Leaving Letters on the Road
I wedge a scroll of paper addressed “To a boy who reads” in a jar of sand in an Indian restaurant on an island in Indonesia. I leave it to sit cushioned amongst letters written to old lovers and lost friends, and I scoot to the beach with a goldfish bag of rogan josh. Within minutes, I forget I have left anything at all.
Four months later, I receive a mysterious email with a list of books from a boy who reads. It takes me a while to realise the connection, but as soon as I do – sitting at a derelict train station – I gasp. I proceed to order all of the books online, craft the most literary, intelligent response I can muster (he used the word “edification” in his: be still, my heart) and click send. I am now eagerly awaiting a parcel of books and a reply.
In a toilet cubicle in a small town in Italy, I find a journal carelessly jammed between The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and a Lonely Planet Guide to South America. I open it and flick to the middle. I read a journal entry from a girl who has trekked the Himalayas and the Amazon, the Canadian mountains and the Swiss, but writes of her stark, dilapidating loneliness. The entry ends and another begins, but this time it’s a new hand telling of an existential crisis on the road. A pen rolls from the pile on the floor, beckoning me to share the story on my heart – the fear of going home after my Great Adventure and never finding true contentment again.
In the middle of bustling Hanoi, Vietnam, I leave a post-it note on a table with the final lines of a poem I love by Mary Oliver titled ‘The Summer Day’: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I wonder whether this post-it will encourage someone to think about their plan and purpose like it has continued to do so for me.
I graffiti “You are beautiful” on the single seat in a train carriage in my home city of Sydney with permanent marker, because that day, I feel ugly, and maybe the person who will sit there next feels it too and needs to read something positive.
I make sculptures and caves of sticks and leaves in the bush to remind hikers that the things they crush under their feet are beautiful and that maybe they should stop and pause for a while.
Leaving little pieces of art, whether drawn, painted or written, is a charming way of connecting and communicating with a stranger. Doing it on the road can give respite to the lonely, heartbroken or homesick wanderers who need a tangible kiss of sentimentality.
A similar concept has gone viral this month on social media, after Eva Liparova co-wrote a book with strangers on a plane. She “was in a flying metal box between the earth and the universe with people sitting shoulder to shoulder for 11 hours [who] weren’t expected to say a word to each other, because MOVIES. It’s ridiculous. So many potential friends and lovers missed.” She saw the opportunity to connect strangers with each other, and, after passing a journal of questions through the cabin, she watched them introduce themselves and initiate dialogue. A simple, yet beautiful act that reminded passengers that the person sitting beside them was just as human as they are.
It’s easy to think our stories will blow away in the wind, float into a drain or under a bin or into the sea. Maybe that prevents us from doing anything at all. But you know, it doesn’t matter where it goes – we’ll likely never know. Do it just in case.
Leave a hashtag, a username or an email address to encourage contact. Pose a question, something meaningful and insightful, or something you simply want to know (I recently went for “Your go-to recipe, please!”). Wedge a card into your favourite book and leave it somewhere, write a note to the person sitting next to you on the train or sticky tape a poem to the back of a toilet door. You could even write a story and publish it in the abyss with your email address attached, because you never know who might be reading.
Cover by Duong Trần Quốc