Over the last fifteen years I’ve been lucky enough to experience many amazing backpacking trips across the world, zigzagging up, down and all around, and for the first few years (aside from the Crow), I did it on my own. These days I’m fortunate to travel with the person I love most in this world: my girlfriend, aka, Little One. We’re currently house-sitting and keeping a cat alive on a beautiful Greek island, having begun this trip in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in early December. From there our rambling, improvised travel itinerary has seen us hit Rome, across the Adriatic to Albania, up through Montenegro, Serbia, onto Hungary and finally a cheap flight here, to Greece, in a rustic house halfway up a hill. We’ve been here for three weeks.
The village is small and half its population seems to have escaped to the mainland for the winter, so it is quiet, our average day consisting of cooking, baking bread, and hiking uphill to the small shop to buy a bottle or two of cheap white wine. In the evening we play cards, watch movies and drink those bottles of cheap white wine. And feed the cat of course. There’s not much life in the streets, day or night – it’s like a town in the twilight zone on a permanent siesta. I like it a lot. Today on the steep stone steps on our way to the grocery store we passed an old man leading a donkey loaded with firewood, and a mangy looking cat eyeballing me from a trash can. This was a busy day. Yesterday the most exciting event was a lemon falling off a tree.
I am experienced enough to appreciate these times, a handful of years ago my OCD would have filled these tranquil hours with scenes of grotesque horror. This afternoon, sipping cold juice in a garden overlooking a glorious blue sea, and grateful of the peace, I regressed to less placid days…
…I wasn’t counting but it must have been over twenty times.
Twenty times I’d imagined the bullet exploding into her face.
Twenty pools of blood.
Twenty pieces of brain sliding down the wall.
I tried to think of where I was; the mountains, the rain forest, the village with the children I’d be playing football with later today. I couldn’t get excited, the image of my girlfriend getting shot point blank in the face by a soldier was contaminating everything.
It was the gorilla trek that had triggered it, the march through the Ugandan rain-forest with the trackers and the two soldiers with AK47s. The unwanted image had flashed into my mind the moment my eyes had lingered on the battered magazine clip. I’d fired one of those guns – twice. Once in Vietnam, once in Cambodia. It was the time in Cambodia that had damaged me the most. In Vietnam the gun had been fixed to a bracket; in Cambodia, once I’d paid for the clip, the soldier had simply dropped the gun into my hands and pointed to the target against the wall. “You could turn around and shoot every mutha fucker in the room,” squawked the crow.
My girlfriend had been there too; that was the first time I’d pictured her getting blown apart by an assault rifle.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: I cannot stress enough that OCD suffers are the least likely to carry out such violent acts, the fact that we obsess over these thoughts is because we are so utterly repulsed by them.
Back to Uganda, and when we’d finally come face to face with a gorilla troop in its natural habitat (literally five feet in front of me), I’d been mesmerised for a whole minute, but then I remembered the gun, and what it could do, and what that would look like. Another thought had briefly interrupted this …”If I pushed the guy standing next to me into the silverback, what would that look like?”
The trek to find the gorillas had been through the forest at sunrise. Watching the ghostly mist float across the rich canopy, knowing what I was soon to witness, I felt like I was in a David Attenborough documentary. But here I was in the Bwindi impregnable forest, on the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and all I could think about was one of the soldiers, there to protect us against border-hopping FDLR rebels, unloading his clip into the handful of tourists lucky enough to be here. If I didn’t think about it, it was like a heavy weight was dragging at my shoulders, plus a grinding sickness in my stomach like I’d swallowed live snakes – it was making the trek through the lush forest a hellish uphill grind. So I thought about it, because if I managed to think it out of my head, to get that ‘right’ feeling, then I could enjoy what should be a highlight of my African adventure.
“Go on,” teased the crow, “you’ve got this. One more HD image of all that gore and I’ll fly away for the remainder of the day.” But of course, every-time I pictured the scene, it wasn’t quite what the crow had in mind. “Try a little more realism,” he smirked.
The trek had been blighted by an horrendous spike (intrusive thought); the silverback, the baby gorilla waddling out of the bushes and hugging my leg, all those hairy bastards were a delight to behold, but the crow had been cawing in my ear all day, and he’d done his best to ruin it. If it was five years prior he’d have succeeded, but that day I’d managed to squeeze half a glass of goodness out of that bitter lemon. The memory of the silverback stays with me, thankfully the self created bloody images of gun damage hang dead in my closet.
…And then I’m back in Greece, ruing the Crows influence, frustrated that the OCD had tarnished my adventure, but appreciating the donkey I passed on the stone steps earlier in the day, because he wasn’t surrounded by dead people.