The sea salt is drying on my skin as I write you this, what once was the ocean leaving a taste of this morning’s swim on my lips.
Do you know what the beach is like when the sun has only just risen?
It is quiet, pacifying. New, as though the oceans hadn’t existed for light years prior to that morning. There we all were, housing beautiful contradictions: we were star-skinned, yet pieces of a ticking clock, rewinding time yet moving forward.
I’ve known them for a very long time, these friends.
We were still tender when we met, eyes wide and cheeks plump, unaware of everything living entailed. We could never have known, 20 years ago, in between petty quarrels, skinned knees and games of tag, that we would ever reach here, now.
But there we were, making history, ignoring Time.
You know, Time is a mirror: when you ignore Time, it ignores you back. When you chase it, it chases you. When you check on it, it checks on you.
So because we did not care for Time, the morning passed slowly. The stories of our lives flowed like streams in the world we had created for ourselves, expanded the bubble that had unwittingly appeared around us. It is uncommon to feel both free and safe at the same time, but that’s exactly how I felt. Unchained yet protected. Another beautiful contradiction to add to the list.
Never let me forget this day, will you?
Note: So apparently, you can add videos now, so I’m going to add a video just because I can. Did it have to be a vertical video though 😂
It takes a night ride for a song to truly sink into your skin sometimes.
It is winter now and golden hour tickles the planes of my face at merely 5. An hour later, the sun sets. By the time I step out of my office building at 7, I am greeted by the stinging slap of dropping nocturnal temperatures, engulfed in the silks of night.
The thing about H. is he’s a mélomane. He loves music, understands it, composes it, lives it, could tell you the roots and influences of every musical genre, and explain the story behind every Beatles song. His guitar is named Lana Del Rey. Stars light up in his eyes when he speaks of auteurs-compositeurs-interprètes, artists who write, compose and perform their own songs. Because of that, he really doesn’t mind what music you put on, if you jump from genre to genre, if you swerve into a gentle indie song right after blasting an 80s electro-pop classic. He doesn’t mind because he loves it all. This kind of passion is rare, this love for art so pure.
So I feel comfortable enough to share my playlist with him.
And what a loaded gesture that is: playlists are so intimate. Songs become so personal they may as well be us, telling our stories, spilling our deepest desires as though we had written and sung them. Songs are tender spots in our otherwise hardened exteriors. They are windows through which the light comes in; windows that can also be shattered. It is a tremendous exercise in trust to give a song to someone else. You hold your breath as the first note comes out, watch the person intently for any sign of appreciation or dislike. Your heart hammers between your ribs, threatening to burst or flee. ‘Why did I do this?’ stabs your mind a thousand times in a few seconds.
And then, the first smile. The first ‘Wow’, the delight behind the ‘Who sings this?!’
Together, H. and I comment on lyrics, gush about vocal registers and hum to instrumentals. We sing, we wait a beat and then belt out songs in traffic jams. We ugly-laugh into the night.
It’s a budding friendship.
I had recently gotten a song from Kodaline — a band that never ceases to endear themselves to me with how simple and arresting their songs are, how natural they feel, as though they had simply come to be one day, like wild, seasonal fruits.
I’d carried this song around on errands all about the city, ears too sensitive after 3 months’ silence to bear the overwhelming allness of the capital: clangs and whirs, beeps and honks, shuffling feet, crashes, shouts, crowds… Occasionally, I’d flicked the song to the side, skipped it.
It’s something of a mystery how this song that had slipped past me took on new meaning in a speeding red Honda. The beauty I had failed to catch all of a sudden filled the air, something of a Big Bang: from nothing to everything, it expanded, hot, into every atom, every particle of dust and air, every bit of night that rushed through the open windows and then out.
And I wanted to ask myself why, why I hadn’t understood it before, why it hadn’t hit like it had in that moment.
But I couldn’t, you know?
When Life gives you music, you dance. When Life hands you a moment, you take it, no questions asked.
Note: I hope you are doing well, wherever you are.
Also, am I the only person this sort of thing happens to? I am usually fairly confident in my ability to understand something deeply, especially if it’s of an artistic nature. But every now and then, I’ll have HUGE blind spots and exhibit an astounding lack of taste. Case in point, this song by Kodaline. But also Moana. And the movie ‘Her’. For some weird reason, it just doesn’t hit the first time around??
