Perhaps a necessary part of any adventure is an element of danger. Perhaps without that element, there can be no adventure.
The news told me of invisible “bugs” that wanted to harm me, of the depressed economy, the impending floods, the risk of being knifed by errant youths—Do not, whatever you do, go out after dark. And this was all in my own country, in my own home town. This was not freedom. Here, I was in prison, and the guards at my door were called Fear. I needed a holiday and perhaps it was this that made me ignore the UK Embassy’s warning about terrorist activity in the Southern Philippines.
I closed my front door behind me, suitcase in tow, and as I walked away I heard a shadowy voice within me cautioning: “But the plane might crash…”
A mantra came to me: “Fear, I am no longer yours.” And I walked away, not even glancing over my shoulder.
In the Philippines, I arrived at my hotel in Davao. Of course, Davao was in the South. I alighted from my taxi and looked around, to the noisy streets, the smiling Filipino faces, the dazzling sky, to the hotel building, to the dark shadows concealing the alleyway across the street, and to the murky shade under the trees there, but nowhere could I see Fear lurking.
On the second day, I was sat in a bar when a teenage boy passed by me as though being carried on a breeze. I looked down and saw on my table a glossy flyer advertising the Bluejaz Resort in Samal and promising an island paradise of crystal clear waters and white sands. I looked up and the boy was gone, but standing in the shadows I thought I caught a glimpse of Fear, who whispered to me: “And now they have come for you.”
I pocketed the flyer and was soon stepping up off the Samal ferry and onto a long stone-built jetty which ushered me onto those white sands. I sat at a table in the shade overlooking the beach and a warm breeze caressed my face which seemed to connect with a profound calmness buried within me. There were happy, chatting voices all around, like birdsong in a forest. I looked along the beach and thought I heard a whisper coming from the shade of a table canopy: “I wonder how they will get to you.”
I looked away and focused on that forest birdsong.
There was a group of Filipino friends playing volleyball on the white sands and one of the men looked over and, as he saw me watching him, he froze momentarily, as though recalling a long-lost memory. Then the moment passed and he resumed his play. I watched him jumping for the ball and—I guess he could not help himself either—he kept glancing back at me. He was in his late twenties, of athletic build and perhaps slightly taller than the average Filipino. He wore a white sun visor and sun glasses but this did not in any way disguise his focus on me, as though there were some fundamental force passing between us which did not need mere vision to guide it. He struck the ball again and as his friends cheered, he glanced back at me as a child might to its parent—Look what I did; are you proud of me?
Back in the living room, Lily’s solitary goldfish, Matilda Smithe, was hovering in the goldfish bowl.
She hovered in that same spot for the past two hours, remaining motionless—except, that is, for the occasional flap of a fin, which was needed to counteract the slight propulsive effect of the steady trickle of water passing through her gills. And this she only did because it was absolutely necessary, it being a well‑known fact (among goldfish, that is) that you need to counteract this slight propulsive effect with an occasional fin‑flap in order to prevent your nose from eventually bumping into the side of the bowl.
She slowly gazed round the bowl at the usual sight of the bowl’s emptiness. She wondered why there were no other fish in her company. Then it occurred to her that her life seemed pointless, since there were no other fish for her to talk to or be with. She felt her usual aching desire to be with other fish, which would have made her life worthwhile; and without that, her life seemed to consist of this terrible emptiness—like living at the centre of an impenetrable barrier which it was impossible for her to pass through, or for others to enter.
While feeling this, she was gazing down at the living‑room carpet when she saw something that filled her with fear; she saw a vision of death in the living room. And this vision was the sight of herself lying there on the carpet. The vision shouted at her—Do it, do it—filling her with dread. Then she realized why she found the vision so alarming. It was because she was about to obey it; she really was! And that alarming voice continued shouting—Do it, do it.
She looked up to the surface of the water—Do it, do it—but kept on merely watching the surface. She glanced down to the carpet, then heard that vision’s voice again. But it seemed that some other voice within her was preventing her from obeying it. The vision’s voice was still shouting—Do it—but its voice was no longer alarming to her, for she now knew she was not going to obey it; she could not; that other voice within her was too strong—a voice that seemed to be commanding her to go on living, whatever happened; just go on living.
The vision of death faded and she was left gazing down at the empty carpet. She continued to simply hover—but not forgetting to occasionally flap one of her fins.