My serendipitous, jocular friendship with Filippo and Valerio was now burdened with a weight normally borne by stronger, older bonds. As the boys woke to my strained delivery of the news we realised simultaneously how little we really knew about each other. The strangeness made strangers of us and I could sense through the awkward back pats and attempts at light-hearted reassurance that they didn't quite know what their role was or whether they were ready for it. I don't think these first responders will ever know how crucial their presence was during that volatile time.

In our remaining days in Saly I lived a surreal double life. Externally, superficially I participated in the scenes around me as we continued our miniature holiday in pseudo-paradise. Internally, I began the brutal, slow and to all but me predictable processing of the fact that the table on which I had started to neatly lay out my life plans had been abruptly flipped over.

While we relaxed on the beach amongst the fishermen, footballers, tourists and touts I contended quietly with the first stages of grief. Though they came roughly in their renowned order they overlapped, waxed and waned in a horrible, mocking dance: a psychotic haka.

Lounging on deck chairs on the sand in front of Don Jon one afternoon we became the subjects of a gregarious "life guard". Though his dark skin was slightly weathered, he was shockingly fit and full of energy. It wasn't clear whether this fascinating character was officially employed or had simply taken undemocratic control of the length of the beach as a benevolent, clean-living dictator. If so, his one-man coup would have been staged successfully with only the weapons of an amazing physique, aviator sunglasses (mandatory in any African coup) and an (also mandatory) an infectious dedication to ideology—which in his case was the "don't worry, be happy" movement.

Our self-appointed chaperone regaled us with tales of his accomplishments as a professional footballer, prize-winning boxer and the strongest swimmer in Saly. Once we were won over it was time for an indoctrination in the ways of meditation, relaxation and generally living one's best life. He branded us "the three musketeers", Valerio being anointed with the secondary honour of being the "Minister de Mange" owing to him being furthest away from our athletic orator on the Body Mass Index.

On learning of my personal predicament, Lt. Lifeguard seized the opportunity to offer his advice: "respect, pardon". In other words: "when it comes to women, there's only one word that matters: sorry". Ordinarily, his advice would've been amusing (and slightly touching) but at that moment I was highly vulnerable to emotional infection and his words took on more importance to me than even he probably intended. That night, my mind raced to assemble a long and detailed list of any faults, flaws and failures I could conceive of. That was it: I was going to apologise.

As someone who constantly strives (arguably unhealthily) for self-control it was demoralising to feel myself swept up by these intimidating and irrational emotions—spending hours on the phone in the middle of the night spewing out sorries to someone who it could be said had wronged me and not the other way around, but more importantly someone who had no interest in restoring the status quo that I was now so desperately, uncharacteristically attached to (having spent much of my life trying to avoid being permanently pinned down).

When our bitter-sweet time in Saly came to an end we made our way back to Dakar and through its colourful chaos to the tranquil refuge of Espace Thialy, our bikes reunited with their gentle guardian in front of the pharmacy. Filippo and Valerio had accomplished their dream of making it to Dakar and it was time for them to start their journey back to Europe and the welcoming cocoon of home. I was sorry to see them go, and they were as comical as ever in their departure: Valerio rode off with a large wooden giraffe wrapped in brown paper sticking out of the top of his backpack, his bike loaded with enough African curios to send the Australian Border Force into industrial action.

With the departure of that wonderfully distracting duo I was left to finally confront my feelings. My brave face started to dissolve as those tumultuous, internal forces pushed through and consumed me entirely. Filippo and Valerio had not only been an anchor, but I'd also leaned heavily on them to translate and manage the harshness of daily life in a very foreign environment while I didn't feel up to fending for myself. Now, I was truly at sea.

The days were long and burdensome, spent in unhealthy isolation at the guest house while my allies in Australia slept and left me without anyone I could really talk to. Practically, it was impossible to connect with anyone in my immediate surroundings due to the language barrier. Although I'd deliberately taken on the challenge of Francophone West Africa, rather than the more easily navigable (to a native English speaker) East, I'd imagined my difficulties in communication would manifest in dealing with shopkeepers, wait staff and border officials—not when trying to express things that don't even come easy in English.

The staff at Espace Thialy were respectful and sensitive. They knew something wasn't right, even if they didn't know exactly what it was. I got the occasional knowing look or polite smile when they came to clean the rooms or stumbled across me sitting on the rooftop terrace while chain-smoking on the phone, or when I occasionally ventured out in the afternoons to top-up on cigarettes and airtime.

In between long, fruitless phone calls and WhatsApp message marathons I sat and thought too much about where I was and what I was going to do. Every single day on the trip so far had soaked up all the courage I had to keep moving forward to my final destination—forward into that deep, heavy fear of the unknown that lay between me and Cape Town.

As I agonised unproductively on the phone with my ardent supporters in Sydney it became clear to me that I simply didn't have the capacity to carry two great emotional burdens at once. I began to contend with the possibility of my trip being over, and to think about what that alternative reality would look like. I simply couldn't see how I'd be able to muster the courage it would take to face the challenges (real or imagined) that inevitably lay along the road ahead.

Postcard From The Edge
Postcard From The Edge
Curio Courier
Curio Courier

© David Baskind · 2022