The Bruce Chatwin Little Black Notebook
A story about an unexpected, mysterious encounter
Everyone has an inspirational hero. And if you were, like Andrew McGonagall, a travel and adventure addict who dreams of visiting every corner of this planet, and maybe even other planets (who knows, right?), then your hero is probably someone like Bill Bryson, Freya Stark, Paul Theroux, or Jan Morris. Andrew’s hero was Bruce Chatwin, an undeniably brilliant travel writer with whom he shared a love of finely made notebooks.
In his short life, Bruce traveled and documented his visits to countries in all five inhabited continents. Andrew, in the past few years, had traveled to those destinations, and, like Bruce, he kept his notes and observations in small Moleskine black notebooks. Both Bruce and Andrew found the notebooks to help their creative thoughts flow smoothly and more vigorously.
Andrew’s travels were set to end in Nice, France, where Bruce lived his final years. His illness had made him sickly and weak for the last five years of his life. He died in January 1989. Not strong enough to travel anymore, Bruce had tried to satisfy his wanderlust with hikes in the French countryside north of Nice, and it was near the village of Falicon, that our story started.
“It probably was not a particularly good idea to visit southern France in the summer,” Andrew thought to himself as he walked on the hiker’s path towards the pyramid of Falicon. Twenty-seven degrees, with a humidity of seventy percent, made the hike a sweaty affair. Andrew found the humid climate suffocating and had to stop for water and shade every hour or so.
“You are stopping again?! You’re only twenty-seven. My dead grandmother has more stamina than you do,” Andrew’s Egyptian friend, Salem teased as he grinned slyly.
“Not everyone was born under a scorching desert sun. Give me a break,” Andrew retorted, exhausted, as he sat down beneath a tree and opened his water bottle.
“Scotts,” Salem scoffed, “I thought you were tougher than this.”
“Keep talking and I will show you how tough we are,” Andrew replied, laughing, after gulping a couple of mouthfuls of water.
“Ok, tough guy. You have your rest. I will look around for a bit,” said Salem, waving and walking slowly ahead.
“Will catch you in a moment,” Andrew shouted after his friend, then he stretched his back on the grass and closed his eyes as a blissful breath passed over his face.
“I sense your presence, traveler,” a voice whispered. Andrew startled, sitting up so abruptly that his vision blurred for a few seconds.
“I have been waiting for someone like you for years,” the voice whispered again.
“Who’s talking?” asked Andrew as he looked around him looking for the source of the voice. He couldn’t see anything, so he stood up and started walking slowly, searching.
“Dig,” the voice said.
Salem returned at this point, and seeing the puzzled look on Andrew’s face, he asked, “What’s wrong, buddy?”
“The voice. The voice is asking me to dig,” replied Andrew absentmindedly.
“What voice?” asked Salem, now a hint of worry in his voice. He put his backpack on the ground and watched as Andrew went down on his knees and started digging with his hands.
“Buddy, what are you doing?” said Salem as he gently tried to pull Andrew to his feet.
“Dig near the tree,” the voice whispered again, and Andrew raised his eyes to Salem and asked, “Did you hear that? The whisper?”
“No. I didn’t,” said Salem, now positively alarmed. “What are you talking about?”
“The voice. It wants me to dig. It wants me to find it,” stammered Andrew as he walked towards the tree and started digging again.
“Ok. That’s enough. You are clearly delusional. I am calling an ambulance,” said Salem as he picked his cell phone and called the emergency number.
“I am fine. Come help me,” pleaded Andrew.
“Oui. Près de la pyramide. Merci,” said Salem as he finished the call and hung up. “Help is on the way, my friend.”
“Found it,” said Andrew, smiling and looking at his friend. “It’s a small leather bag.”
The little black notebook
The next morning, Andrew answered the knocks on his hotel room door. Salem was standing outside of the room carrying some sandwiches, a cup of coffee, and a bottle of juice on a tray.
“You didn’t show up for breakfast. So, I thought…” Salem broke off without completing the sentence. Andrew moved out of the way to let him in.
“Yesterday in the hospital the doctor said you need to rest. Did you sleep at all? Did you eat anything?” Salem said all that very quickly as he put the tray on a small table in the middle of the room and sat in a chair beside it. On the desk near the balcony, he could see a small black notebook, a silver fountain pen, and a bottle of black ink.
Andrew sat on the chair opposite Salem, picked up a sandwich, and took a small bite, lost in his thoughts. Salem tried to stir a different conversation. “Did you find these in the leather bag?” he asked, looking at the notebook, pen, and bottle.
“Yes. That’s it,” said Andrew, disappointed.
“Is there anything written in the notebook?”
“No. Blank. Just old yellowish paper.”
Salem hesitated for a second before asking, “Did you… Did you hear any voices again?”
Andrew raised his eyes to meet Salem’s, sighed, looked away, then said in a tired voice, “No.”
