Oasis of Escape

Part Two

I thought the walk home would help clear my mind: I didn’t want to think about school. I spend so much time there I can hardly think of anything else. I walked, and the heat made a trickle of sweat run down my back and wet my waistband. I heaved my bag higher on my shoulder and trudged on, imagining the swimming pool waiting for me at home. As I walked I liked to let my eyes slip out of focus and my eyelids droop, so I could half-see a haze of heat and sun and sky. I imagined the tar road I was walking on as a long stretch across the Sahara desert, the waterless brown grass alongside me were the endless dunes and far in front, the peaks of the roofs of my neighbour’s houses were the ancient pyramids. I smelled the dust of the dry ground kicked up by my steps mixed with the smell of sap from the pines I walked under and suddenly I was transported away from the desert. I was strolling through the pine forest, the splotchy shadow cooling me and the needles crunching under my feet.

These imaginings helped. It’s the way I cope with having to walk all the way home. The walk home after school is daunting, especially after a long, hot day. I suppose by just letting myself float it makes the time go quicker and the journey seem shorter.

I passed a park, and thought of squeezing under the gap in the fence to take the shortcut, and that would need me to walk over a piece of wilderness. I liked the untamed spaces in between the edge of one suburb and the beginning of the next. It is a place that nobody goes: it is a place to hide and think about things that aren’t school and friends and home and work. It’s an escape. I had an escaping place in the wilderness like that, beneath the branches of a giant protea in a sea of sour fig. There was a small rock for sitting on, and a box with useful things in it. I thought about going back soon. I liked it there, when the weather was a bit cooler. You could sit and watch the clouds roll past and think of flying. Leading up to it was a little path that was almost overgrown. It must have been first used forever ago. As far as I knew I was the only one who used it anymore. The bush grew thick and fast and if I didn’t walk there often, it would completely take over and I would be the only one who’d know there used to be a path there.

I remember a book I read about wandering through nature, the wilderness. The author said that humans need to escape as much as we need hope. I thought to myself that I needed some escape today. I took the shortcut, like I had done a thousand times before, throwing my bag over the fence before bending down and pushing the wire upwards so I could squeeze under. I lay on my back and stuck my head through, then my shoulders, sliding further and further.

It was at about waist height that I felt a slight tugging at my belt. I looked there and saw a wire wasn’t pushed properly up, and had caught on my pants. Worse, it looked like it had already started tearing in. I was still holding the wire up with my arms. The sun was in my eyes and the dust was in my hair and sweat was trickling across my face and now my arms were starting to shake. If I reached down I could just unhook the wire and carry on. But that would mean letting go of the fence, which would spring back and definitely tear more than just a small hole in my pants. My arms shook with the effort of bearing against the springy fence. The only thing I could do was to carry on going. I carefully slid further up. I didn’t hear any tearing, so I tried again. This time came a ripping noise and a less gentle tug. I felt my stomach churn as I imagined what must be happening to my pants. But I was almost out. One giant push and I would make it. My arms were about to give in. I tensed my legs. With one final shove and a colossal tearing noise, I was free!

I looked at the fence, only to see that my pants didn’t make it. Tatters of grey cotton hung from the wire where I got caught. They say that dreaming of being naked in public means that you’re going to be very lucky. This wasn’t a dream and it wasn’t very lucky at all. I felt the dread that you get when you realise you’re wearing the wrong clothes. You know that feeling when you arrive somewhere and you’re worried that you’ll be the only one dressed up and everyone will look at you and just shake their heads? That feeling crept over me as I looked down and saw skin where there should be pants. I froze. I was wearing about half a pair of pants. Luckily it was the top half.

Crunching gravel told me there was a car passing nearby. My brain went into overdrive: I could not be seen like this by anyone ever. I snatched up my bag and dived behind a bush. I found myself uselessly holding my breath. The car rolled past. I needed to get home as soon as I could: this was a real emergency. But there was no way I was going to let myself walk through the streets with half a pair of pants. I had to take a moment to think.

I had an idea: still hidden behind the bush, I got my pair of scissors out of my bag. I toyed with the idea of cutting off the leg in a straight line, but that would make it too short. I thought I could maybe staple the pants back together. That would probably look ridiculous, and I would have to take them off to do it. I thought about what would happen if someone came walking through the park and seeing me squatting on the ground, pantsless, panicking and stapling what looked like an old torn up sack together. I imagined walking into the house with stapled pants and having to explain to my mother why I was covered with dust and full of staples. Neither of these thoughts brought me much comfort. I decided I’d just have to make sure she never finds out. Besides, they’re my pants: I had bought them. I can staple them if I want to.

A few minutes with the stapler later, I had a sad mess of what once had been a good pair of pants. It must have looked absolutely ridiculous, but I just kept telling myself that it was completely unnoticeable. I put it on. As long as I didn’t move too much or too suddenly, the staples would probably not dig in or cut me. I heaved my bag back onto my back, and started walking, painfully and slowly.

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About Peter Bates

I'm a young guy in Cape Town, studying English and History, and teaching at high school level. I love to write and to work in theatre, both on and behind the stage. View all posts by Peter Bates

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