Chapter 2: The Last Journey
I was once among the ranks of the great work-home zombie horde. A high-level creature dwelling on the top. An apex corporate predator that could make anyone stiffen. In short, I was one big snarky boss. I worked in a well-known international conglomerate. An envied chief of a department; a lady burning her time in work like there's no tomorrow.
I created a lot of business opportunities for that big company. I helped them earn big bucks while the owners sat on their comfortable chairs. I took care of opening new fronts in retail, real estate, manufacturing, and even took my chance in telecommunication. Not humble-bragging, but the owner often yapped about my ability… as if it was his. What a darn thankless man.
Well, not boasting, but I am highly successful in almost all the ventures they assigned me to. I'm an asset. A heavy-duty executive.
Despite that, I knew that a gaping hole exists within my heart.
Amidst the shower of praises, awards, and all the what-nots.
The gnawing sense of emptiness ate me.
Mom and Dad loved what I have achieved. My genuine friends also delight in my success. Of course, some felt envious of me. Everyone thought I had a good life. But have I really lived a good life?
I agree that I'm fortunate.
Yet, deep inside, I am not happy. Fame and six-figures don’t bring instant happiness to everyone. Some even suffer from it. I believed I am among them.
In one of my ever-so-uneventful day-offs. I discovered something.
It was a usual rest day where I sat on a couch, surfing the internet for news, business ideas, reading blogs, and how-to-be-happy walkthroughs. Trying to find something worthwhile as I seek the meaning of life.
It was then that I discovered this tour offer. There were various promo offerings—different prices for different places. The images within were breathtaking, a feast for the eyes and soul.
The wonderful and captivating images sparked an unquenchable flame within me. The simple online ad jump-started my lifelong pursuit. Whoever made and paid for that clip, I want to thank them sincerely.
It was a true life-changing ad.
With every new place that I visit, I discovered that my heart wished for more. My eyes craved for the unseen wonders. I am not talking about anything occult, ghost, or anything related to the mystics.
Nothing but plain nature. The wonders of creation.
It led me to a journey of a lifetime, crisscrossing world regions one at a time.
Yet, at the end of my journey, I learned something new - that life is not all about travel. After my last journey all across North America, a bunch of problems started cropping up one after another.
Problems, I never expected to experience.
A few months after my return, my parents passed away because of old age. First my mom, and soon my dad. All as if they were acting according to the script of fate. Only waiting for me to return home. To say their goodbyes.
Then, my fiancé left me for another. The stupid man called me a cheapskate and a spendthrift at the same time. Wait, did he really call me that? I don't remember too much after that. He was not worth remembering at all.
The season of heartache came unexpectedly, overwhelming me for an entire year.
Just as I was about to recover, I realized I was broke!
What's the worst?
I realized I am already a 40-year-old lady. Yet, I don't have any family I could return to.
The neighborhood where I grew up had changed. The once grass-covered neighborhood gone in the wind, replaced with tall buildings and eye-catching architectures, enclosed in glamor and advancement of science.
Was this still my home? I raised my head at the newly built homes around my house. My eyes turned vacant and blank.
I felt hollow.
In my eyes, it was a monotone of black and white.
The once mud-littered road was no more. Asphalt and cement had changed the once muddy scenery I grew up with. It was now a busy road where cars passed through now and then. I gazed at the cars as their wheels stirred towards the unknown.
I don't belong here.
That was what I felt.
That was what I am.
A lone stranger in a place unknown.
It was familiar, yet unfamiliar. I found it funny that I felt like a stranger in my hometown. Do I now belong to the wild?
Still, I knew I must return and live again in this society… and felt compelled to.
I worked again to earn my keep. After years of burning my pockets because of my travels, I'm now back again to my old job. But this time, I began again with a clean slate.
They swarmed me in a sea of papers, projects, plans, and orders. After all, I’m still well known and still have some connections.
I worked and earned, worked, and earned.
My old boss was still there. Much to my chagrin.
My life passed through my fingers, carried by the wind’s whispers, drifting away as I watched with gloom and sigh. It was fleeting as the shifting seasons.
The usual routine was to wake up, work, sleep, and then wake up again. It was a never-ending cycle. It felt like I had been submerged into the depths of an unending whirlpool. A lady in the middle of a blurry haze, moving in the Crete's garden maze.
I thought it would not end anymore. I could not see the exit anymore.
Time passed, I woke up only to discover that I'm already 45 years old.
The kids of my friends now call me 'auntie'. A cute little boy even called me granny. Those words sent pain towards my heart, waking me up from my daydreams that I am still young. It was like a sharp blade pricking me. Yes, I know, children truly don’t know how to sugarcoat things.
The grains of sand were passing through my grasp. I wished to catch them, but I couldn't. The wrinkles of time began their work on my face. My heart was strong, but my body was not.
I looked at the mirror. I remembered the places I passed through during my travels, flashing as if it was just yesterday.
