Why did we have to take our shoes off? Even halfway up the stairs, my calves burning, and the tingle of fear scratching at my spine (don’t look down, don’t look down), each step made me wonder.
The wooden steps were smooth and polished—maybe by hand, maybe by the countless tread of barefooted people traipsing up to the balcony above.
Above an elderly couple panted above me. Their feet slapped against the steps in slow, heavy footfalls—a stark contrast to my own light, steady trot.
I didn’t allow myself to match their steps. To slow down would be to surrender. The burn would creep in, taking away all my energy, and bringing my progress to a screeching halt. And so I kept on.
The sign on the little gate guarding the lighthouse had claimed it was one of the tallest in the world. I had peered up at it as the wiry Frenchman had come to take our tickets, insisting “no shoes, no shoes” and pointing to the other pair of unclaimed shoes by the gate.
Inside it was cool, and quiet. Hushed in a way that made you speak in whispers. I began my climb, keeping my steps light, and only occasionally peering through the protective netting lining the inside of the spiral staircase.
At the top, I groaned. More stairs led through a hatchway to a second platform. In there, I paused, looking up at the large bulb fixed into the centre of the room. It’s warning clear to all below. “Beware, land here!”
To the side of the bulb was another staircase leading to a metal door that stared at me. Questioning whether or not I really wanted to step out onto that high balcony.
The door was heavy, and I struggled to push it open. Then, as if someone had taken hold of the other side, it was yanked open.
Wind buffeted me from all directions, grabbing hold of my hair and my hat and threatening to sweep it all away. It took my breath and cast it aside, while at the same time pulling me toward the rail. Encouraging me to stare out at the vastness of the island below. It looked so small, so tiny, up there on the lighthouse balcony. Sweat cooled rapidly in the wind, yet, the clear blue water below still looked deliciously inviting.
I felt big and breathless and weightless all at once. Light and free. Like I could take flight from this great height, and join the birds in their twirls and spirals on the gusting wind. I took a deep breath, letting my lungs fill with the pureness of the air up there.
Wind tickled at my toes, biting them with cold. But the sun had warmed the rough wood beneath my feet, and I closed my eyes as I leaned out onto the railing.
‘No shoes,’ I grinned, wriggling my toes as wonder swept through my chest, filling it with light, delicious air.