Moldova, Transnistria and Belarus have flashed past my window like car headlights, fierce and bright and then nothing as my eyes refocus on where I am today.
I woke up at home this morning with the last three months in Eastern Europe twitching like roadkill in my rear-view mirror. Before me is an ominous fog. My future, all our futures, are behind that swirling cloud.
In my worst days I feel like I’m constantly falling through them. A conversation is lost as I tumble towards gravity’s mouth – that gaping maw, sucking me down, shouts fading to whispers a thousand feet above me; thoughts too drop out of my pockets and flap about in the turbulent flurry. I get tired. I could sleep for a century. And as I spin head-over-heels, or plummet in a graceless belly-flop, or spiral like a broken rocket ship closer to the ground, another important ingredient tears off of me, tossed into the roaring wind, spinning away into the rushing oblivion.
I lost my confidence in Moldova.
My confidence is bi-polar. It either fires me high into the sky, or leaves me stranded on a plank of wood, drifting towards the edge of the world. When it circles around me like a guardian lion, tail swishing against my legs, I think it’s going to keep me company forever – but my confidence is really a cocky pigeon dressed in dragon scales, and it’s never a permanent feature. (Like a friend popping round for a cup of tea).
Negotiating foreign lands; fumbling on google translate for the simplest of words; pretending not to be afraid of the drunken group of Georgian lads behind me; eyeball to eyeball with a raging motorist on the streets in Malawi; it all requires confidence, and even when I’m faking it, I remember its scent, what it feels like, and I emulate it until I’m away from compromising predicaments. But when confidence has fled on a horse, bolting for the woods, leaving a trail of yellow swirling smoke in its wake, it takes with it its smells, its taste – its essence scattered in horse-shit in the direction of those trees.
I had nothing to give these last two weeks, avoiding all confrontation like the world had rabies. The Crow was his usual charming self, pecking and scratching and cawing in my face. But he wasn’t any worse than he had been. My confidence simply decided to run off and have a holiday, take the next train or bus out of town, stranding me at the station.
For these weeks I was a knight without a sword or shield. Vulnerable in a field as my horse dragged my banner through the mire – ‘I might as well be naked,’ I remember thinking recently, on more than one occasion.
“Cowardice is a chicken dipped in yellow paint,” is something Uncle Jack might have said. And I feel like the chicken I watched being sacrificed in a church on the outskirts of San Cristobal – helpless, occasionally struggling against the old woman’s strong, bony hands. She snapped its neck, and I switched my eye-line to the straw covered stone-floor. It’s what they do there, and I had gone to watch it happen, in that strange church in Mexico. I have been that chicken these last few days, meek in my voice and posture. I felt my own neck could have been easily snapped by an old woman in a blue dress on a cold church floor.
I’m seeing friends and family now. I must not complain. There are seeds of dread in my stomach but I could be dying alone at the foot of a mountain. Or starving in a field. Or freezing in a cardboard box under a bridge in a wet city. It’s all OK. My family and good friends are here – although a crow with red eyes is pecking at the mistletoe…
Merry Christmas one and all, happy holidays, joy and all that stuff, not just in this season of good will, but always and forever..