I wake up to a morning drizzle and check my foot. It’s still the size of a golfball, but curiously not bruised.
I’m lucky. A millimetre off and I would probably be back in Kochi City, in the hospital. I stop myself from looping yesterday’s fall in my head, from thinking about that one fateful moment, that one avoidable step. How things change so quickly.
Unlucky enough to learn a lesson, but lucky enough to survive it.
I snack on the remaining genpi for breakfast. At least I have breakfast. Yesterday, I hadn’t thought to buy food in the last town. Maybe the two days in the city have made me complacent.
When done, I take down my tent slowly. I think it’ll be a while before I can set it up so snugly in a hut again. I clean up and pack my bags. The last things to be packed are my phone and spare battery, which are balanced on the beams above where the two outlets in the hut are. I find out my phone didn’t charge overnight. One of the cables works and the other is choppy. I should have checked last night before tucking in. Yet another lapse in vigilance.
I have a habit of forgetting things and producing small mistakes, routinely needing to go back and correct things. These little errors on a busy work schedule were minor irritations that I’d learned to work around by finishing things earlier and doing more checks. That’s when I worked in offices, could blame a busy schedule and had time to erase mistakes. Now, I don’t have 20 things on my plate, just the handful of daily tasks like charging my phone where possible. You don’t charge batteries earlier to do a better charge later. It’s a stark lesson that the walking, nojuku, henro life is less like a take-home exam and more like a pass-fail one.
Once I’m done chiding myself, I let it go. One of these days, the lesson will sink in, or it won’t. Actually, I don’t really need the phone. It’s a fairly straight-forward route down the coast.
I set off, eager to get a proper breakfast in the town just a few kilometres away.
Almost immediately after setting out, I roll on my right foot too. Oops…
It’s not too serious, and I can’t help but think that life has its sense of humour by being fair to both sides of my feet. Perhaps I’ve gone a bit insane, but I smile with amusement as I continue past a scattering of fields and houses. Then, there’s a massive, grey power plant that almost seems as large as the hills that surround it. It seems so jarring, but if I wasn’t walking through, it’d have continued invisibly in everyone’s consciousness, powering electricity for miles around.
I arrive at the supermarket in Susaki City just before it opens. It’s begun to rain again, so I hang around the covered entrance along with one or two other early birds. When we’re finally let in, I go up and down the isles for breakfast inspiration, feasting my eyes on the options. Eventually, I end up with far too much: maki rolls, yogurt, cheese cubes, bread, cereal. Feast after famine.
I settle down in the eating. It’s simple food, but my taste buds are dancing with every bite of soy sauce-dipped cucumber rolls. When I’m done eating, I nurse the cup of hot coffee in my hands. It’s summer, but I have the chills. It’s a cocktail mix of sweat-soaked clothes, AC, and lack of food. I eye the dark curtains in the skies on the other side of the glass wall. Rain is coming.
When I follow the road leaving Susaki City, it’s raining in earnest. The rhythmic thuds on my umbrella are loudest; next are the silver pellets on concrete, and every minute the rush of a car with a violent wooosh. I’m focusing on angling my umbrella perfectly so that it covers my cloth runners. They will get wet, but since I will be doing nojuku again tonight, I’d like to delay the process as long as possible.
I finally admit, this is ugly weather.
At 13:25, I am breathless at the train platform of Awa station.
I’ve just missed the 13:21 train, even though I’d arrived at around 12:45. Thinking I had time, I went to the Lawson to try to get WiFi and shelter from the rain. It was only at 13:20 that I realised I’d miscalculated the train schedule.
I raced back down the road, hoping for a miracle.
It’s a single-track platform, and after waiting for some 15 minutes, I watch the train from the opposite direction pull up, exactly on time.
My next train is 16:50. I have 4 hours to kill in the middle of nowhere. On a sunny day, it’s enough time to walk to the station that I would have gotten off at. On a rainy day, I’m not braving the slippery mountain paths with a twisted left ankle.
