness of a column and walked toward me. A small man in faded jeans and worn leather jacket that appeared too thin for the cold.
"Are you looking for a place to stay?" he coughed slightly.
"Yes," I answered warily.
"I am from a hostel, very near here, just by the station, for young travellers."
"How much?" I asked suspiciously.
I hesitated. Could this be real? Or was I being set up to be mugged. I searched for clues in his face. I could not see much as most of his face was hidden by a thick beard. I nodded my head. He turned and walked into the darkness.
I followed warily, a couple of steps behind just in case I must run for it. We crossed a road and jumped down a slope into a path that led into a mass of black looming shapes. The only sound, the soft crunch of our shoes on gravel. Otherwise, the night is silent. I half expected several men to materialise.
Away from the streetlights I looked up at the stars etch out above me. They seemed so close. I greeted Orion, his belt and sword blazing brightly. I was entering a dream, a stranger walking through a strange land. I had never been this far from home nor travelled so long and so far. I felt reckless, a tingle of exhilaration.
The path stopped at the edge of the canal. Turning right, we continued to walk past several long shapes nestling against the canal edge. A few hundred yards further along I saw a string of gaily coloured bulbs and underneath it a banner with the words - The International Youth Hostel.
That night, the gentle sway of the boat lulled me into a dreamless sleep, as a new journey beckoned.
I look out of the window at the garden on another cold frosty morning. The journey that begun so many years ago in Amsterdam has been full of surprises, taking me onto life paths I never expected. I have travelled and worked in different countries and cultures, connected with many people that I hold in my heart and supported causes I believe in. There are still things I like to do, yet I feel a sense of fulfilment, that I have done enough in this one lifetime.
“Are you ready? We must go now or we will be late.”
I hurry down the stairs, as best as I can, put on the winter jacket and step out of the door. Entering the car, I glance at my wife. She touches my arm, stirring up memories of hiding in a tent from midges in Scotland, rocking to a WOMAD music festival, giggling under some trees on a walk without proper rain gear and enjoying sweet, juicy Victoria plums on a country road.
Today, I am seeing my oncologist to discuss a quality of life care programme, as the cancer in my pancreas has metastasised in the liver and is now deemed incurable.
This morning, another journey beckons.
This story was written in February 2022 after I was diagnosed with final stage pancreatic cancer in November 2021. I am receiving palliative treatment and care. The cancer spots in my liver has disappeared. My quality of life is reasonable, although with ups and downs, requiring hospital treatment every few months.