Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2015 Results




The Longest Journey Begins With the First Step

Copyright © Edward Burger 2015


‘The longest journey begins with the first step,’ they say. I was to be going on the longest journey. I was destined to become the greatest adventurer in history! I took a step outside my front gate onto the footpath – the first step in my epic journey across the continent! I could practically feel the air reverberate in rapture! But I didn’t just take one step. I took several, one step following another till I arrived at the cafe next door. I took a seat outside. The great adventurer must pause to rest during such a long trek. Besides, I hadn’t had breakfast yet. A waiter came out to take my order. Her name was Rachael. I knew her quite well since I often came to this cafe.

“I’ll have a King’s Breakfast as well as a sticky-date pudding and a soy latte in a mug, thanks Rachael. I need a substantial breakfast to sustain me on my epic journey!”

“Where are you going?”

“I am going to walk across the entire continent!”

“Really? You? I didn’t think you would be fit enough.”

“Not fit?! Certainly I am unfit but that will not stand my way. I will be fit at the end of the journey, won’t I?”

“Whatever you say, Eddy.”

“Why, even you could become famous just for knowing me!”

Once I finished breakfast I had some difficulty getting out of my chair, I had eaten so much. But I paid the bill then continued on my momentous journey. A few doors up was the beauty salon, my next port of call.

“Give my hair a trim, please Maurice,” I said as I took a seat, “and I’d like a manicure as well. I have just embarked on an epic journey and I want to feel unencumbered and in tip-top shape.”

“Where are you headed?”

“I am going to walk across the entire continent!”

“You? In your condition? You’ll never make it.”

“Do not judge me upon my rotund physique, Maurice. The longest journey begins with the first step. I must have taken thirty steps to arrive here.”

“But what’s a few steps? You’ll have to walk a million times that distance. Probably more.”

“Stop being so argumentative! Any journey begins with the first step and I have made it! You can’t take that away from me!”

We didn’t talk anymore on the subject. Maurice made small talk – talking about his three daughters while I yawned. It wasn’t a good sign, yawning when I had only just begun my journey.

By the time I was finished in the salon it was lunch time. I’d had a late breakfast and wasn’t feeling hungry yet, but it occurred to me that if I didn’t have lunch now it might be a while before the opportunity again presented itself. The next shopping centre was some distance away. And there wasn’t a cafe in this town that rivalled the one where I had breakfast so I decided to go back there. Granted, I would be going backwards, so far as my great journey was concerned, but I allowed myself this concession on account of the quality of the food. After all, it is quality food that will best sustain a man for the long journey ahead. Although the cafe was only a few doors away, this short trip had its own measure of significance, retracing my own steps – the steps of the great adventurer! But the journey was too short! In half a minute I was back at the cafe. I took a seat outside and again Rachael came out to take my order.

“I’ll have a large gourmet vegetarian pizza with extra artichoke, sundried tomatoes and sweet potato, on a thick base, as well as fried banana with soy ice cream for dessert and a soy decaf cappuccino in a mug, thanks Rachael.”

“Did you call off your journey?”

“Of course not. Why would you think that? I’m not a quitter.”

“Sorry, I just assumed so because you are still here.”

“I had to go to the salon first and then I realised it was already lunch time. I will be heading off in earnest once I have finished my lunch. Mark my words!”

“Good for you, Eddy.”

So I drank my cappuccino and ate my pizza, though I had some trouble finishing it. I really had to squeeze in those last few slices. I thought I would burst when I still had two slices to go. But I couldn’t waste it – not when I was embarking on an epic journey and needed all the sustenance I could swallow. I could have put the leftovers in a doggy bag but I didn’t want to have to fuss around carrying it once I continued my journey. I could have ducked home and put it in the freezer, but I would rather store up the excess in my bodily reserves, as some animals do – save the surplus for a rainy day. Anyway, I did eventually finish the pizza but then I still had the desert to tackle. I had to wait half an hour till my stomach had digested some of my food before I could fit any in, though I’d already had to wait half an hour in order to fit all the pizza in. I had spilt quite a bit of food on my shirt during the course of this ordeal, but it was not due to carelessness; as my belly swelled I was forced to move further and further from my plate.

When finally I had finished everything there was no way I could get up from my chair. I had to wait another whole hour before I was ready for that mission. In fact, I could hardly walk at all. I had to go back home, and it was fortunate home was just next door. I wouldn’t have been able to walk any further. Then I lay on my bed to recuperate.

