On the last night of the hike, all the people I have got used to seeing on the trail are gathered in the same guest house. The family running the place are incredibly nice, and their cooking is out of this world: the table is heaving with peppers stuffed with minced meat and bellpeppers in cream sauce, savoury local cakes with cream, small spinach pies, green salad, soft cheese and two kinds of bread so tasty that when our hostess stops to explain how to bake them, everyone listens.
For dessert, our hosts pour us small glasses of raki, strong Balkan liqueur. The ones they serve you in bars and hostels are bitter and foul; this one goes down easily, it almost tastes sweet. All rakia is homemade, but the one you get on the mountains is always the best. Earlier that day I have heard I have finally graduated; to celebrate, I empty a bottle of Peja beer.
After dinner, I stand on the balcony upstairs in front of the dormitory that I share with a group of tall, older Dutch men, snacking on a Snickers and looking at the stars. One of the men stop to ask me if I recognize any of them. I don’t, not from this spot, the only constellation I know is the Big Dipper and from where I am standing it hides behind the farm buildings or the tree tops. I still know it’s out there, and just knowing that makes me feel peaceful; even though I am far from home, I am still on the right side of the stars. The skies on the Southern hemisphere are exciting and novel but terribly foreign to me.
I think about my open-ended life and all the endless possibilities ahead of me and the wonderfulness of not knowing anything for sure. The last line of Wild comes back to me as it does so often after finishing the book, like a chant or a mantra: ‘How wild it was, to just let it be.’
It has been a while since you went away, and it has been a while since I stopped letting my heart ache because of that. The other day I was browsing back my journal when your name caught my eye, and it shocked me how far back it was. I held the thick stack of pages between my fingers and slowly let them run out, and I thought of all the incredible things I had seen and done since you left me. It felt like you were a part of another story; and as I’m soon running out of pages in this journal, in perhaps two or three days, you will indeed become a part of a past chapter.
I am free now to go as I please, and I thought I might follow you if you’d let me. But I look up at the stars and wrap my arms around myself, shivering slightly in the dark night, and I imagine all the wonderful possibilities that lie out there under that sky, on the lonely road that leads me down this mountain and into unexplored lands.
I think I need another year alone.
And maybe then…
But by then you will be so long gone you will barely be a footnote on the pages of my black leather notebook.