Pockets of calm.

Young Adult Old Soul Writing Magic Realism

It all starts with this, my day.

A single piece of fabric, pure white and delicate, so light I barely feel it on the skin of my fingers.

All the grey bleariness of the morning evaporates before it. In a blink, the pounding headache, damp heat and the heavy atmosphere are gone, and there only remains this fragile moment, hanging by a thread.

I am aware that distantly (and yet so near), the city—no, the capital—is huffing and puffing clouds of smoke and heat. It is a boiler room, a steam engine for the whole country. It never stops, constantly pumping, whistling, pushing forward. Always loud.

And yet here we are, in a pocket of calm.

A self-contained bubble, so frail in a city this tough and rough. Here is nothing more, nothing less than a fabrics shop. Its facade is worse for wear, sticky with a light film of grey, as everyplace else in the city.

But inside, the very air is different.

It is cool and light, the way the atmosphere feels like after it has finally rained. Not a particle of dust floats in that air, despite how likely that would be given the endless rolls of fabrics lining the walls. But oh, there’s glitter even in between the cracks in the tiles, shining mischievously atop the keys of an old cash register.

“Welcome! What can I help you with today?”

I can hear the smile in that old voice, raspy and a little breathless. It is a warm voice, one that has told countless stories to many a grandchild.

The shop-owner is an old man with greying hair and a thick beard and whose nose is just a little off-centre, crooked to the left. There is something about him that is so genial, so authentic you could never fake it.

And my words simply unravel from my tongue. How I, we, are here in search of fabric for wedding dresses. The notion is still so novel, so incongruous to me, that in the age of fast-food and fast-fashion, there are still random, normal people going to dressmakers and textile shops to construct an entire outfit from scraps. And that today, one of those people is me.

I think he senses my hesitancy, the slight inexperience in my requests.

“Right this way,” he smiles and extends his arm to a whole new area of the shop. And here are lace, embroidery, flowers bursting out of fabric, tulle in all shades, satin and silk and countless others I cannot name.

“Your mother,” he says conspiratorially “used to come here every week with her mother and two sisters back in the day ! They wouldn’t leave until they had found the exact matching shade of fabric they were looking for.”

From behind me, light giggles emerge. I can only imagine the very same sounds had echoed in this old shop some 20, 25 years ago.

“Every week, don’t believe her if she says otherwise!”

Already, large rolls of fabric are descending on the glass counter. Fingers are dancing over champagne-coloured silk. The whole counter is overcome, cascading with 5 different shades of pink from 5 giant rolls of cloth. And he is already taking out more from over his head, huge swathes of cloth taller than he even is. With ease and rapid precision, he is matching lace and silk, suggesting designs and rejecting others.

“Don’t take satin for this one, it doesn’t fall as nicely on the figure.” Or “Oh, look at this. Look at this, a full ankle-length dress made out of this.”

There are hearts in his eyes when he speaks, reverence in the way he approaches the fabric, the idea. He is someone who sees that the creative process begins with him, and so he gives it his all.

Already, my mother, aunt and sisters are fluttering about me, debating over choices.

That’s when I take a moment to slip away, to bask in the peace, the utter simplicity of this place. It is so removed from everything I know of the city, it is slow and not entirely practical. It is artful, a place where fantasy grows wings, where eyes catch on glistening cascades of golden cloth and weave daydreams of full skirts sweeping ballroom floors. It is a place so necessary, I realise. A safe-place for creation, for dreams which usually fall dead like butterflies in the smog of the city. But here they flutter timidly, then they soar.

As indecision stops the quiet hum of conversation, I waltz (Yes, yes) back in to help. Unhelpfully, I simply add in my own very high dosage of indecision and point to other rolls of fabric above my head. The poor old shop-owner already has 12 different rolls of fabric wrapped over and around him as it is, and I have no idea how to ask him to get some more down.

Then one, two, three sons appear.

All with the same slightly off-centre nose, the same gentle kindness. The youngest is still trying to prove himself to his older brothers, you can see. They seem to be having the time of their lives teasing him as he speaks to us, a group of 5 women. The little one  fumbles a little, blushes, stumbles through his sentences. But his hands never once flinch as his sharp scissors descend down a blush pink piece of silk, as he folds it smoothly, squarely into a brown bag.