The sound of the world standing still, holding its breath. In a city like mine, a capital city populated with banks and company headquarters, the marble-faced buildings of supreme courts and parliament alike, even the suburbs are no strangers to the constant humdrum of the city. Something or the other is always happening: a huge delivery in China Town, a busy pedestrian crossing, hot milk tea being poured for patrons of hole-in-the-wall places at every time of day, a housewife’s middling day, a workman on site. There are slices of life unraveling all about, all with their own comings and goings. There’s never a boring day, even when there is. If nothing is happening to you, you can just look out your window and imagine someone else’s day.
“What kind of shoes is the cobbler mending today?”
“Did they finally get rid of that pink graffiti on the corner of Ducasse street?”
“Wonder what the cats by the school bridge are up to today.”
If you’re a little bit tired of your own life, you can just step into another. Stories aren’t hard to find, escapes are near, just a conversation away, within the reach of a cloud of thoughts.
There is life everywhere, on rooftops and bus stops, on old, cobbled roads, in craft markets and old Chinese shops, in schools and book stores, at the tailor’s and down the flower shop street. There are more stories out there than there are dropped cents on the streets.
Now though, at 6 in the morning, not even the church bells toll. The mouldy, obscenely red buses don’t hurtle by, leaving clouds of smoke behind. The city,the world, has stilled, coming to a screeching, silent halt. It is as though someone had just flicked a switch off.
Even in the suffocating closeness of suburbia, not even the murmur of a conversation rises in the air. No rustle, no bustle, no sighting of another human being outside of your own household. No old men asserting their views in the streets that once belonged to them, no motorcycles weaving obnoxiously through narrow streets. No stories, no escapes. The city has pricked its finger and fallen deep into sleep, only stirring to catch the current of news at 6 pm sharp.
In the midst of that radio silence, were you to look at the city from above — sloping as it does at the feet of mountains — you might find a head, gleaming black, poking out from a balcony, in the narrow space between two houses.
The wind runs through my hair, its currents silkily gliding through the creases of my mind. I’m out here, as “out” as I can be in these times of quarantines and nation-wide lockdowns, soaking in the light of a pale winter sun.
Take in the silence, the silence of nothingness.
There will come an end to all this, distant and blurry as it may seem. Soon, the world will be shaken rudely from its sleep, startled again into breakneck speeds and imminent burnouts.
Enjoy the silence, and the things you can only enjoy now.
Too soon, this moment will be gone and you will wish you had lived it more ardently and experienced it more fully.
There are slices of life in this, too. Stories, if only you knew to look within yourself, to accept this silence and dive into it. But you’re afraid of the accusations that will rise, belly up. You’re afraid you will look into that water and not see yourself. It was so easy, wasn’t it, jumping from one life to the next, switching timelines, surrendering control of your life to go explore someone else’s. You made imagination into an ivory tower and now that a curse of a spell has fallen on the city, you are stranded in your own life.
Even now, you gaze at the skies and wish you could jump into them.
But there’s no hurry.
Air your thoughts, soak in the sun, catch a break, hum that song. Have this moment, simply.
Turn to the skies, to the double-edged beauty of this passing moment, and lose yourself in the silence of all things.
Note: I hope you are all doing well in spite of everything and are able to find a moment to catch a break and breathe and be.
So much time seems to have passed — a whole year in the span of a few days. The kind of days that, before, I would throw around like spare change, like a clump of sand into the ocean.
I remember the first few days of confinement though, the thick anxiety coiling in me, twisting like a constrictor trying to swallow its meal. There were conversations with myself about death, to death, as I waited on someone else’s results to seal my fate and that of those around me. But I won’t tell of this in any more detail, not here at least. The world has enough anxiety to go on these days.
Instead, I want to tell you all about my first day of liberation. The feeling you get when you loosen your hair and feel the headache simply dissolve into waves, when you burst out of a stuffed room, when you let tears finally fall. A large clothes basket, heavy against my waist, tethered me to the balcony with a scent of freshness and Dutch lavender. All around, a surreal quietness had fallen on all things, the way the sun had. Not a shout from the neighbours, not a sound of feet moving or even the putter of a motorcycle that city-dwellers are usually so fond of. Instead, birdsong drizzled over silence, pooling over housetops. The wind blew, unbothered. Rising softly from the basket, the clothes-hill was cool and fragrant and for a moment, for all of life, I wanted to climb inside of it. Into that inviting cleanliness, that purity where lavender fields bloomed ceaselessly, uncaring of seasons and cycles.
