Jun 2, 2010
„You’ll be waiting till the cows come home.“
I was startled. In front of me stood a man in a blue uniform. Under his arm he had tucked a black shoulder bag and a crumpled newspaper. He looked at me through his tired eyes, waved his bunch of keys around in front of my face and murmured something about curfew and closing time as he turned and walked away.
The streets were empty. The light of the lanterns bathed the parked cars in a diffused yellow light. On the way home the subway driver’s words echoed in my head.
Waiting. What does it even mean?
We wait in traffic jams to continue, in the doctor’s waiting room, for the weekend, in a restaurant for our food. We await the post in the hope of a handwritten letter between the bills, we wait for the spring, our 15 minutes of fame, the work is waiting for us and we wait for an answer.
Are we impatient?
Waiting means to remain in a condition at a certain location for a shorter or longer period, assuming that something will happen that will change or finish the situation.
Do we wait by our own choice?
We wait relaxed for the events that we desire and wish for. Waiting increases our anticipation.
The torture of waiting is opposite to this, waiting in vain, afraid of the unknown. In both cases, the importance of the expected increases with the amount of time you invest. We can keep somebody waiting for us, but mostly we have the impression of being forced to wait. It seems like a necessary evil no one can escape.
I walked past a row of rusty bicycles, some of the tires were flat, others had crooked spokes.
It reminded me of a situation a few months ago: Cyprien and I had reached the Strait of Magellan and had crossed it by ferry. We then reached Tierra del Fuego by bicycle. The first night we asked a Gaucho for shelter and he put us up in the huts of the shepherds on his hacienda. In front of his courtyard sat the huge skeleton of a whale. A Yugoslavian immigrant brought it with the horse and cart in search of work northwards from the Atlantic coast. He exchanged it for a roof over his head and a job as a shearer on the farm.
At dawn, we packed up, drank Maté and with Urize thanked drove off. On the map we saw about 160 kilometers of dirt road laying before us. Within an hour Cyprien’s first spoke broke. We had no substitute. With each large pothole, the misery went forth and the wheel started looking like an 8. We tried to readjust, saddling his baggage on my bike, but it did nothing. As the sixth spoke broke the game was over, the wheel did not move anymore at all.
We were somewhere right out in the sticks. There were no houses nor trees, only steppe. We sat by the roadside and waited. Cyp unpacked his guitar and started to play. Through the strong wind I heard fragments of French words. It was a song he had written in the Mongolian nature. After two weeks on horseback following the riverstream, he had met a nomad family. They gave him a bed for the night in a tent and he began to work with them; catching horses with the lasso, slaughtering sheep. They communicated with hands and feet. The eldest amongst them was a small man with wrinkled skin and a long white beard. His name was Sultan Murat. The song was about him.
The clouds moved over us, casting long shadows on the ochre couloured landscape.
The act of travel, to move over a greater distance from one place to another, is the purest form of travel.
It’s like the moment between exhaling and inhaling. A brief moment of weightlessness or something timeless. Also
farewell and anticipation. Recapitulation of the experience and fantasies about what is coming. Time to look at the passing fields as they slowly merge into one long strip.
As I was pondering, I realized why my times walking and cycling remained so imprinting in my memory.
Not only because of the direct confrontation with the elements of nature, the wind in your hair, the feeling of hunger, the stars, the constant muscle soreness; but especially by the fact that one is almost constantly in a timeless state. A condition that we experience in our daily lives as waiting. We do not want to sit in the subway but arrive. We do not want to hear pop music from the phone waiting in line but rather speak to someone who can help us.
Far away from everyday routine waiting suddenly gets a completely different meaning. It is time to think, watch, to simply do nothing.
Its up to us, to delay a moment, to enjoy it to the fullest, to prolong its existence by stopping on the way, like watch a field mouse digging, or looking at a plant or even by lifting a stone. To rub it between thumb and forefinger, checking its weight in ones palm, blowing away the dust, thinking for a second whether you plan to take it and then throw it away into the field or to simply let it be. Each moment waiting contains the time for a mental journey.
Meanwhile I had arrived home. I put the kettle on. It was just before five. Since I could wait another half hour, until the newspaper came, I sat down and began to write. This is the second last sentence.
The wait was in Tierra del Fuego. But that’s another story.