The sun was throbbing in the sky, I had sore feet, and every stride seemed to be uphill, even on the way back – today’s little jaunt had all the usual discomforts of a hot, mid-afternoon hike. Yet the scenery was so stunning that I did the unthinkable for someone who would prefer to catch a bus to Shangri-La rather than walk it, and on the return leg, back on the narrow roadway, I declined a lift from the only vehicle that had passed us all day. The instant the car pulled away, struggling and spluttering on its ascent up the steep hill, I regretted it, because my decision hadn’t been genuine. It reminded me of when someone offers you a slice of pizza – I was always told to decline the first offer, only accept if it’s offered again. I don’t remember who taught me this nugget of wisdom, but I have missed out on several portions of Hawaiian deep-crust, so I hope one day I’ll forget it. However, several amazing views later and I was glad I had turned down the man in the silver Sudan. I got some fabulous shots on my camera – yes I was hot and bothered, tired and hungry, but here I was rambling in Greece and it reminded me of the trek I did in Nepal all those years ago …and then it hit me. Didn’t I struggle with a particularly nasty spike during those eleven days…?
…A flap of black feathers and there he was, perched on the shoulder-straps of my rucksack. “Yes, you did,” he said.
Little One and I had another hour or so before we reached home, it was going well but all of a sudden the light had changed, and for me the sun-bleached tarmac road was immediately overcast with black crow-shaped clouds. At first I couldn’t even remember what the spike had been made of all those years ago, but I knew it was a sharp one, mood controlling even now as the great doubter, Crow the Impaler, contaminated my day with his constant pecking. My God, it was over eleven years ago, I had less of a grip on my problems then. But the crow doesn’t make sense of these things, for him it’s quite the opposite. For him it’s all about the chaos.
He continued to bait me. “Was it a cancer scare? A pseudo impulse to jump off the mountain? Did you think you had AIDS again? Was it the psychopath obsession- did you worry you were going to kill your family when you returned home?” He maneuvered to my other shoulder. “Whatever it was Yan, it’s still here, with me, and I’m gonna whisper my name in your ear until you remember, and I’ll make sure it ruins your NEXT eleven days.”
But I can take a step back now. I can give myself time to breathe. I can rationalise – a little, anyway. Whatever the issue was, I had previously overcome it, because when I’d completed the trek I remember returning to my guest house in the town of Pokhara, and having a cold beer away from the crow and his black book of lies.
But what was it that had ruined those eleven days?
I know I should ignore these challenges but today I gave it my full attention, concentrating until I was back in the shadow of those great Himalayan mountains, and my stomach was hot and my bones were heavy and my head was scrambling, and I remember a problem with my leg, and that’s it, it was cancer! I’d felt a lump behind my knee on the first day hiking, and Crow said it was a tumour. He had ruined my trek across the Himalayas because he convinced me I was going to die in the next six months. While I hiked among beautiful snow-capped mountains, he made me not care, convincing a tiny part of me (and that was enough) that thinking of certain things certain ways, punctuated by that blinding white light, would prevent my cancer from spreading. The entire trek I was either sick with worry or walking through a thousand doors in my head.
But it wasn’t cancer, was it, Crow? The lump went away and never came back.
Returning to Greece and the iron ingot fell out of my day-pack. I was lighter by thirty kilos. The sky was blue again, the crow circling above me but a mile away and harmless. I was happy but also slightly annoyed with myself, frustrated I’d spent time ruminating on something so long ago. But I will only take positives from it – it means that I can do better. Today I had punched him from my shoulder, but tomorrow, when he comes, maybe I can gently push him off.