I picked a sheet, bewitched instantly by the way it swelled, caught in the murmurs of the wind, the sounds of a quiet life.
What’s keeping me here?
What if I were to just…let go? Would it be so easy? Would I finally go to that place where the birds all travel to at sunset, this place I have always known of, wondered about but have never reached?
The wind was pushing me from behind, lifting the back of my ample shirt. I was holding the sheet so it would not fly away, but what was holding me back? A job? Expectations? Fear?
I want to let it all go.
And I did.
I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my heart, banish the last few strands of anxiety wiggling about. I let the wind take me away, eyes closed, into the unknown, the unknown that leads straight home.
Note: It’s been a while! I hope you are all doing well and keeping safe during these frankly unsettling times. Where I am, we are under total lockdown, which means we can’t go out unless it’s to go to the hospital or the pharmacy. And we have a curfew. So it’s been a strange, long week. How’s the situation where you are?
Quote of the day
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
A single orb of pure, incandescent light pierces through the dark-blue, velvety sky.
“It’s probably a planet. Venus, maybe.”
His eyes flicker upwards, leaving the road ahead to focus longly — for someone who is at the wheel — on maybe-Venus and its magnetic glow.
We are gliding swiftly down tresses of gleaming concrete on a deserted highway, the old red Honda espousing every curve of the road ahead, floating over every divot, coming to a smooth halt at every red light. The city lies low and far away from underneath us, at sea-level. This far up, there is no distinction between sky and sea, especially at night. Cruisers and cargo ships alike seem to be floating away into the night with their millions of little lights, like lanterns upon which children had made a wish.
All is calm. The night is quiet, with a few exceptions.
Smooth and unintrusive, music is leading a dance with silence. It soothes our harried minds, the wounds of everyday life, the painful boils of unrealised dreams. Notes and divine voices pour, honey-like, over the crackle and sizzle of tires pressing on bitumen, over the howl of the night breeze.
All of it, all of it is free.
The cool air, the freeway, even our time has been liberated from daily constraints. We’ve burst from a compact open office into the free night and we’re drunk on every gulp of air.
We do this often. A couple times a week. Distantly, as I stick my hand out to comb my fingers through the night, to let my fingers glide with the wind, I am aware that these are some of the moments I will look back on, one day. I will remember this feeling if nothing else. I’ll forget about Venus and the red Nissan and the floating cruise ships. But freedom like this, I can never forget. It is one of these little things which have imprinted on me. They have become a part of who I am. Experiencing them has been like discovering a part of me, like peering into the fog of my own mind and finding some new light shining there.
And now, the truth I have been unwilling to admit to myself: I am escaping. Sentenced to unexciting realities, my mind cooks up elaborate scenarios, my body busies itself in all ways it can think of.
I am living for dreams that have yet to be, trading the certainty of “now” for the maybes of tomorrow. I know that no matter how much I plan, there is always so much that is left in the air, so much I cannot control. These doubts infiltrate my small, ordinary day and grow large and looming until they fill up my breathing space and the only way away from them is distraction.
Daydreaming, entertaining the idea of smoking, putting music on every time silence stretches or boredom reaches to the bottom of my soul, risking myself in brazen speech, scrolling through social media, snacking on things I don’t even want to eat, texting “people”… All things I’ve done or attempted in an effort to escape from life, actions very much like the moments when, as a child, I would plug my fingers in my ear and go “Lalalalalalalala, I can’t hear you!” at the world.
So I’ve come to abhor silence; these thoughts only echo louder in it. Instead of facing them, I fill every moment of idleness with something else. I drown out my thoughts in loud music, I forget about my troubles through conversations, I escape reality with all the swiftness of a gazelle being chased by a lioness. This is nothing new, it is something I’ve always done. I just thought I was past it. That I had harnessed this proclivity to escape into something beautiful that I could use at will. But I am reminded that this is what it looks like when I mess up: I run away, I hide, I escape. All that’s left to do now is to understand, to look at the wreckage left of these few months and examine them without trying to criticise.
