The job add was in the newspaper I delivered in the city -a weekly full of commercials and readers questions that was standing on it’s last legs. Even the weather report and horoscope had been budgeted out. The paper was known for it’s cheap advertising space, cheap enough to compete with internet marketplaces, which resulted in amusing descriptions of second hand items, splendid coupons and personal ads.
Due to the unstable internet connection it was impossible to video call. An actual in person visit was undesirable. Instead I was asked to deliver documents: swimming diploma’s, a CV, letter of motivation, a handwriting sample, and a filled in personality quiz that seemed made up. DRAWING BASED ON THE POEM FROM 2014, ABOUT CHOOSING BETWEEN OPPOSITES AND WORD PAIRS
Proof of excellent health was required. To be honest I avoided thinking of this until the day of the deadline, because I didn’t know how to do this. At last I sent them some sporty vacation photos, a print out of my payments to the gym, and added a plaster cast of my teeth from the orthodontist to show them everything looked good and straight, even my wisdom teeth.
TEETH DRAWING BASED ON PHOTO
The drop off point was at a beach in the north of the country. It seemed ridiculous, expecting the package to end up on the island by throwing it in the ocean. When I arrived there, more people were releasing their job applications, which was awkward, yet reassuring. The only one who made conversation was a lady who needed material to waterproof her appliction -to no success. She was out of the race.
I was in my early twenties and I wanted to work on the island to get away from other people. The village I grew up in doesn’t exist anymore and the city I resided in was overflowing with tourists. The roads couldn’t handle all the traffic and I tasted the exhaustion fumes in the air I breathed. The rents were rising faster than the sea level, causing my friends and acquaintances to move away after our studies were over. I was living in a shared flat and was hyperaware of all the daily rhythms of my roommates and neighbors due to the sounds floating into my room.
It was easy to dream away about a life on the famously disconnected island for the einzelgangers and writers who were working on their manuscripts, offline and off grid.
I wasn’t working on any manuscript, didn’t have ideas of my own. I wanted to escape from all the voices and input around me, to find out what would occur to me when I was alone.
When I got the position I was expected at the island asap. I sold my things, gave my new address to my friends and family, and happily quit all my side jobs. My surfer friend gave me a neat wetsuit, bright red. “I’ll come visit!’ she promised, and she did, after some years.
The ferry trip took three hours. Because I travelled alone I was approached often by people who wanted to socialize. I wasn’t in the mood. Turned the questions around, asked all about their stay on the island. Most of them came for the sand sculpture tournament that would take place the upcoming weekend. The ban on phones, digital camera’s ect., had turned it into a hype that you had to come experience in person. The radio report was so colorful it attracted a full house. Two thousand tickets were available and they went for a high price. This, I later found out, financed the existence of the islanders.
The second half of the boat trip I stood on the top deck, looking at the island getting closer and closer, until I could make out the lighthouse turned radio tower. I was smoking my last cigarettes at a fast pace -smoking was forbidden on the island. While a voice on the intercom announced our arrival I donated my lighters to the kitchen staff on the boat. “Are you sure?” they asked, and I shrugged.
The passengers formed a neat line to the control post. A big white tent stood on the beach. Phones, laptops, other electronics and environmentally unfriendly possessions were taken away. I was the first one to go through, because they were in a hurry to get me set up. The thick plastic of the tent wasn’t attached properly and it made loud noises when it beat in te wind. “AH YES THE NEW POST COURIER WITH THE GREAT TEETH” was the only thing I really understood one checking my bad to have said. My luggage was in order, thumbs up. I received a package with many maps of the area. **ABSTRACT DRAWINGS**
WELCOME from the fifty households on the island, written on a piece of cardboard held by a man called Steve. Might he carry my backpack (No thank you). Together we walked the opposite way from the stream of tourists that were headed to the hotel. If I was excited, he asked, before getting started on a short story about his health.
And did I know we exist of eighty percent water. A bit less than that, I remembered: sixty. “Not on the island -ha. The sea wind blows more water into your pores.”