Much of the morning passes by in a back and forth of ideas, some lengthily debated upon, others cast aside, a few coveted, dreamed of, awed at. Slowly but surely, all hearts fall for some dreamy fabric or other, even mine. My heart stutters at some muted soie sauvage or wild silk, a delightful shade of ocean green. And to match it, lace of the same tone, run through by waves of white and cream and pale blue.

You’re wearing the ocean in a dress, my mind whispers. Tomboyish though I am, I can already feel the long skirt dancing in wavelets around me as I move, can hear its soft rustle like the gentle crash of waves on the shore. It is so light too, it gives me that feeling, the feeling when I lie down in the ocean, arms and legs splayed out, and let the gentle waves carry away all my worries.

“So much for lilac.” My mother teases.

Yes, so much for lilac. My mother knows me, she does. She knows there are plans in the making, wheels turning, winds changing, sails billowing.

But for now, we speak of lilac and bridesmaids and weddings. We speak of dropping anchors, broach lightly on setting sail to new horizons, both my bride-to-be sister and I.

There is something about being here, where my mother used to shop years ago, when she was the same age I am now that touches me profoundly. There is this sharing, this bonding. Like linking the past and the present, the future. It is like I have been introduced to the girl my mother was when she was my age.

It is cyclical too, I realise.

The shop-owner’s earlier words come to me now, as we are ready to leave :

“So, when is your mother going to come pay my shop a visit?”

He had been talking to my mother, reminiscing about the old times.

A hush fell over their formerly lively conversation then. And quietly, the words, tinted with a sadness that cannot ever be washed away, came out.

Yes, today I am here with my mother the way she was with her mother back in the day. Next time I come here, I am not so certain what kind of realities I will bring with me, which griefs and happinesses I will carry in my heart.

We are dropping anchors and setting sail, always.

Before we leave, I ask the shop-owner about the opening hours, because I am learning that I may need more fabric eventually for the dress.

“What time do I close? Oh, as soon as the cash register’s full!”

With a laugh and brown bags full of fabrics and secrets, we leave, losing ourselves to the city.


Listening to :

 

A Day in The City

Some time back, I wrote a post called “Adventures in the City” about slow, deliberate walks in the city and finding adventures hidden in everyday sceneries. And I have been writing about “the City” for a while now, never calling it by name. But I took a few photos on that day (none very professional or even not-blurry, I’m afraid) and I thought it might be time for the City to be properly introduced. And since this blog is fast becoming a little piggy bank for my little moments of infinity, here it is :

The City, My City in all the delicate splendour of a mid-Saturday stroll, sounds of rustling leaves overlapping car honks and the shrill of bicycle bells cutting through.

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The sky so blue it hurts my eyes, a gradient of azure that makes me itch to dive in and not surface for a while as I look for stars and nebulae hidden at the other end of the cosmos.

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The bird’s beak is a nose, a mouth and a chin all at once. // An indifferent look is an endless farewell.

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Little discs of sunlight, from when light streams through the gaps and interstices of the foliage, swaying oh-so gently with the wind that rustles the foliage. I’ve taken a mind to calling them “Sunlight ricochets”, lately.

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I could spend forever here, craning my neck back to gaze at this lushness, this oasis of filtered light and nature in the heart of a bustling city that, too often, is harsh and cutthroat on the edges. The trees are gentle giants, shielding weary humans from the outside world as they form a dome of sorts over the heads of visitors, leaving warm sun-stains all over the exposed skin of arms, necks, faces and legs. Their endless veins make me look at mine, make me wonder at how my body is so complex : elaborate circuits running under my skin, working day and night, endlessly.

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Light. This is very bad photography, probably, what with taking in all that glaring white light. But I love this, all the same.

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Selfie (?)

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The city, constructing itself. Constantly rebuilding, constantly changing face.

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The woman turn us into poets; the child turns us into philosophers. // The true poet is he whose brain is a lyre in between the hands of the cerebellum.

 

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Suffering only makes great those who already are. // Goodness civilises intelligence.

Trouble in the City

“Houses so close to each other you can almost feel your neighbour’s breath on your cheek, rooftops so close they almost collide like artificial tectonic plates, making the sky look like an azure crack in the ceiling.”

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Art by: Grant Snider

As thrilling as the city is, its modern interpretation is more lacklustre than not to me. There’s something about it that doesn’t seem natural. Something that’s not quite right.

