She had been to this place before. That was why, in her darkest hour, Kristjana had returned; she remembered the city from some far away dream of happier times and had come searching for it as though it were still to be found. She had not felt lost the last time she had stepped through Damascus Gate and walked among the hot, narrow, noisy streets of old Jerusalem, or if she had, she had not cared then. At eighteen years old, everything—even loneliness—had felt like an adventure. The space of a few short years could change everything, and Kristjana told herself that she might as well be an old woman, walking cautiously down the stone steps to a crypt where she felt more at home than among the jostle of the living.
She found the place she had sat on her last journey, partially hidden by a wall of smooth rock. It sheltered her from the gaze of anyone else who might wander round, and it was close to the tabernacle and the glow of the sanctuary lamp. When she had sat there as a gap year traveller, her head had still been full of the literary classics she was cramming for university, and she had thought in a pretentious moment that it would be a good idea to do what Sebastian Flyte had suggested in Brideshead: leave something precious in that place so that if life did not turn out as she had so hopefully planned it, she could return again and find the object. That way she could remember for a moment what it had felt like to be young and free and contented.
Kristjana was still young, though she had never been truly contented with life and was certainly not free. She was Scheherazade, a woman with a story to tell or to discover, whose only weapon to evade death was to be found in the weaving of stories. And somewhere in amongst all those mysterious threads of memory and make-believe, she thought she could discover a powerful enough reason to stay alive. Kristjana knew that if she stepped outside into the heat she had so recently escaped, she would find a stone pool where long ago a blind man was sent to wash the mud from his eyes and saw the world for the first time. That was why they all came, the tourists and the pilgrims in their orange baseball caps, visitors by the air-conditioned coach load. They were all explorers of a kind, hoping that in this most sacred and most divided of cities they might find the world and all its meaning in a blaze of overpowering light.
Kristjana was not like them, she was not an explorer by nature. If she was anything, she was a deserter hoping to hide among this forest of humanity—and where better for a refugee than a land of refugees? She was not even sure what she was running from, but in that worst year of her entire life she felt desperately frightened, not of the past, the place from which most people run, but of the future and what might be in store for her.
When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.
It was never easy to know where to start any tale. That was why writers and storytellers relied on formulas to get the narrative moving: “Once upon a time”, “In the middle of the journey of my life”, “Tell me, Muse”. Kristjana’s story began with the words of Tennyson: “When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see”. That was how she had come to find herself hundreds and hundreds of miles away from home, sitting in ponderous silence. That was how it had started, far away in London, the city she called home, when she had looked into the future and seen nothing. Nothing, the sum of all human fears. She had convinced herself that she had no future, that there was nothing to look forward to, nothing to work for, and it was in that bleak, bewildered frame of mind that she had committed the craziest act of her entire life.
There is a little part of every person that dreams of doing this, but most adults are too rational and too anchored by life to contemplate actually going through with it.