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August 2021, Aarau (Switzerland)

“Roger, why did this encounter on the other side of the world feel so different?”

There is a small island, almost 20’000 kilometers away from here, that is mostly covered with rainforest. More than 4 years ago, he met 4 women on this island. Today, he can no longer find the photo he took of them at the harbor.

When traveling alone for weeks, loneliness can become a sort of companion. Of course, he chatted to people, of course, he talked about his home country and about his travel route across the country he was currently in. But deep connections can’t be made if one goes separate ways again after a few days. The encounter on the said small island, however, had been different.

He had gone on a 3-day hike. The path led through the forest and past long, untouched sandy beaches, where fist-sized shells could be found. Roger met no one until he reached an abandoned hut late in the afternoon. 4 women his age were also supposed to spend the night there, but by now he can only remember 3 faces.

In the dark, before falling asleep, one of them was reading from a book. Some comedy book.
“Roger, do you get what it’s about?” she asked after a few minutes.
“Not really, but it sounds interesting.”
“How interesting on a scale from 1 to 10?”
“Maybe a 7.”

His conversations in English were halting, but no less amusing because of it. He rarely spoke to the woman he liked most, however. She seemed shy, which made her likable. He can only remember this one sentence she would say to someone on the second day: “Most important to me is that he just likes me … not much more than that.”
How ironic that he had memorized this sentence in particular.

At 4 am that first night, he got up, went outside to the toilet and looked up to the sky. He had never seen so many stars. As he looked toward the beach, he spotted two birds in the moonlight. He ran back, because he was sure he had seen the famous birds that everyone in New Zealand wants to watch after all.
“There’s a kiwi on the beach, wake up!” he whispered into the dormitory, although he might as well have shouted it, because in the end he wanted them to wake up.
“What’s going on?” a tired voice replied.
“I saw two kiwis, come outside!”
But by the time the four of them hurried outside, the animals were gone. One person had stayed in bed, and rightly so, because it would later turn out that Roger had been fooled by 2 seagulls. They would all laugh about it.

On the second and third day, they hiked together, and after that they ended up back in town.
“This night, we gonna eat dinner at this restaurant over there, do you want to join?”, they asked him to his surprise.
“If I’m allowed to,” he replied.
“Don’t be silly.”
And so he joined.

A few hours later, as they stepped out of the restaurant into the cool evening breeze, he snapped a photo of them at the harbor where the ferry to the mainland would leave the next day. It was the photo he can no longer find today. And that night he would have to cry, even though they had only spent 3 days together. He has never again encountered that laughing, happy bunch since. Sometimes he wonders how they are doing today.
_
(The photo shows the mentioned beach near the hut on Stewart Island in New Zealand.)