Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.
He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.
But not by will nor valor could he save them,
for their own recklessness destroyed them all —
children and fools, they killed and feasted on
the cattle of Lord Hêlios, the Sun,
and he who moves all day through the heaven
took from their eyes the dawn of their return. . . .
The entire horizon illuminated before me in a ghostly silver-grey light, little fishing boats strewn about the bay blinked silently into life then vanished back into the blackness.
I waited, counted and calculated, but of the cataclysmic fury far out to sea no sound reached the shore, except for that told by the bristling rage of the solitary palm trees dotted along the beach. Walking until the sounds of music from the bar became garbled and muffled by the breeze I sat down in the sand.
After a while a figure approached picking its way delicately along the shoreline, holding her shoes in one hand and bunching her billowing skirt over the spray with her other. “I thought I’d find you out here staring into the sea, my god you’re so moody” Sophia laughed kicking sand at me. “I came out here to look at the storm” I replied brushing off my shirt. “No you didnt!” she howled, “you came out here looking for the meaning of life, I know you did, admit it!” “Grrrrrr” she said as she pressed her knuckles against her forehead in mockery of intense concentration. She moved to kick another pile of sand in my direction but instead lost her footing and collapsed in a heap on top of me. “Somebody’s been enjoying the cheap cocktails, so what happened to the Russians?” I said. “Oh, they realised why everybody was laughing at them and the bouncers had to drag them out the door”, “And the ladyboy?” “Still there dancing like always” “Ha! another story for the blog at least” I thought.
“Vietnam is such a magical place, why do people have to work, why cant they just travel from one adventure to another all the days of their lives” said Sophia wistfully. I began to wonder if we only ever recognise our own folly when we see it expressed by another. “What are you smiling at? Are you laughing at me?” The sight of her angry pursed lips and glowering eyes caused me laugh even harder, she began beating me over the head with her hands in response to my insolence. I had hoped to sing some wild paean to freedom, to irresponsibility, to the infinite possibilities of life untethered but knew I had failed. “Nasty, brutish and short” “what the hell are you talking about?” “Did I tell you that when I first started out, I met a grizzled traveler in St Petersburg who had journeyed in darkest Africa. In Tanzania I think it was, while passing by in a truck he happened upon an angry mob who had cornered a thief. He had been stripped naked and trapped in a river of filth. Eyes white with terror he didnt even bother to cover his genitalia as he ran frantically back and forth to the delight of the jeering crowd. He was beaten to death and his body burned.” “That is disgusting! Why did you tell me that story!” “I dont know, Im not sure” I replied and I was telling the truth. For momentary flicker, in the half light I saw it, the creature on the bridge, I remembered, just a single image less than a second, it turned and looked at me but instead of eyes there was nothing, I couldnt shake it off, that haunted apparition.
Returning now the to the bar, Andy had struck up a conversation with an English builder who appeared to be celebrating his birthday alone in Muine. As it turned out we had seen the same doctor in London before leaving to travel. He made it clear that whilst not only respecting her medical acumen, he considered, too, her mammaries worthy of favourable comment. Carrying the jocular tone I commented on the unusual profusion of beautiful women populating the beach resorts of Muine, but then it was unsurprising that the less attractive were disinclined from strutting about virtually naked.
The night was soon drawing to a close and the blue hue signaled the approach of dawn. Now the road ahead too was becoming clearer. Tomorrow we would reach Ho Chi Minh city and then we would all part company, time once again to go it alone, to experience life’s rawness untainted.