“You need to rest. Please try to sleep,” said Salem, patting Andrew’s arm, before rising from his chair and heading to the door.
“I will try,” murmured Andrew as Salem left the room and closed the door behind him.
Andrew took a sip of coffee, rose from his chair, and walked towards the desk to look at the items on top of it. He was frustrated because the voice did not talk to him again. He wasn’t afraid of being called crazy. He knew what he heard. He wasn’t delusional. Something inside that bag talked to him, wanted him to find it, but now what? It’s silent, nothing was happening.
He sat at the desk and picked the notebook. It looked very similar to the Moleskine notebooks he loved to carry around for notes and scribbles during his travels. It was a simple black rectangle with rounded corners, an elastic page holder, and an internal expandable pocket. A pocket! Andrew paused. There was something inside that pocket. There was a business card with the words “Property of Bruce Chatwin” hand-written in black ink on one side. On the other side, two words were written: “Say Hello.”
Andrew froze. Bruce Chatwin owned this notebook! A feeling of excitement ignited in his chest, replacing the heaviness of frustration. The ink pattern on the card told him that the words were written with a fountain pen. Maybe, that exact same pen that was in the bag.
He quickly filled the pen with ink, opened the first page of the notebook, and wrote, “Hello.”
“Hello!” The word scribbled itself on the page just below the word he had written. Andrew’s heartbeats started to race, his eyes wide with a mixture of alarm and ecstasy, and without thinking, he wrote, “Is this Bruce Chatwin?”
“Indeed! I am Bruce Chatwin, and you are?” The words scribbled themselves on the page below the question.
Andrew’s brain buzzed with excitement. He felt like his brain had turned into fluffy clouds. What was happening here was nothing short of magic.
“My name is Andrew McGonagall, sir. I am an adventurer and a writer,” he wrote quickly.
“Pleasure to meet you, Andrew. You must be a true adventurer if the notebook chose you,” Bruce wrote.
“I am an adventurer, yes. I followed your footsteps around the world. I am a big fan, sir,” Andrew wrote quickly.
“Please. Call me Bruce. I have to say, this is not how I imagined my first interaction with a living human would be. You are taking this very well. Are you not alarmed that a notebook is writing back to you?”
“Well… I am interested in how this is happening more than anything. You see, I write fiction, too. I write about magic. So, this is like a dream come true for me. Magic in real life!”
“Very well, Andrew. Very well. You have earned it. Let me tell you the story. During the five years of illness I suffered before my untimely death, I was consumed by one thought: I did not want to die. I was too young, and the world had so much more to offer. When it became clear that I only had a few months to live, I started writing my autobiography in this notebook you have in your hands. As I poured my soul and sorrows into writing everything I ever did or experienced, wishing beyond anything to experience more, a part of my soul infused itself into the notebook. Bit by bit, it trickled onto the paper surface with each drop of ink I used. I felt it happening, and while I did not plan it, I was glad it happened. Whenever I had finished writing, the ink would go back to the bottle, and the pages were wiped clean. I decided to keep the notebook, pen, and ink safe in a hidden place, until such time when a worthy explorer should find them. The notebook became sentient, and it could feel the souls of people walking by it in the forest. It chose you because it felt adventure in your veins.”
Andrew finished reading and didn’t know what to say. Not even in his wildest dreams did he think such a thing could happen. But before he could reply with anything, the page flipped, as the first page was now full, and words started appearing on the new page.
“I have a gift for you, Andrew. A gift worthy of an adventurer like yourself. During one of my travels, I came by a small ancient Inca statue, but couldn’t take it at the time. It should bring you a small fortune if you sell it to a respectable art collector. But you have to promise me something first,” wrote Bruce.
“Anything,” replied Andrew.
“You will take this notebook, pen, and ink with you on all your travels, and you will write to me whenever you have had an amazing adventure. Share with me what you are experiencing, so I can experience it with you as well. This way, I will continue to live on, through this notebook.”
“Very well,” wrote Bruce, then a map started to appear on the third page of the notebook. A map of Ecuador.
“The statue is deep within a hidden temple in the forest of Ecuador, this map will help you get there. Let’s have an adventure, Andrew, shall we?”
Six months later
“Mr. Goldberg paid twenty-thousand dollars for the statue. Not bad at all. I might actually do more of this treasure hunting business from now on,” said Andrew as he handed Salem the money bag.
“You mean We, right? Don’t forget who saved you from that boa constrictor in the forest,” said Salem, stuffing the bag into the car trunk and moving to take the passenger seat, while Andrew turned on the car.
“Saved me?” scoffed Andrew, “You terrorized the poor thing. It was sleeping!”
“Whatever,” said Salem. “Where to next?”
“I don’t know,” said Andrew, steering the car into the busy streets of London. “Let’s ask our friend in the little black notebook.”
To learn more about Bruce Chatwin's fascination with notebooks, please watch:
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