I didn’t venture out again that day. But at least I had begun my journey. I had taken that all important first step, and several extra besides. I may have come back home again, but that’s beside the point. And to top it off, I’d had my culinary experience, which was quite a memorable effort – quite a journey in itself, really.

The next day I rose early, determined to make an earlier start than the previous day so that I would reach the next shopping centre well in time for lunch. As I showered and shaved, I psyched myself up for the journey ahead. But why just journey across the continent, I asked myself? I’d begun that journey and it was no challenge at all – save for my culinary experience. I was ready for an even greater challenge. So I determined that I would not just walk across one continent or across even three continents. I was going to walk around the whole world!

As I was heading for my bedroom to get dressed it occurred to me that perhaps I’d already taken that first important step on my great journey. Had I taken it as I stepped from my bed towards the bathroom and not even realised? Indeed, if I was a lazy man, I might have considered my work done for the day and gone back to bed. But I was surely not a lazy man to be embarking on such momentous journey!

Since every day began with a shower and a shave, I decided that the journey proper should not be considered to have commenced till I was out of my house. Once I was dressed I went out my front door and then took a step outside my front gate onto the footpath. It was the first step in my epic journey around the world! I could swear the whole world cried out in adulation, though it was greatly muted. I took several steps then took a seat outside the cafe next door.

Rachael came out to take my order. “Would you like a King’s Breakfast again, oh great adventurer?” she said.

“Are you mocking me?”

“Of course not, Eddy. Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Well, it’s just as well. I will have a King’s Breakfast as well as a black forest cake and a soy chai latte in a mug, thanks Rachael. I will need it to sustain me on yet an even greater journey! I am going to walk around the entire world! In fact, I have already begun!”

“Whatever you say, Eddy.”

“Are you sure you are not mocking me?”

“Of course not.”

“Do you promise?”

“Well, it is a long way. You didn’t get very far in your journey across the continent.”

“But it was no challenge.”

“Don’t you think that maybe it wasn’t such a challenge only because you didn’t persevere with it. After all, you did only get as far as the beauty salon.”

“Hogwash! You sound just like my hairdresser.”

“Well, maybe you should have listened to him. Maybe he was talking sense.”

“But you didn’t hear what he said! You think he talked sense only because I disagreed with him! That, my dear, is a great insult!”

“I’ll tell you what I think. I think you’re insane.”

“How dare you!”

“You need to see a psychiatrist.”

“That’s outrageous! Get me my food or I’ll never dine here again!”

She promptly left my table. She arranged for someone else to bring out my food. The nerve of the woman. Fancy thinking I was insane! Just because a man sets himself the most supreme challenges does not make him mad. Great deeds make great men, they say, and there were plenty of great men around, though I aspired to be the greatest of them all! I may have been unfit and never walked so far as even a few kilometres but that only increased the difficulty and hence the greatness of my endeavour!

Once I had finished my breakfast I had to practically prise my belly from the table, it was bulging so much. I paid the bill then continued on my momentous journey. A few doors up and across the road was the health spa, my next port of call. Shortly I was lying on a comfy padded bench with only my undies on. The masseuse, Juliette, covered me in oil and started massaging me. “You are tense,” she said.

“I am not tense! I am happy with who I am! I am content in the knowledge that I am indeed a great man in the making! I came here so I would be in tip-top shape to continue my journey around the world! That’s how serious I am about my quest! I am not mad!”

“I didn’t mean that you are tense mentally but in the body.”

“Oh.”

“But you know that when some people are mentally stressed it translates into the body, causes knots and stiffness, which can further exacerbate their poor state of mental health. There is nothing more therapeutic than a good massage to soothe one physically and spiritually.”

“Do you think I am insane for endeavouring to walk around the world in my physical condition?”

“Insane is a negative word. You are tense, as I have said. You would be in better physical and spiritual condition if you allowed yourself some restful relaxation. It is good that you came here and I prescribe that following your massage you should spend some time here relaxing. Have a spa. Lie by the pool.”

So I followed her advice. Following my massage I bought a fruit juice and sipped it as I sat in the spa a while. Then I reclined on a banana lounge by the pool and read a magazine as bikini-clad nymphs paraded in front of me. Such indulgences are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of a serious adventurer. It seems I had made it to the health spa just in time. So much stress in body and spirit! Yes, the life of a great adventurer can be tough.