It had been a while since Nina found herself washed up upon that quiet and secluded shore and it should not be expected that she should still be found there. As, unvisited as it is by fishermen and other shore-huggers, and that for good reason, it is not privacy that Nina craves above all else, although it may sometimes seem to others to be so. It is stasis that is her worst enemy and biggest fear, however. She had not eaten any of the reeds that grew by the sand, which was a good move, but there was nothing else to be seen of her presence either. She was gone.
She had gone inland, specifically, away from the unbroken, terminal line that was the sea. She was headed toward civilisation, if she could find it – it was destination used in an abstract sense. She didn’t know if she was headed in the best direction, only that she was headed in the only direction she was prepared to head in. She would find civilisation eventually, it was always there in the end.
As she travelled Nina searched for a road, willing to make the cross-country hike until she found one and secure in the knowledge, or at least the working assumption, that roads were always connected to cities, or towns, or hamlets, or even individual houses. At the very least, someone who could tell her where she was and where she would have to go. It is hope, as they so often say, that keeps us going. Here, at least, they are wrong.
Nina was used to living in this manner, to grabbing what she could from the natural abundance that surrounded her. It was easy when you knew how, a trick as simple and as automatic as breathing. A root here, a berry there, you could almost forget that you were doing it, although it only seemed to work for one. But that was because one person could go hungry for days without noticing it. You just had to believe that the landscape you wandered through really was as magical, as replete with shifting mystery, as it seemed to your misfiring senses – you just had to let the hallucinations of starvation go unchallenged, so that they passed instead for clarity of vision.
It is only when others share your pain, when another’s suffering attempts to intrude upon your own that it becomes apparent for what it is, that it becomes noticeable as suffering. A companion will always remain steady, to remind you of their, and your, misfortune, with nothing more than their presence, their haggard expression and their sunken features. Their visions, different to your own, will therefore cancel yours out. Two together will see nothing but their own, shared, separate pain.
Nina was better, much better, alone, carving tracks of her own volition and scratching out a path amongst the almost infinite possibilities that were available to her. The air, the earth and the woods, and the other secret places surrounding, were barren. They were free of magic and fairies, but laden only with the fruit and slow moving, active animal life of late summer. No mushroom rings beckoned with the promise of other worlds, nor did the sky oppress with strange winds and even stranger shadows. Instead, all was freshness and clearheaded beauty.
Far away from any cities, far out in the wild, there was peace and order and, of course, the old way of things. There was no difference. Because, although everyone is entitled to be who they are, difference can be disconcerting. Complicating. So unnecessary. Out here, it need not be an issue.
It should be noted that Nina does not think this way, does not think so badly of the complications that difference entails. Or at least, does not allow it, when these thoughts come unbidden and unstoppable into her mental fortress, to go unchallenged. Does not let the thoughts take root but instead she argues, as she often does, that this is not the right way to be.
There is often blood.
And let it not be forgotten that in these southern reaches, where the air is cool and the people pale, Nina is a beacon of difference in herself. But only when she is not on her own, wandering and starving, in the wilderness.