I WAS 12 when I went with my mother to Mount Pilatus, two years after her first visit. She would travel there with my younger brother the following year, but she wanted to enjoy our first thrilling encounter with the mountain without the arguments and distractions that normally arose when I was with him. And perhaps, too, she wanted to stand beside me not only as a mother but as a guide, wise in the face of our misgivings. She wanted to be the one who could confidently assuage our fears and urge us to keep looking: “Don’t close your eyes,” “Don’t be scared,” “Look over there,” “Do you see that?”
We took the train from Zurich to Lucerne. It was a beautiful summer day, and I was wearing my favorite cotton high-top shoes. From Lucerne, we boarded a boat that crossed the lake toward Alpnachstad station. From there, we would take the train up the mountain to the top. Lake Lucerne shimmered in the bright sunlight as we sliced through the crystalline waves. While I twisted in my seat to get a better look at the landscape, I shifted my feet, turning them left, then right. My ankles were sore, but I couldn’t figure out why.
My mother’s excitement was clear, and I didn’t want to ruin the mood; I would endure the pain and allow the moment to unfold as she had intended. As she spoke, I listened, so happy to be beside her that I ignored my discomfort. I stared up at the looming mountain range, its dark lines etched sharply against the vivid blue sky and tried to wiggle my feet. My shoes felt tighter, more constricting. By the time the boat arrived at Alpnachstad station, pain was my steady companion, more profound with every step.
We seated ourselves on the Pilatus bahn, touted as the world’s steepest cogwheel train, and began our ascent to Pilatus Kulm, near the top. I was overwhelmed by what was in front of me, by the scale of it all. As we climbed, the houses and roads shrank; I, too, felt myself grow smaller, my ankles the only parts of me refusing to quiet. I was spellbound during that climb to the top. For a brief moment, I forgot everything: my mother beside me, still holding my hand; the other passengers; my sore feet. Instead, I gazed down at the lush valley, at the gentle lines disrupted by jagged rocks and dark clutches of trees and then, farther below, at the magnificent vision of Lake Lucerne.
Maaza Mengiste and Maroesjka Lavigne
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