“You just wait,” he said “You’re going to feel fantastic. Water is healing!”
** DRAWINGS OF WATER CRYSTALS **
My house was built agains the dunes. It stood on wooden poles. First you had to go up the stairs, to the porch where a bunch of solid furniture stood, before entering though the big glass doors. I looked in, afraid of spotting ugly decor, but everything was fine and simple. A white couch, a rocking chair, a large, sturdy table.
Steve concluded our meeting by stating he would not invite himself in. The rest of the evening I didn’t see any other human being.
Around eight o’clock a dog ran across the shoreline.
**DRAWING OF A RUNNING HORSE**
The first night I ran my fingers over all the objects and furniture in my new house, perhaps to claim them. I laid out the maps and papers on the table to get to know my route in this unfamiliar place. At 7am the next morning I was going to get up, put on my wetsuit, and collect the mail bag that had traveled from the main land to the island, carried there by the sea currents. The red flag indicated the designated landing spot but there were variations. Sometimes I would have to dive in to find the mail in the water. The maps were not very good, so I decided to go with the proposed route that was marked.
I ate five energy bars for dinner, and fell asleep easily by the sound of the waves.
I stood in front of the mirror for a long time before heading out, wearing the bright red wetsuit. For some reason I had expected someone to wait for me outside. A collegue, a manager, or just a curious soul. I was alone.
I spotted the mail bag from my porch, neatly washed up by the flag, laying in the sand according to plan, dragged with the sea current from there to here.
I picked it up and went back inside. I made coffee, put on a warm sweater, and stationed myself outside. All the letters came out of the bag without water damage.
The sun heated my face, the seagulls were screeching above my head and I smiled. This was the perfect, easy job. I stacked the letters -26- and folded open some maps that I had bind together in a book.
Nearly everybody came out to greet me that day. They were eager to get to know me. We complained about the big city, the digital economy and smartphones in general. I explained this was my dream job because I love swimming, hiking, and the beach.
I ended my route at the supermarket where I bought as many groceries as I could carry. I ate a baguette while walking home, not feeling bothered to cook dinner.
At ten in the evening I was a bit drunk and I stood in line for the phone booth. One of the authors was reading a new scene to her editor. It was so moving I started to cry. She perked up a bit when she noticed, but we politely ignored each other. When it was finally my turn I called my parents to tell them I was incredibly happy, and asked them if they could read out the subtitles of the movie they were watching until I ran out of coins.
DRAWINGS OF THE SCENES AND WORDS
The second day I overslept, somewhat according to plan. Yesterday’s shift had lasted ten hours. It must have been because I had gotten lost a few times, and had spent so many hours introducing myself. This morning I walked to the flag in my pyjamas. No mail bag. I felt dumb for expecting to be lucky twice in a row, and returned home to put on my wetsuit. I swam around until I noticed something bright red. The bag was stuck in a vortex. I dove down and pulled it to me. I had been informed the last bit of the post current was a loop that often caught the mail, letting it spin around in a blockage.
Out of curiousity I considered diving in the vortex. I felt it pull me if I got very close. I decided to wait a few weeks, until I had become a stronger swimmer, and maybe ask someone on the beach to keep an eye out for me.
The plan was to do this shift in under five hours. Unfortunately I got held up quite a bit. I was asked to deliver some news from person to person. Joyce told me a story one time, let me repeat it, corrected my intonations, let me tell it again, before approving and sending me over to Agnes, who lived only two houses away.
The next day I was forced to describe Agnes’ response to the story in details. How was her body language? Did she laugh? Can you imitate her facial expression when you described the loaf of bread? Why didn’t you pay better attention? It would be useful if you became better at telling stories.
And so I practiced everybody’s mimicry, voice, hand gestures, body language, way of walking. I moved slower when I imitated Ann, learned to tumble over my own words when doing George. After two years I mastered Dennis’ nervous tremble which always worsened as the sand sculpture tournament got closer -he was part of the planning committee. I carried props: sunglasses, normal glasses, two different kinds of hats, a woolen sweater and a flanel shirt.
