Rolling down the highway in a bus. Full of people. He didn’t know any of them. Maybe the woman two seats up on the
other side of the aisle looked vaguely familiar. But so many people look familiar to him these days. So many women who
could have been lovers. Sometimes he thinks he could love every woman who ever lived. At least for a short while during
that intense closeness before the predicable inevitably overran the imagined. He dragged his attention back to stare
again from the window at the flickering landscape. Dry and dusty, no houses, no trees. At least not anywhere near the
road. Far in the distance he could make out a line of bluish hills slinking under a heavy sky. No clouds. But heavy. The
bus rattled on muting the sounds of the other passengers. He closed his eyes. His ears remained alert, on guard,
constantly scanning incoming signals for danger, for relief. He wondered briefly about his ears. How come each has a
small flap of cartilage which might block unwanted noise if it were to fold in; but there are no muscles attached to fulfil the
task…briefly he imagined this as something of a design flaw…but then, lying in your cave, in the dark, before there was
time, you wouldn’t hear an approaching enemy. Not good. But it looks like the body gave some thought at some stage to
the possibility of earlids; then abandoned the project leaving the little flange, an evolutionary supernumerary. He drifted
off further into the velvet underground.
Somewhere the bumpy ride stirred him. From the window he saw the journey no longer rode along smooth bitumen but
had found rough terrain, slowing down. The hills had quietly approached in the meantime and the bus began a snake-
like penetration until, at the top of a small rise, it came to an uncertain halt.
He was the only one left on the bus. Even the driver had disappeared. The hills were sandy, cropped with a thin layer of
yellowing grass he shuffled through on his way to the crest. From there he could see the other passengers spread out on
blankets and towels, taking the sun, relaxing under a breathless blue sky before a vast and shining ocean. It seemed the
water was deep at the shore with no gently sloping continental shelf to shape the incoming tide into waves. He moved
towards the water. His steps squeak as they see-sawed through the hot sand. He took off his shoes and socks to feel the
fine burning sand tickle sharply between his toes. At the water’s edge he stripped off his clothes and plunged in deep,
stroking out for a few moments before taking breath and turning to look for the shore.
Far away. Could it be that far? He’d only done a few strokes. A single breath. The shore seemed almost on the horizon.
A moment of panic brushed around him as he felt the tug of a rip pulling him out. Take it easy. It’s only a rip. Relax.
You’re not that far out. It’s an illusion. An unusual perspective. The brain’s making it up. Don’t fight it.
After a while of steady, rhythmic swimming he escaped the rip and could feel the soft underwater sand at the water’s
edge. He began to crawl up the quite steep slope to dry land. But crawling was difficult, he kept sliding back, his hands
and knees sinking too deep to catch any purchase. The water kept him buoyant, but was too shallow to swim and the
sand gave not enough resistance to get out. He was running out of breath. In the distance he could see some surfers on
their boards. Maybe he could call them over. Just then, on that thought, the sand seemed to firm and give him traction.
He dragged himself out and lay on the hard, firm shore, breathing deeply, thankfully, the hot sun quieting his
His clothes were nowhere to be seen. He began to walk down the empty beach looking for them, for the bus, the other
travellers he’d left sunning only a matter of minutes before. But no bus, no travellers stretched upon happy coloured
towels. No clothes. He decided he must have been carried much further in the rip than he’d imagined and began to walk
back up the empty beach straining his eyes to recognise some feature of the landscape, some clue which might indicate
the spot where the bus had been parked. After walking for a while he thought maybe he’d gone the wrong way so he
retraced his steps. To the point where he’d clambered from the ocean. His scumbled track marks coming from the water
gave him some comfort as he set off once again across an unfamiliar land, hopeful this time he’ll recognise
something…the bus, the other travellers still lying in the sun…his own footprints going down to the water. Once again,
after walking for awhile, he recognised nothing. Saw no one. Only a shoreline disappearing in the distance. He kept
moving. What else to do?
Some time later he came across a small pile of clothes waiting patiently for his return. He had to search for the shoes
and socks. He could find only one sock. Perhaps the wind…? He dragged on his clothes, scratchy over his then salty
body and began to look for his tracks to guide him back to the bus. But there were no tracks. And where the sunbathers
should have been - nothing. Just a lightly grassed hill, waving. Had they left without him? He stood and stared, turning
around, disbelieving. His senses must surely be tricking him somehow.
Far away, carried on the afternoon breeze, he heard the broken sound of laughter. Abandoning his shoes and desperate
to locate some humanity in this lost world he hurried along the beach towards the sounds rising over a dune in the
middle distance. But as he reached the crest of the dune there was no crowd of happy bathers, no familiar bus load of
fellow travellers, no humanity, just more expanse of empty beach and vacant sky. Then he caught sight of a single figure,
small and dark, sitting on a rocky outcrop where the beach and the sand hills met. The figure was hard to see at first
because it was much the same colour as the rock it was sitting on. An extension of stone. But something about the figure
was decidedly unrocklike. Was it the profile? The way it leaned out towards the ocean? As though breathing in some vital
force? Pulsing. Yes, the figure seemed to pulse. And then he heard it again, a faint giggle, a laugh from far away and the
little figure seemed to bounce slightly on its rock. In the midst of all the unfamiliarity and aloneness he felt a moment of
recognition. A dart of hope.
At that moment Babu jumped up from his rock landing softly on the sand. Heath’s eyes filled with tears as he stumbled
forward to embrace his old friend.
“Long time no see, little frog” said the old man.
Heath could find no words to speak. He stared stupidly at the kaleidoscopic vision his watery eyes were creating and
wept. His heart was tearing apart, his ears screaming. He knew nothing. He was totally bewildered. He sank onto the
sand finding some comfort from the warm earth. Slowly he began to breathe again.
The old African sat down next to Heath and whispered, “Have courage my friend, this is just another beginning…”