It would have been fine if I’d just arrived late. But no, I’d arrived early, and went to the Lawson instead of checking the station.
I’m muted with fury. It’s so deep, so black, it’s beyond letting out. So I box it off, let it rage and burn, cover my face, and take a nap. I’m tired, and I’m going to make this count with a good nap.
I finally get up at 4pm, feeling drowsy from rest. At night, I don’t sleep well when I camp out because the alien noises in the darkness keep my imagination going, whereas the noises of the day are familiar and I can relax.
I stare out at the deserted beach. The cliffs on either side wrap it into a crescent shape with small grey islands on the horizon. The finches have been chirping and zipping everywhere, circling between the bent palm trees and the station platform, completely unperturbed by the rain. It’s actually a pretty beach, even in bleak weather.
Time passes. It always does. Another 40 minutes is no problem.
I got the hang of waiting after I started backpacking. I manage having nothing to do quite happily. I can live with being wet. I can live with regrets, like missing this train. There’s a TEDTalk about regret that explained how we feel it more acutely when we are that much closer to what we could have had, when we can easily imagine having done otherwise, to get another outcome. How true. Regrets are the mistakes from which we should learn. I can live with mistakes. I’m still learning to live with the stupidity that causes avoidable mistakes.
I’m a bit surprised at how quickly I accepted my predicament. It’s a strange, but pleasant feeling. It’s a calm that just sits within you. Even when I was possessed with fury earlier, that calm remained firmly in a quiet little corner, and from there it acknowledged the beast, nudged me to sleep off my exhaustion, and worked its magic.
So now I sit here, waiting out the last 30 minutes with a more rested body, a slightly weathered mind, but pretty whole.
I get off the train at Kageno station and set out for the last time in the downpour. The angry clouds bring nightfall early, and I need to get to the next Michi-no-Eki for both food and tonight’s shelter.
Focus on the steps. Left-right, left-right. The umbrella at just that angle. Head down and looking ahead to avoid the numerous puddles. I know what the 5.5 km/hr pace feels like now. It doesn’t come naturally, so all I can do is focus on steady breathing, willing my feet in a steady march, keeping umbrella hand, and avoiding the cars that race by with waves of water sailing onto the sidewalk.
One intense walking hour later, I arrive at the edge of Kubokawa town, where there is a Lawson and the Michi-no-Eki. The first thing I do is buy a bottle of water and chug. It takes a few minutes before it quenches my thirst, and I wait by going online again. I’ve been able to connect more often than I’d expected, which has helped in an area I hadn’t considered: weather. It’s the first thing I want to know. Then I go down the list of things to check: the route or transit, my walking data, then messages.
I go to the empty Michi-no-Eki across the street for a real dinner. It’s summer, but a bowl of hot udon in soup is perfect for remedying my chills. Speed walking in the summer rain just means being wet inside and out, and literally head to toe. I savour every noodle individually and cup the still-hot bowl afterwards. After that, I just wait until the restaurant closes, as I’m charging my phone and my spare battery at this strategic corner table.
When I head out again, I pick a bench flanked by two posts along the walkway to prop up my tent and hang my mosquito net. It would have been easier to just lie down on the bench and call it a day, but the mosquitos are already coming.
There’s a solitary man on the other wing of the plaza watching me and it gives me the creeps. I’m glad I have my sedge hat on, so it’s difficult for him to figure out much about me. Aside from him, this place feels like a good nojuku spot. It’s got modern architecture, plenty of nice modern washrooms outside, has WiFi, and steady traffic on the main road.
I climb under my orange flap and gingerly adjust my essentials, which double up as my pillow. I lie flat on my back so that the weight distributes properly across the wooden beams of the bench. Wooden benches have their degrees of comfort, and this is on the better end.
I get a message. It’s from a friend I was considering for tomorrow’s temple, Iwamoto-ji. She hadn’t messaged in almost two weeks.
The message reads, ‘I’ve cut my hair!’
Happy coincidence. I guess it was meant to be.