AS THE DAYS BECAME SHORTER THE LETTERS GREW LONGER
The darkness of winter makes everybody feel lonely, even the islanders. They started gossip just for the sake of generating more messages, and my shifts could last up to thirteen hours.
I had been told that several of the islanders have a genetic mutation that results in an exceptionally bad sense of direction. There are many dog owners depending on their pets to guide them back when they left the house. Another general characteristic of the islanders is that they are moody. After years of intense conflicts it was decided to make a communal effort to decrease the amount of encounters between people.
It had become almost a taboo to visit each other. They became avid letter writers instead. If one was feeling argumentative there were always the tourists coming and going. Or the post courier.
Agnes lost her reading glasses my first winter and she had become my favorite address to visit. We broke the unofficial rules against social gatherings and ate lunch together. I read her the letters she received from her people on the mainland. Full of memories, news from her family and friends. I wrote replies with a golden fountain pen with her name on it.
After Agnes recovered her reading glasses Max lost his. It became a long letter exchange between the two of them before Max finally believed Agnes had not robbed him. Agnes sent him a long list of suggestions and one of them led to finding them. Max was so ashamed of his misplaced anger he didn’t open the door for five days when I was sent to deliver him stories. I wrote them in the sand in front of his house. DRAWINGS The sixth day he came outside to meet me and complained about his violated privacy. I apologized without meaning it.
Everybody was always home at the hour I usually came to them.
After a few months I had a hang of everybodies accents and communication styles. The islanders seemed to consider my verbal messages as neutral. Though even the order of the words influenced how something was perceived. Sometimes I felt too powerful: if I exaggerated someone’s expression the recipient of the message responded differently. When I was tired I could not convey the right energy, which tainted the original message.
All residents were on the board of the island. The meetings were scaled down to just two a year. Most other verbal communication went through me. After some gruelling long shifts that would not have been as long if I only delivered the actual post in my bag, I spotted a copy machine in the supermarket.
When I noticed it I froze in my steps and stared at it for a long time. Anger bubbled up inside me, and it continued to flood over me in waves on the long walk home.
I pulled out my contract for the first time since I had started to look up if I had any specific instructions on when to deliver the mail.
At two in the morning I sat down by the flag post, and stared at the ocean. The big flashlight was pointed in the direction of the vortex, waiting for the bright red mail bag to drift into the vortex, where it would either get stuck or be steered to the beach. I was planning to deliver before everybody got up, to avoid any interactions.
The bag arrived around three. I rushed inside to look at the letters and shaped an efficient route. By now I knew the island like the back of my hand. I put on my best gear, and headed out. While deliviering eighteen letters all the islanders were still asleep. Seven oclock I finished, sweaty and thirsty. I took a detour home, through the dunes, with sand too loose to support a house. I met a pheseant with chicks, and spent some time staring at them, tired and content.
I locked my door and windows, shut my curtains, DRAWING OF CURTAINS TAPED TO WALL TO PREVENT ANY PEEKING IN, DRAWINGS OF PEOPLE LOOKING IN and went to bed.
The sun was setting when I rose and I felt confused. My anger and feeling of triumph had both gone down, to be replaced by a notion of nothingness. Breakfast food or dinner? What should I do with my extra time? After my cereal and fruit I decided to visit friends at the hotel.
in case it would trap the post bag today. Today I was going to avoid my employees, all 66 of them.
The mail washed up around half past two. I laid out the letters on the kitchen table, noting the addresses and making an efficient route. I had trouble concentrating but I could count on my intuition by now. Shortcuts popped up into my head automatically.
It was scary but fun to walk around in the dark. The soundscape was different, and I relied on my headlamp to find my path. The placement of garden furnitures, fences, ponds and trees were all etched into my memory. It was an efficient night. On the way back home I took the quiet route through the dunes, where the sand was too loose to build on. I encountered a pheasant with chicks, and started at them, tired, sweaty, thirsty and happy.
