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 ! 🙂
“And yet who is to say what kind of things churned behind your eyes ?”
Who even looks up anymore?
Some days I do; most days I don’t. I’m busy trying not to lose time, to make the few hours outside of work count double, triple. Honestly, I am a bit too busy planning my first trip abroad to pay attention to airplanes in the sky. Or to stop in the middle of the unending human flow of the city to gaze at planes weaving soundlessly through clouds. I must have missed more than a couple of these flights, these vanishing doors to daydreams. If this sends a twinge of disappointment in me, I am learning to ignore it. I cannot rise to every occasion. There are just some trains you are going to miss in life, some planes you will never catch.
But then again, there are those that you do seize.
Like today, in the late evening. The sun dipped its toes in the ocean and let out a sigh that was all golden light. A soft caress of warmth at the back of trees, an aureate glint on satellite dishes, a light underlining the otherwise anonymous beauty of you in this loud city.
Did you have any idea what kind of image you made for? You, on the fourth and last floor of an apartment building, sitting by the open window on the windowsill, pale blue curtains fluttering around you; your head resting on one knee, your face upturned. You, one human in a jungle of a city, unstirring where everyone else always moves, moves, moves. And yet who is to say what kind of things churned behind your eyes ? What kind of plane your small hand must have caught.
How many years have you been here, dreaming? To jump on the first plane to pass by your window and to fly away into the night, to wake up to some view other than the one you’ve come to know?
More beautiful than a plane in the clear blue sky, a girl with big dreams in the city, looking out of her window.
Note : This is NaNoWriMo Day 6. You can find Day 5, “Another name for wonder” here ! 🙂
A day at the beach, swimming, marveling at the feeling of sand and the summer warmth reaching my toes. I want to be sinking into the gentleness of the summer that I have only known to be suffocating. Like a scornful person who has peeled back their layers and trusted me with the vulnerability within, I want my skin to soak in the tenderness of the previously burning sun, to be sun-kissed and sun-loved. I need some wild wanderlust and a jar of freedom bottled like perfume, something that diffuses in the air, wherever I go. I want freedom so fragrant everybody smells it. I want to smell like the froth of the sea, like deep-green forests after it has rained all night.
I want to smell like Nostalgia, like the wind that brings you the scents of your childhood. I want to be both familiar and strange, something that has you running after it to figure out what it is. I want to forget about spilled ink and paper and formal clothes — I, I just want to breathe and not have to do anything.
I want to be want to be so small so the world can seem so big again, so that I can slip inside an iridescent bubble for a while and watch the aggrandised world in ever-changing colours. Jumping from bubble to bubble, I want to rise, rise towards the skies and the sun like Icarus, getting too close, too high, too much and popping into a million tiny luminescent droplets and dropping back to Earth. Then landing somewhere under the sun, falling asleep under its soft blanket of warmth as a thousand moons blink in and out of view. I want to wake up and have nowhere to go, nothing to do except losing myself in the patterns of the leaves overhead, the patches of sky and light that swim through the foliage.
I want lazy afternoons spent in a nap-induced haze, I want stars and the cool blueness of night, I want soft orange lights to illuminate my 1 a.m.s…
I want, I want…
Endless things, endless free things. Free of too much worldliness, of duplicity or heaviness.
I just want to feel light again. And free.
Note : Here, we are currently dipping our toes in the first blistering heat of the summer, and the atmosphere is so heavy it almost feels like something we’re carrying on our backs. Still, even writing things like this helps a bit.