Letters from the Traveler V: The Seclusion
When I embarked on this journey, I was unprepared for the daily toils, loneliness, fatigue, hunger, and anxiety I would face. I had an idea—I had, after all, traveled before. I have known many homes in my lifetime, but never before had I undertaken such a long—such a solitary journey. Writing to you has been one of my sweeter solaces. I truly believe that without your confidence, I would be unable to complete this journey.
After walking through the marshland in silence with the trader for an indeterminable amount of time, I began to notice strange things about myself. First, my palms began to sweat and never ceased. No matter how often I rubbed them along my pants, or plunged them in cooler waters, they became so sweaty that I had a hard time gripping my walking staff and often tripped. I rapped both hands in rags, but in a matter of hours the sweat had soaked through. I said nothing to the trader I was travelling with.
I began to cry at arbitrary, erratic times: crouched around the fire, eating a fish we had caught for dinner when it would start, or scanning the horizon while the trader stared at a map to ascertain our position. The sobs would rip right out of me like gunshots, violently shaking my body so I lurched, shivered, and sputtered. I felt like a child again and when I thought to myself that I didn’t know why I was sobbing, it only increased my wretchedness and increased the animosity of my cries. The episodes increased in frequency and in duration. When I was at my worst, I cried for four hours and afterwards threw up in the weeds.
I was severely dehydrated. While we had fresh water stores, we never had enough to satiate my thirst. Consequently, I became ever more dizzy and disorientated. And then, from what I understand, one day after a fit of delirious howling like a wolf, I became faint and dropped to the ground.
The time of my sickness is hazy, but I will try to recollect it here from the vantage point of my memories and the words of those who saw.
The trader arrived at the inn with me on a stretcher made of reeds that he dragged along the ground behind him. The stretcher had gained a disgusting number of algae, reeds, dirt, and a nest of newborn gnatcatchers, which all died within two days.
When we arrived, I hadn’t closed my eyes in days, which gave them a vibrant hue that startled the innkeeper, his wife, and their four children. Except one, Hulia, who asked politely if I was watching God. The innkeeper’s wife said she had seen the symptoms before and they ascertained that I was suffering from “The Seclusion.”
The trader left after giving a small bag of his own coin to the innkeeper. I assume he continued on to our planned destination. The innkeeper and his wife, Maria Delorda gave me the attic room, where the two oldest sons lifted me into bed. Their younger daughter bathed me with towels from head to foot and brushed braided my hair into one long plait.
Maria Delorda used many home remedies to cure me of The Seclusion. She placed dry cloths rubbed with sage under my bed to catch excess moisture from my body, not to mention “whatever other corruption may fall.” Every morning, Maria Delorda and her daughter massaged my hangs and sang an ancient children’s tune, ‘Salty Capybara.’ They lit candles, prayed over me, and kept a bowl of beans and red peppers by my bedside at all times. I recall none of this.
I remember awakening in a strange bed early one morning—the smell of over-rubbed spices and dry wood suffused everywhere. My eyes felt as if they had been chiseled away and re-sculpted. I thought I was seeing through a thick, translucent pane of glass. I tried to call out, but couldn’t hear myself. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t hear anything but the calls of marshland birds from a window on the opposite end of the room. I fell asleep.
When I awoke, I saw a person enter the room. This person was a woman without a name who I recognized instantly. She was lovely with her thick, braided hair and her heavy hips. She seemed not to notice me and walked straight to the window at the far end of the room. I did not even try to speak because I knew I would not be heard.
Standing at the window she was silent. Then she began to sing to herself a list of the day’s chore: sow the Wacka Leaf seeds, prepare the linens, scrape the pot, ring out the rug, make her doll and on and on. Then she began to scream and pull at her braids, repeating to herself the same question: What have we done with the moon? Finally, I called to her. Her face was wet as she came over to kiss my face with dry lips. She left the room. A corn-husk doll lay inert on the window ledge. I fell asleep again.
The next time I woke up, a fat woman with a blue striped bonnet about her chin held a spoonful of beans to my mouth. I began to cry but she opened my mouth with her hands and forced the food down.
I woke up again and Agie was seated at my bedside. At first, she looked in prayer. Her eyes were closed and her wiry hair was so thin I could see the sores on her scalp. When she looked up I saw that her whole face was a mirror. My reflection was so horrifying that I began to gag. Agie grabbed my hand and began to eat my fingers, starting with the thumb. I heard the crack of bone and asked her why. She answered, “for nutrition.”
What I next remember, is a pressure on my left side. I was little surprised to see Vien’s wife laying asleep in bed next to me. She looked younger—her wide eyes framed by dark bangs and beads in her hair. But she was unmistakable. When I looked towards her, her eyes fluttered open and she asked about my condition. I told her I had no idea what was happening to me, and she slowly nodded. “You have what I have,” she said, and reached an arm out to smooth a strand of hair on my face. I asked her how it had happened. She sighed as one imagines Socrates might have when confronted with the ignorance of children. “Too much go.” Was all she said. I tried to apologize to her. For what, I don’t quite know, but it felt like the right thing. But I couldn’t remember the words and I was so, so tired. I fell asleep.
When I next woke up, the bonneted woman was back. She looked at me curiously—her tightly cropped eyebrows as close together as they would ever get, her small lips jutted forward like a child. I thought for a moment that she didn’t believe in me. I tried to ask where I was and what had happened, but she silenced me and raised a shallow bowl of water to my lips. In time, she told me everything. When she told me that I had The Seclusion, I asked her what that meant. She said it meant a hell of a lot of expenses on their part in Sage leaves and candles. I cried again and she told me it also meant to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I thanked her for her help and she was quiet to that.
She told me she had found my pen and papers and encouraged me to write something to any folk that might care about me. I asked if that was part of the cure.
She was quiet about that too.
I quite like Maria Delorda.
I write at her request. I write to show you my condition and urge you to never embark upon a mission as foolhardy as mine.
I’m well on my way to recovery now, Maria Delorda says. Should be on the road soon.
With sincerest appreciation,