About five years ago I briefly swapped coffee shop meet-ups with friends for walks around the city. This was in Cambridge. A place which in the warmer months is lovely to traverse by foot or bike. Wandering the streets with others – as an alternative to sitting in a house or a cafe – had a relaxed intimacy, gained – who knows – from the air, or the greenery, the reddish antique bricks or the interweaving of visitors from around the globe.
Yesterday I rediscovered the same pleasure but for a different purpose. I was told three weeks ago by my surgeon to walk. She prescribed it along with painkillers, bed rest and the firm advice to laugh regularly. (It’s hard not to be cheerful around dear Dr Fadwa. You can read more about her here.)
‘It’s good for healing,’ she asserted with a physician’s authority, (who could argue with that?)
I started walking slowly around the apartment, dodging the sofas, picking up the odd sock, re-arranging a bookshelf as I went. Clearing up is great if the place actually needs it but there are limits to the powers of recuperation found indoors. So I ventured out.
We live on a stretch of land still under construction. The noise from brick being smashed and cranes wielding their mighty clamour had initially put me off opening the outer door.
But then I saw that there were birds. They look different here, wings watercoloured with streaks in fancy shades. They hang out in groups of twenty, rising like dust in the wind when their seating areas are disturbed. They perch on the roof, cooing in idiom.
There were cats too. Beautiful perhaps, but the neighbour’s rescue wadi-cat is not popular in our household. (He enjoys nothing more than to sidle onto the balcony and greet our female cat with cobra-like hisses and territorial spraying.) Each week he wears a new collar, the previous one most likely lost in a brawl.
I watched his brief stand-off with a black and white tom. Camera-happy I tried to catch his feline form in a natural pose. Grudgingly he acquiesced, snarling unrepeatables beneath fine whiskers.
I realised that to walk is to have freedom. That in movement there is a gradual shaking out from one’s self.
The communal back garden is not large but it has hills and greenery. On a clear day the contour of the mountains which surround half of the city of Muscat can be seen.
When I walk, all that feels strange and unsure realigns. Treading on grass has its own rhythm, a balance, connecting the earth with the flats of my feet, facing the vast skies.
With each breath, nature appeases pain. Miles of emerald grass distract, display their brightest shades. Step by step, the hand-hold that is nature supports. It heals.