On my final evening in Iowa, I went for a walk in the park by the river. It was dusk and a flock of Brent geese rose up from the water and flew over me, beating their wide wings sleepily, forming the shape of a faulty V against the dusk.
On my final full day in The Hague, I venture out for a walk during daylight and again find geese, in the pond opposite the train station. A few are ordinary white, but most are unfamiliar. Patched red-brown and dark emerald, with mahogany eye-masks. I’ve never seen such a species before. Back in my hotel room, I look them up on Wikipedia. I discover they are Egyptian. But, Wikipedia says, some Western European countries have self-sustaining populations which are mostly derived from escaped ornamental birds. How I adore the poetry of this! Of these birds liberated from the obligation to be beautiful, who journeyed all the way from the exotic east to bob on this slimy surface, beneath a grey sky, beside a city.
On the final afternoon, I go into a café and pretend I can speak Dutch. I study the menu before I order, practicing the words in my head. I don’t get exactly what I wanted, but it makes me feel slightly less monolingual, just for a moment.
On the final evening, I pack things into my swollen suitcase. I take them back out again. I redistribute my belongings between compartments, shuffle them about. Weigh and measure and bend to fit. I think: this is like writing.
On the final night, I realise that my best chance of successfully navigating the Koninklijke Schouwburg and the Nationale Toneel Gebouw is to avoid the entire backstage zone. I have no particular difficulty with the performance spaces, but I am baffled by the warren of dressing rooms, narrow corridors, secret tunnels and staircases which don’t appear on any map. Backstage is a cloistered maze. Where the lifts ascend to floors which don’t exist. Where every table is decked in bowls of tiny biscuits and bottles of beer. For the final night, I decide I will just stop and listen. I realise how rarely I actually do this. I am always hurrying, always thinking. All these days they went away… Jonathan Jeremiah echoes. In the crowd, in the dark, I still my limbs, my mind. Through the pink smoke, I study the faintly illuminated faces all around me.
I wonder how many of these faces know about the poetry of the Egyptian geese.
By the time I am ready to leave the Netherlands, I have not slept in my own bed for seventy-nine nights. Do you know the way from here… Alela Diane sings…to where you’re going to?
I don’t. I rarely do. I figure it out. I get there. And I am grateful there is still there for me, grateful I am able to return, and grateful that I have the opportunity to leave sometimes.