Erika and Katie need to pee. Having just met them and also needing to pee, I decide to join them. The three of us, on our feet, walk down dark roads trying to follow the blue lights to comfort. Finally we find them, and after braving the “porta potties”, we begin our walk back to where we had met. As we do, we debate on what to do next. Then quickly in solidarity we conclude that we should find the “white forest”, a beautiful relaxing oasis in the middle of the desert that I had stumbled across the day before. A place where the floor is coated with the softest of furs and where seven feet above, strips of white plastic flap in a wind self created. A place of tranquility, comfort and relaxation.
We walk and walk and walk. All I knew was this magical place was near the temple, which was near the man, which no longer existed having just gone up in flames. Reaching the temple took longer than I remembered, and once there, we all felt the need to walk inside. Inside our eyes danced around the walls as we read sad stories of loss and heart wrenching stories of dying hopes and desperate dreams. A girl approaches us asking if we dropped some things. She opens the palms of her hands to reveal a phone and a watch. The watch is mine and I take it, confused to how I lost it. I ask her if she knows the “white forest”. She says she found it earlier but doesn’t know how. We say goodbye and continue to walk further around the temple, surveying the walls. Erika wants to write so we search for a spot amongst the angst that Erika can pin her feelings to and leave unanswered questions that can be detached from her and burnt the following day. As Erika writes she is tapped on the shoulder. The girl from earlier has decided to join us. We walk out with her, and the girl bounces off the sand. Due to her terrific energy, although her real name is Ali, Erika decides to name her “ninja”, just as she has named me “puppet”, a name which I like to think has some roots in a theme of loyalty rather than manipulation. We wander into the darkness to seek this now mythical place.
We walk and walk and walk for what seems forever until eventually we hit the fence that lines the perimeter of the desert. Erika asks what lies beyond there and I tell her it is the real world. We take it in and enjoy the quiet and the loneliness of being this far from the real world and from the world we now live in, as if living in a state of limbo.
A strange man cycles up to us. He stops and reveals he has a Polaroid camera. He offers to take our photo and we accept. We talk to him and then he parts. The four of us walk again back the way we came, alone. Harsh dust storms roll in and the four of us shelter together and wait them out. We share drinks, coats and hugs to keep warm and once the storm settles we walk and walk and walk. Another storm hits, and again we sit in solidarity riding it out, as our water supplies begin to dwindle.
Soon the temple comes into view and it becomes clear to me that the “white forest” cannot be found.
The destination is not the important thing. It’s always about the journey and those that share that journey with us. It’s about the things we share that are capable of making our minds mesh together; that dilate and shrink our eyes; that make our ears prick up in amazement in unison; that make our blood pump faster; that make our hearts explode.
The four of us, having been alone together now for several hours, return to the desert, to a rising sun and to civilisation. Four strangers now forever bonded through our experiences, no longer strangers.
by Jon Robson