I woke up confused. My anger and satisfaction at having outsmarted the islanders had subdued, leaving me feeling empty.
I ate cereal, chewing slowly and considered opening the curtains. What if somebody was looking for me? I really didn’t want to meet anybody. What should I do now? I had nine hours untill my shift began. I cleaned my place, something I’d been too tired to do for months. DRAWINGS OF A DUSTER PASSING BY OBJECTS FROM THE BEACH OR DRAWING FROM THE OBJECTS OR JUST A TIDY SOMETHING.
I had the radio on softly, letting the sounds of the songs mix in with the sounds of the waves. I realized I didnt have a lot of things to entertain myself with. Around ten I was too restless to stay home longer, and I headed for the hotel. When I passed by a phone booth I felt my pockets for coins. My friend Marly picked up. She had been pushing for a long time for me to not work so hard, and was very proud of me. She was watching tv with her boyfriend and they put me on speaker for a while, close to a speaker, describing the images that went with the sounds I heard. When are you coming to the main land? They asked, and I heard myself say, next winter.
The hotel employees were in good spirits and welcomed me to their room in the back. Did you have a nice shift? I start in a few hours! I explained my new tactic and they thought it was at least good that I tried it out. I dont know about shifting your system like that man, one said. You are an early bird, right. Can an early bird turn into a night owl?
After a week I fell into a hole. I had grown so tired I lost my focus, stepped right into it. Some of the tourists get very restless without wifi and and up just digging at the beach for days. I was aware of having to pay special attention near the hotel. Everybody knew it. It was a two man job just managing those holes, closing them up before other tourists hurt themselves.
I felt so stupid, dragging myself to the reception. It was eleven at night and I had planned just ordering some food before heading back to the beach to start my shift.
There were no doctors on the island. The trauma helicopter was obligated to come when we called from down here.
This had become ..
The argument for the necessity of my verbal delivery service was that it would be too much work to write fifty plus letters to all the households, and impossible to visit each other amongst themselves.
I was forced during times of discussions regarding the operations on the island to visit every single house on the island, instead of the twenty or so addresses that were receiving mail. This could take up to fifteen hours on a day of crisis. They had asked me to visit the houses twice daily, gathering opinions on the first round and then a collection of replies to each others opnions -or just a count of votes- on the way back.
When I had told them there were not enough hours in the day they responded in disbelief. I thought your shifts lasted about three hours, and we pay you for eight? Wasn’t I basically paid to do what I would do in my free time: go for hikes, drink lots of coffee, and talk with friends. Did I not write in my job application that I loved doing these things? I wanted to scream that my friends would never treat me this way, make me work so hard, destroying my health, stealing my time. I replied calmly that free time and work time were still spent and experienced very differently. The idea of making two rounds a day died out without much of a struggle.
After discovering the copy machine I started to see that the rational behind my workload did not hold up. First of all, the islanders all did their groceries at the supermarket. They could get around, they didn’t like leaving their houses. They could make enough copies of the letters with questions, votes or proposals they wanted to spread. While I was glaring at the ocean I decided to never give them another reenactment
The mail arrived at twenty three past three. I picked up the waterproof, bright red bag and took it to my kitchen table to shape the route I would walk. By now, three years after first moving here, I knew the island like the back of my hand. Counting in the shortcuts and a quick pace, I hoped to be done at six in the morning, before most people .
It was harder to orient myself in the dark but I managed. There were foxes in the dunes, hurrying away from me.
The night shifts were messing with my health. I picked up the bag at three, finished my shift at 8, slept untill 16h, had a late breakfast with the curtains shut, because the islanders were stalking me outside of my house, trying to catch me for converstaion. As I peeked from behind my curtains I saw them standing quite close to each other, conversing, lauging and smiling, waving their hands in the air while telling stories. Ann and Margaret hugged. They hugged. After their feud of 12 years they made up in front of the mail carrier who was willing to become a night own just to avoid all the people she worked for.
Around 11pm I would be at the hotel to hang out with the people working there.