His mother recognised the wanderlust in him at an early age. The way his eyes always focussed on distant objects rather than those close by. The calming effect of the sky or a distant horizon. His smile when watching clouds.
“Thursday’s child, you have far to go,” she would say. “I think you will break my heart one day.”
And as he grew, happy and healthy, he explored and listened and read and dreamed. His favourite object was an old globe with much of the world shown in the red of the British Empire, and fascinatingly, much of it blank and unexplored with the legend ‘Here be dragons’.
The last time most of his school mates saw him was when he gave the farewell speech at their graduation. It was a fine speech but considered controversial and they listened in silence as he told them he was leaving and did not expect to return. In later years those few who heard news of his wanderings remembered him as a man lost, tainted by recklessness.
For twenty years he roamed, often alone but rarely lonely, ever drawn by new experiences. He made a rule that in each new place he should learn one new thing and contribute one good thing. In China he would watch men make fish traps and in Africa he would show a hungry man what he had learned. And smile with quiet pleasure when he caught a fish.
Then his life was changed by a beautiful woman with eyes as blue as the sky and a smile as wide as the horizon.
“Stay and rest awhile,” she said, and touched his cheek, and he felt the wanderlust subside into quiet contentment. He stayed for two decades and she enriched his life with a new kind of happiness, a new way of living. The wanderlust occasionally stirred but was easily calmed by a few days in the mountains or some time on the sea.
Finally it returned to console him as he knelt in anguish at her grave. He looked up into a pink and grey sunset that faded into monochrome hills rolling over each other into the distance. Like the curve of his wife’s hip as she lay sleeping. Then somewhere close by a blackbird sang. A song of unhurried contentment. And he stood and said goodbye and left with his memories.
Many years later, old but still firm, a doctor told him he had little time left.
“It will be painful,” he said, “and you will need care.”
So he bought an old boat and sailed it west into the coldness of the Atlantic and exulted in a fight with the sea, knowing it did not matter if he lost. Until finally the boat foundered and he floated alone in the ocean, the pain numbed by the icy water.
And he looked up at the full moon speeding through shreds of white cloud, and smiled.
Richard Lamb is currently living and working in Rio de Janeiro, trying very hard to be a Brazilian, and having difficulty finding time to write.