In part three of our arctic journey our Kenyan explorer is one step closer to revealing what the true motive for embarking on this expedition is
“They looked just like you, the boys who ran into my wife and my daughter. But they were young, and they had drunk too much.” I don’t think I could have stopped Erik talking now, even if I wanted to. “I have carried this bitterness with me for so long. Just as I thought I had forgotten enough of it to move on, to go back and love again, here you come, looking, walking and talking like them. Believe me when I tell you I almost asked them to find you a replacement to take you to the Pole.”
I wasn’t surprised. Though not frosty, our first meeting was no love at first sight. I sipped the scalding hot coffee and caught his eye.
“I am no racist,” he continued, his eyes boring into mine. “But in my 40 years of Arctic exploration, I have never taken an African man to the Pole. So for my last client to be a Kenyan is just heart wrenching, a constant reminder, even though I know you are a victim like me”.
I shifted, uncomfortable at being called a victim by a man that knew so little about me.
“So,” he went on, “tell me truly why you do this. Because if I am to be reminded that I brought my family to the beach just to get away from the snow and ended up shattering the lives of my twin grandchildren, it had better be for more than fame.”
I stared at him blankly, empathy and sympathy fighting for real estate within me. He did not blink.
“I had many problems as a young man growing up”, I began, but he waved me silent. “That is everyone’s life story. Give me reason.” I glared at him. Who was he to purport to know me? To hell with him, I glared some more. Then I hesitated, outside the wind howled menacingly, the tent flapping excitedly. I reached out to the percolator to pour myself a last cup for the night, it was empty, without my noticing, Erik had helped himself to the last of it.
“I had to get away and I was out of options. I was consumed by horrible thoughts… I… I…” They had warned me that if I did leak water from my eyes I had to wipe it off immediately. Which was annoying because it made being discreet about waterworks impossible.
“I was struggling to see a way out of my misery. Then one day I read about the people of Qausuittuq and how they were lied to and forced to settle here just to maintain Canadian sovereignty over Resolute Bay. And yet they thrive. Not only that, they found out about whale migration patterns and began hunting them.” I paused, reestablishing eye contact before forging on: “I thought to myself how horrible it must have been for these people, forced to restart their lives in harsh conditions, alone and unshielded. I realised that change is not a capacity humans have but a quality and decided I would come to Resolute, to see these children of Resolve. They would not quit, they could not. When change was forced upon them, they chose to change with it. So I come here to show myself that I too can choose to change.”
I wiped away a tear from my eye, the defiance that comes with a man’s tears broken in the face of a truth that I had been the last to learn.
“This is good. Maybe we find healing together. Amaruq lost his best girl two nights ago from hypothermia. So we all heal. We go to the Pole.”
He lifted his cup, nodded, and drained his cup to its last dregs. I did the same with my own cold coffee. A little look of understanding passed between us. We were going to the Pole.