It was against all common sense that I followed that man.
Not that sense was all that common these days, I reminded myself.
He was terrifying to look at, even from a distance. Alarmingly large, grey bush of hair that went down to meet the edge of his beard somewhere in the middle of his chest, feet slowly dragging on the grassy ground. The most alarming thing you could tell at first glance was the noise that he made - the clancking of metal trinkets he wore all over his ragged robe, the ringing of several bells I didn't know where he kept, and the low, wordless grunts he emitted every time he bent down to dig a herb or a pretty rock out of the ground. A man so unbothered by nearby others learning of his location was a force to be reckoned with.
Of course, over the first moment of knowing him I learned that he didn't have a tongue, a fact that I first found scary, then fascinating, and now profoundly sad.
Using a stick over a muddy patch of ground, Hugh Munro told me snippets of his story. How he was captured by cannibals back before everything happened; how a friend helped him escape and learn sign language; how he survived the end of the world and came looking for that friend, hoping to either repay his life debt to him or, preferably, finally have someone who can understand him.
I didn't have a home or a destination, and more urgently didn't have means of purifying water, and so I joined Hugh on his mostly silent quest, besides the noise that rose of his every move.
Since he couldn't very well tell anyone, after a few days I felt safe enough to tell Hugh my own story, if only just to be friendly. Being a surgeon in the war, trying to make my husband see some sense, failing. Losing him, the world, and our daughter.
I didn't mention my lover from the war, ignoring his significance. He was probably dead anyway and I had already given Hugh enough reasons not to like me without telling him I was an adulteress. It did feel like a heavy weight off my shoulders. Hugh was an extremely good listener.
I have met many people since the end of the world, but no friends; Hugh, while waiting for water to boil, suggested that he and I were friends. I was hesitant to accept.
"Every one of my friends died, are you sure about that?"
He nodded and straightened the patch of mud he wrote the initial proposal on.
Everyone needs a friend, he wrote.
"And you have survived the war, so you must be pretty resilient. It seems that we are friends in this case," I decided.
He leaned forward to tap my shoulder, his mouth curving with a smile. I smiled back. When was the last time I did that?
Hugh pointed at the setting sun to the east of us and notioned to my bag, which contained little more than a sleeping bag and my medical case, growing alarmingly empty. I rummaged through it and pulled out what was probably the last of the flour.
"We'll have to find something to eat soon," I told him. "Or a settlement."
He nodded solemnly and added the flour to the boiling water, mixing the resulting dough with the other end of the stick he wrote with. After another moment's silence, he pointed west again.
"I will start setting up the tent once I've eaten," I said, somewhat annoyed. I was no stranger to harsh conditions, but we have walked all day and the last time I ate was the previous evening.
Hugh picked his stick out of the pot and wrote something.
"There used to be a town there?"
He nodded with the excitement of someone rarely understood.
"So, possible source of food," I continued. "How do you know Scotland so well? You can't possibly have grown up all over the country."
Ireland, he wrote.
"You must know this makes no sense," I chuckled.
In response, Hugh mimicked reading in a book, possibly a map, and then rested his hand on his chin with a hilarious thinking expression.
"Yes, I do realise books exist, thank you, but your knowledge is way more practical," I said, still laughing.
He shook his head.
Schoolmaster, he wrote.
"Mister Munro, the teacher! I wouldn't have guessed!"
He nodded and took the porridge away from the fire. I had our spoons in my hand and gave him one, greedily digging in. The taste was that of absolutely nothing, but it was filling.
Hugh underlined the word Master again and pretended to straighten his tie, but his face was as amused as mine. Finally he took a spoonful.
I slept at least five hours that night, but woke up feeling even more tired. My nightmares never made sense, and they continued this way of action tonight, placing Frank and Faith chasing me, skin falling off their body, their voice getting more and more desperate as they scream for me to run away, then yell at me for abandoning them. I think Lamb was there at some point, but he wasn't even shaped like a human. I felt his presence, and it would've been comforting if he hadn't been trying to kill Frank.
Then I was back on my feet, following Hugh and the sounds that he made, trying to find anything that could be eaten. Possibly a town.
It was strange for one to feel lonely in a community, when it was so rare to even have a living friend these days.
He wasn't lonely, Jamie reasoned with himself. Only… yearning. For what, it was impossible to say. For his parents and brother to be alive again? For the world to make sense? For the freedom to leave for just a few days, to not have twenty people depending on him? For a friend who wasn't related to him?
When lying in his bed, tired to the bone but unable to sleep, Jamie couldn't lie to himself. He was yearning for Claire.