“Out of the frying pan into the fire” is an expression we use a lot where I’m from. Not without reason: there are times when you truly believe you have it bad until the situation gets significantly worse and you realise a bit late that there were nastier turns for life to take.
So from the all-too quiet, forgotten village, I have been moved (very much like a chess-piece) to a more strategic location: a city that is not a city but a machine in disguise. Its skyscrapers spit out fumes like a steam engine, in constant demand for more fuel. And the people like me break their backs shovelling in their time and youth and energy — the very marrow of their bones — into the inferno, keeping it burning and churning for everyone else.
This is the fire into which I’ve been tossed. This is the real world. A term I only see people use, by the way, when describing the unfairness of the world, the harshness of working conditions, the disheartening realities of the world at large. And the people who use this term uphold the very laws of the world they are imprisoned in. They accept the world as it is, their conditions as they are. It’s almost as if they do not wish to admit that this is the world they live in, that this is their life. Attempts to dismantle or discredit the system will be regarded as laziness, not-having-what-it-takes, weakness. And the weak are crushed into fine powder.
But alright, I might be exaggerating a tad here. Not everyone there is profoundly unhappy, not everyone is desperate for another world…But however you look at it, this monster-city is a labyrinth, a complex network of channels wherein circulate colonies upon colonies of ants, each knowing precisely where it needs to be at every hour of the day. All follow a schedule, a meticulous routine. And the machine is, in this way, well-oiled, its cogs turning day and night.
I once said I did not want to be a damsel in distress in some glass tower. Well, here I am. At least, for the first few days that’s what I was: knocked off track, disoriented, living over again the same experience of being in a new place. I run into walls and people, not yet possessing the grace to juggle the many intricacies of this overwhelming (yet in so many crucial ways, underwhelming) city.
But at the same time, I am what I’ve been cultivating myself to be: efficient, productive. Though I cannot say I like it. See, that’s been me all my life. Very much able to fit in the system. I’ve been a straight A student, somehow managed to snag a first class and now I’m handling projects and clients very much on my own. Yet, just because I can cope with longer hours, a heavier workload, working at night and a doubled up commute time does not mean I want to. I sometimes get looks when I explain I do not want to be there, looks that say:
“What are you complaining for?”
Because I’m one of theirs, even if I’m too quiet at times, even if I don’t partake in all their rituals (formal clothes, chronic coffee-ingestion, water-cooler chats…). They cannot seem to comprehend why, if you were able to fit in, you would ever want to be somewhere else.
But I dream, I remember.
I am so far away from the anonymous village I was in before. Far away from its orchards and quietness, its one empty main road always sighing into the heat of the afternoon. And it seems it was in another life still that I was out on a balcony, gazing at the coastal village underneath. It feels like light-years ago, I was strolling by the beach during my lunch break, getting momentarily lost in its concrete roads interspersed with sand. And was it even in this life that I was sighing at The Place with the Flowers? That was someone else, in some other world.
Hot summer nights when the humidity, exceeding the 80 percent bar, weighs on my skin and everything in life feels so heavy. Always, in those rare instances when I have managed to drop out of the routine that clings to my skin, an image of you comes unbidden to my mind. You must know them as well as I do, those kinds of nights when I pierce a hole into my “schedule” and can finally let some air in, as though life had become an airtight, windowless room.
Out on the balcony, I breathe in the night sky, feeling the cool outside air sliding down my arms, picking up my ample t-shirt dress, making it billow on my back as though it were the sail to a boat and I was about to be taken away. Like a ship sailing in an ocean of stars. To get to that place only we know. With my hair untied, loose for once from its bun, not even the railing could anchor me. Not even the warmth of the orange light behind me, not even the letters in my room.
In the developing coolness of the late night (01:16 a.m. where I am now), something constricts in my heart.
It has been so long since the last time, but I remember you. You and this feeling : light and hazy, confusing : it takes my whole mind apart in the gentlest of ways.
Somehow or other, I always come back to you. It is always this scene that lies in the background of all the stages of my life. Like a parallel life running alongside mine, that I can only see when I stop for a moment and look around me.
We know each other but I do not remember ever meeting you.
But I have thought of you too much as I breathed in lungfuls of loneliness on cold, star-speckled nights. I have imagined too deliberately what it would mean to meet someone like you, to not know you when you are right in front of me.
