There was already a line snaking through the darkened streets of Aguas Calientes as he walked down to the bus stop. Their numbers surprised him – in naive arrogance he thought himself original, not one of the million backpackers, hikers and armchair adventurers who’d read the same guidebook, and now queued, bleary eyed but expectant, for the imminent sunrise atop Machu Picchu.
It had already risen by the time the bus had ferried him up there. No matter, the dawn view wasn’t the reason for his early start.
A good friend passed on advice she heard, therapy shared down the line. Visualise your problem, be it person, pain or emotion. Place that image inside a balloon. Hold that balloon in your hand, hold it tight, it is your balloon, you own it.
Then let it go.
Watch it drift away into the sky, getting smaller and smaller until just a dot on the horizon and then no more. Say goodbye to that pain, emotion or person once and forever. Be complete with knowing you said goodbye.
So that seed grew and gave him a mission for his holiday. Where better to release than atop a mountain in the most beautiful country in the world?
“Hey, wait your turn.” A short Asian woman barged past him, jostling her way up the steps, eliciting cries of protest from her fellow, more patient, climbers-in-waiting.
He didn’t mind waiting longer. He was already out of breath just standing in the queue. When the dream holiday (with optional mountain extension) was booked he’d envisaged a healthy training regime to get into shape. No smoking, no drinking, rowing every day. No chance.
When he finally got his card stamped at the desk he looked up at the rising tree lined steps with trepidation. The path was steeper than anticipated. Ah well, one foot in front of the other. As his breathing became heavier a burning smell irritated. He looked around to see if anyone was smoking, then realised it was in his head.
AS TIME DISTORTS MEMORIES INTO WHISPERING DEMONS ON EXHAUSTED SHOULDERS
It didn’t smell like smoke, it didn’t smell real. Meat and charcoal mixed with antiseptic and chlorine, strong enough to bring tears. It wasn’t real, it wasn’t human, it wasn’t…
“Nobody deserves to see a dead baby.” He’d never been good at taking advice. No-one was going to stop him seeing them, because what they told him wasn’t true.
They were found in the bathtub. Her blackened corpse twisted foetal-like, cradling the charred ball that was once Thomas to her stomach, returning him to her womb in protection from the flames. The sheer terror of their final moments would grow in his imagination, amplifying each year as time distorts memories into whispering demons on exhausted shoulders.
Their death was his fault, that much was certain, for even a boy must take responsibility to advise the man he’ll one day become. The decision to remain in the flat, against the odds of logic, comfort and maturity, was a misguided attempt to mark his domain, state their independence rather than gracefully accept the well-intentioned charity of her far better off family.
His logic was simple. A flat in London was gold dust, even one plated with dodgy pipes, an out of date fireplace and rising damp walls. How could he be so blind? The hovel was a death trap, an accident waiting to happen. It was his decision to stay, so it was his fault they died.
His life changed that day. What was once sure, was gone. No-one knows what happens next, we just coddle ourselves hoping for the best.
We don’t know, we pretend we do.