The excitement, the bliss, and the joy.
I closed my eyes and couldn't help but reminisce.
Those good old times.
The edges of my lips curled up. It was not too late.
I thought of my parents. They loved me. Though old, they accompanied me on some of my travels. They’d never want me to become like this.
Spending their hard-earned pensions on me.
I remember my ex-boyfriend who left me…
Hoho! Well, never mind the bastard! I hope he is happy.
Suddenly, my eyes caught sight of an old ragged little booklet; the passing of time blurred its green color. It was lying on my old scarlet couch. A bunch of paper reports almost covered the little green notebook.
After tidying up the papers, I picked the green booklet and sat again on my favorite velvety couch. Closing my eyes, I caressed the familiar arm of the couch.
I felt like it was already a long time since I last sat here.
Years had passed, but it was still as cozy as ever.
From the back, I opened the green booklet. My messy handwriting greeted me as if it was an old man saying, "long time no see." Just as before, there were erasures and some journals I added during my travels.
Thus, I smiled. "Long time no see."
A giggle slipped out at the sight of those memorable wiggling letters.
I checked each page from the back until I eventually reached the first page that started it all.
At the topmost part of the page, I saw a blurry word—the ink was already fading after being accidentally splashed by water in one of my adventures. I recognized what it was.
"Bucket list," I murmured, a sweet smile rising from the edges of my old chapped lips.
I saw the checked places I had gone to.
On the lower part of the page, I saw another two words in bold letters.
I burst out, chuckling aloud for a few minutes. I tried to stop but started twittering again after reading it for another time. It took me a few minutes to control my outburst of laughter.
Suddenly, I sensed a pang of hunger rising from the depths of my heart. It was telling me I must not rot in this place. I sealed the feeling within the boundaries of my heart. But now, it was breaking out.
A few more months passed.
I had decided.
After filing an indefinite leave request, I started to plan my new voyage. You may take it as a resignation. Well, who cares except for my boss? I mean, he’s the only one thrilled after I returned to the company. The rest weren’t that happy. He was still the same, aside from his receding hairline and streaks of gray hair.
Purchases were made: A brand new camera—not a cheap one! I wanted to record some memories through lasting images. When you go big, you must go with a bang!—and a cheap map, taped on my table and marked with an 'X' on the places that I'd already been.
I had traveled through six of the seven continents of the world without me realizing it.
Wait. There was one more left.
The icy continent was calling for me.
And just like that, I decided on my itinerary.
To Antarctica, it is!
Time to begin my preparations!
I never thought that going to the frozen continent required many things. One of the basics was for me to be in good health. I also had to undergo a few months of training before being allowed to board towards Antarctica. And that pushed me to my limits.
After grueling a lot of sweat and hardships.
The endless back pains and shoulder pains.
The sleepless nights because of cramps.
All the muscle aches that required plasters and ointments.
At last, the ship I decided to ride had finally taken off from Cape Horn. At first, it was exciting. Then the seasickness struck, followed by the breezy wind. Moreso was when the waves started sending the ship from left to right. It was a freaking nightmare!
Still, every challenge had a finish line. Though I wonder how many buckets had I unloaded from my guts?
Alas! I finally arrived in Antarctica! In an instant, it became the most memorable place that I went to.
The place of never-ending winter.
And it was cold. I mean, of course, it was! "Brrr."
I etched the southern lights in my memories. The cold sky perfected with the pastels of heaven, painting a breathtaking image in my heart and soul.
Against the advice of my guides, I waltzed around the snow-laden ground in glee. Call me stupid, but I can't stop anymore. I found the white paradise too breathtaking.
I even composed a short poem as I walked around the snowy land. My pen drizzled through the old green little notebook.
Behold, the magnificent beauty of the south. They clothe her in white.
On her head was a high crown of light!
As I saw her, my heart was alight.
For she was the one in my dreams that night.
For a moment, I felt free from the bondage and burden of life.
Sauntering to and fro, till I lost my way back.
I felt tired, yet pleased.
I wasn't scared; even I was lost. There's a sense of belongingness and fulfillment inside my heart. It felt weird and warm, as if there's a blazing torch within my soul.
I treated the white land as my bed, the cold snow as my pillow. The winter snow was my blanket. At home, I was.
Under the veils of the beautiful stars and stunning lights, I outstretched my hands to the sky. I had grasped the beautiful heaven, touching the twinkling heavenly bodies. In awe, my eyelids had finally grown weary.
I closed my eyes in peace.
This was the place I wanted to be.
Silence and beauty.
Far from the bustling noise of the cities.
I drew strength and uttered, drawing icy fog away from my mouth.
My breath froze because of the icy breeze.
My arms and feet, I felt none.
Until only the sounds of my heartbeat were the only thing I could hear.
There were no regrets…
I knew. It was coming.
With a hearty smile, I closed my eyes…