I have sent too many thoughts into the night that have only reached you in early morning sleep for you to not wonder why a stranger feels so familiar.
You see, I know you. I’ve known you all along. I have spoken with you, with the idea of someone like you at 2 a.m. when I could not find rest, in classrooms filled with friends as I looked out the window or in clattering buses as the sun set.
I know you. I don’t remember much about you; I don’t really know your name. But we know each other. A relationship held together by stars and nights willing to carry our heaviness, our ache for friendship to another blue soul somewhere in this vast, sleepless world.
I have shared so many moons with you, so many new years and eclipses; so many hours of sleep. Still, we have never met, not until now. Not until now when, for some reason, all of my life is pouring out to you in casual conversation. Not until now when opening up has never felt so right, when I speak in half-sentences and obscure references only for you to nod gently, a light of understanding glinting in your eyes.
Across oceans, following the course of the Adriatic sea from above the clouds, watching Italy branch out into veins of light pulsating underneath my naked eyes.
I am changed forever, as though I’ve earned a scar. There’s a certain history to me now, carved into my veins, stored carefully into the drawers of my mind. Tattooed into my irises, the memory of not looking up at stars, instead gazing at them as equals, eye-to-eye.
“I’ve reached.” My mind whispers.
I could reach out and pick stars by millions, as though flowers in an interplanetary garden.
But I’ve learned better over the years. What would there be left for others to dream about if I picked all the flowers and reaped all the stars? Who would want to wake up to a decimated garden, a starless sky?
Instead, I will nurture what is left of the star in me. Kindling its fires with experiences like these, if I can.
Listening to :
Because I’m a huge nerd, this is the song I was listening to when we were flying over the Adriatic sea 😂
“It’s magic, you know; it’s got to be. Maybe it’s just magic we take for granted, and that’s why we can’t see it.”
Life has really been moving forward lately. Left and right, I suppose it is that period in one’s life where big changes happen. Friends are getting married, moving away, working big jobs, travelling, falling in love. And for once, I have not been assigned to the bleachers : I am doing things I didn’t think I would ever get to do.
I am moving, moving, moving.
Until, that is, I reach the village caught in time.
It is somewhere I have not been in a good number of years : 10, maybe 11. I can still see myself there, flared jeans and a pink plaid shirt, unruly hair braided, sticking out in gravity-defying tendrils. No glasses, that was the time when wearing them was bothersome, when they had not yet become a refuge. The eyes not weighed down by dark circles, by loss or obscurity skimmed all around like a hummingbird buzzing with energy. A still tender face gazed upward, mesmerised even then by that light. The one that escapes through the branches and leaves of the trees overhead, falling generously like a waterfall, the glorious golden light shifting the way water scintillates.
No time has passed since then.
Everything has stayed much the same, as though I had only left the village for a few hours and had returned somewhat older, but not for long. The place strips me of my years, these weights that have been shoved in my hands that I do not know what to do with. Even now, being older than 20, I still feel a little bit 19. I am still approaching my twenties as though an alien notion. Comparing the 20-year-olds I’d met at 13 to the me from now. They seemed so much more advanced in life than I am, so much more grown-up. Doubtless though they were enduring the same inner turmoil.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one like that.
But who cares about that when you’re 11 and are in a village surrounded by never-ending streams, where seabirds land and take off every other hour; where there is a perfect open space, made to fly kites in. I will be like that sunlight too, I will scatter into a thousand lights, not stopping to warm the foliage and instead dancing with the wind.
I have a small theory about this village. I think it’s not actually real all the time. Sometimes it vanishes for years. You could drive here and at times find only a mound of dust, and no sign of homely houses, of pastoral beauty. It detaches from the earth and flies away, mooring itself to a town with an ocean view for a little while. Wouldn’t that explain the seabirds after all? Maybe they carry it on their backs when they migrate. Who can be sure? I do not know how else to explain it, how this village is so lost in time.
Or how it takes away the years as though they were layers of rust hiding something much younger than it actually looks. It’s magic, you know; it’s got to be. Maybe it’s just magic we take for granted, and that’s why we can’t see it.
Note : This is Day 6 of my NaNoWriMo writing challenge. I’m a bit late this year, but it’s a little harder with work now and trying to figure out publishing times, too. But I’ll try my best to catch up this weekend ! 🙂