Houses so close to each other you can almost feel your neighbour’s breath on your cheek, rooftops so close they almost collide like artificial tectonic plates, making the sky look like an azure crack in the ceiling. Apartment buildings and flats too small to house any imagination, to welcome any overabundance of ideas. But at the same time, it’s almost impressive how we are living lives of hedonism and intemperance in tiny rooms only large enough to fit our limbs. But what do we do of our dreams then? What place will they have to grow? Do we just throw them out of the window? Bid them goodbye as they go with the winds?

We’re too stressed, too hurried. Like the White Rabbit worrying about lateness, but more generally, time. We’re constantly worrying about missing out on something because there’s always something  happening. And it’s exciting that there’s always a fun thing to do anytime, but it’s just that for some reason, everything in the city is “important”. From the emails to the brunches. Yeah, even brunch holds a certain authority. Everything in the city seems to be an institution. But even so, everyone seems to be aware of it. Like we know not to take it too seriously.

But I just worry sometimes, as I gaze at the last stars in the sky, the ones under threat of disappearance by smog, that we will forget. We will forget to spend time watching ships as they go quietly by in the harbour. I worry that we will stop watching birds fly, that we won’t people-watch or contemplate the rain.

What I fear most though, is that we will stop admiring our place in the Universe. That our lives will be confined to this city and our gazes will never travel beyond its well-defined borders.

 


Note: This is Day 20 (!!!) of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. I’ve also written about the city before, so you can also check out this piece of writing here 🙂

The City and Me (1/2)

” It’s always good to see that the city is not almighty. To realise that far away enough, it can be reduced to a few thousand blocks laid out like Lego pieces, intermittent honking and some dog barks. The city is no end-all. And from up high, you have that odd sense of detachment, like you’re floating above everything else, watching over a million lives. “

 

Gif Source: Tumblr (Artist Sadly Unknown)

I climbed up a hill yesterday.

On my uphill run, I stopped a few times out of breath and looked at the city spilled out below. It looked smaller and smaller the higher up I went, and with each step that led me away from it, the pressures of life and worldly expectations grew quieter, until there finally reigned silence within me.

I could almost have been running away, I thought. With my drawstring backpack and world-weariness, I was all set to leave and not come back, like in those old-timey cartoons where they carry bags on sticks and walk down railways. It felt good to see the city become so insignificant, to see that there were holes in its inescapable net. Often, with city life, it’s a lot of the now. It is a way of life that is brimming with instant gratification, where you’re always looking for that little hit of dopamine, in the number of likes you get for a selfie or the puff of smoke you exhale on the balcony. But it’s also stress, and tightly-wound shoulders, this feeling of restlessness that pulls like a hook around your navel, and an always churning stomach. It’s always good to see that the city is not almighty. To realise that far away enough, it can be reduced to a few thousand blocks laid out like Lego pieces, intermittent honking and some dog barks. The city is no end-all. And from up high, you have that odd sense of detachment, like you’re floating above everything else, watching over a million lives.

From where I was, I could even see a couple football matches. Someone was working on their car. Two cats were lounging on a terrace. You really do feel detached, like a cloud roaming without need for a purpose. But oddly again, you feel the pull, the blurry realisation that your life is also intricately woven into this tapestry, that you are a drop in this ocean (yet, incongruously, you also are the ocean itself), a grey block in the concrete jungle.

So we played “Find the house” or “Which street is that?” or “Locate the park”. All the while I could not help but think of all the lives unraveling before us, hidden from sight but ever so real. One thing about my city that I could not help but be proud of is that it’s blooming green. There are trees everywhere. Even in the dead centre (which, ironically, is the most alive with people, but doubly ironic in that they are all essentially zombies) there is at least a dot of green. A nebulous canopy reaching out for the sun.

But I didn’t have time for shrubs and greenery when the skies were opening their arms to me, as if knowing of all the times I’d gazed longingly at them. As if I had reached home on that small hill, and it was welcoming me like a long-lost child. The ocean was glittering, the azure waters of the harbour deepening into a perilous Persian blue extending beyond the horizon. The ships, large and surreal, breathtaking in more ways than one,were billowing steam and smoke, looking like they had emerged from the 1940s or even earlier.

But as much as I loved gazing at the scenery and picking out the details, we had an adventure to tend to…

To be continued…


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Note: This is a late submission for Day 10 of my little NaNoWriMo challenge. The second part of this story will serve as Day 11! I was so exhausted yesterday I could not even lift my pen. But I did spend a few hours re-reading poems I really liked. So maybe it’s on me, too.