Two of us crouched on the small balcony, gazing up at stars forming in the night sky of Chiang Mai. Light rain started drizzling down across the horizon like it was in sync, the way it apparently does most nights of the year there.
I watched Mark close his eyes slowly and let the rain splash all over his forehead and drip down the front of his cheeks. It trickled quickly down to his shoulders and began dampening his shirt. He didn’t move.
Mark had one of those classic stories you read about in travel novels. He was paying his way across Asia by washing up and changing bedding at a hostel. Some would call him a drifter, others would call him lost. He was a journeyman, but most journeyman have a destination in mind. He did not. Nor could he really say for sure where he was from. His mother was Brazilian, and his father Jamaican. He’d been living on the road for most of his life, moving from one place to another with curiosity, abandon and a genuine lightness.
The days leading up to that I had seen him a few times hanging around the hostel, throwing some towels around, reading a book, having drinks and smiling like every moment was precious. He loved to sit and listen. He loved organising everyone’s bedding. He loved when he was drinking. He loved when he was not drinking. Having stayed in Chiang Mai for a few months already, he loved the rain.
His dreadlocks were probably dirty, but they equally looked like they held answers to many of life’s questions.
So I thought I’d have a crack.
We had talked in passing before, but this time I just opened my mouth and started sharing all of the problems I hadn’t solved yet. I talked about how badly I wanted my career to come together, how carefully thought-out planning about finding myself on a solo backpacking trip through Asia hadn’t happened yet, how I desperately wanted to find out now, right now, what I’m supposed to do with my life, like everyone else I knew.
He kept listening, so I kept going. I told him I hadn’t taken any photos I really wanted to share online yet, that I didn’t know who I was, and threw in that someone stole my microfibre towel at the last hostel and there was a loud guy on the bus that kept me awake all night.
After exhausting the entire list of complaints I had about the universe up until that week, I eventually just stopped.
I looked deep into his dreadlocks.
‘Shanti, shanti,’ he finally said after 5 minutes of silence.
‘What does that mean?’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Slow down, dickhead. It’s called a journey for a reason. You’re missing the view.’