17

“Even as we strolled, sandy-toed and warm down small cobbled roads peppered with sand, even as we inhaled the delicate mix of sea breeze and flowering bushes that hung over low wooden fences, it was lodged within us, this oncoming reality of change. “

naoyamatsukawesing
Art via Naoya Matsuka & Wesing

Yesterday, I saw a pair of girls, all cuffed jeans and visual tees, trying hard to not look like they were trying hard. The quintessence of adolescence.

And I found myself thinking back to that summer when things were changing. When not just you and I, but the whole lot of us were navigating this grey-blue feeling, some mix between discovery and dread. It was the summer when we were 17. Some of us just so, others about to topple over into those precious 18 years. The whole year was like the realisation, as you were nudged awake on the sofa and told to go to bed, that you would never wake up in between your covers after falling asleep watching TV. You could fake sleep and giggle quietly at the thought, but you’d gotten too heavy. Or it was just time to stop these habits.

It was a bit of a grieving year, in that way.

We were all 17, a group of too-many girls with wild hair and imperfect smiles. And change was coming for us. Even in the heat of the holidays, the cool blueness of the ocean and the saltiness of the sea spray, we could not run from that. Some of us were already flirting with that fire; all red lips and heady perfumes in place of pink gloss and floral scents. All to go to a café or on a movie date. Grown-up, yet not quite so. A convergence of two ages, two states of mind, where eagerness trumps experience.

Even as we strolled, sandy-toed and warm down small cobbled roads peppered with sand, even as we inhaled the delicate mix of sea breeze and flowering bushes that hung over low wooden fences, it was lodged within us, this oncoming reality of change. But we laughed, we surreptitiously picked flowers and put them in our hair. The most skillful and artistic of us pulling them in braids.

But we knew, as we carried the scent of summer flowers with us, that this could be the last. It was an unsaid thing.

Silence would fall on our skins the way the sun kissed our faces, poking light through the holes in our large-brimmed hats. The silence thrummed, imbued in all our collective fears. No one mentioned a thing as we walked closer together, slower. Arms brushed, fingers lightly hooked onto the swelling cloth of overlarge shirts fluttering in the wind. The songs of that summer walked in step with us, slid into the wind, and we momentarily forgot.

And then we reached ‘home’, that place with the perennially sun-kissed terrace and low-lying rattan chairs, the garden generously sprinkled with sand, and the swimwear that was always drying on the line. In the quietness, at night, you could even hear the waves crashing from afar. Some of us had places to be, people to meet.

In the brouhaha that is a group of girls getting ready, I slipped away. Solitary, a large towel wrapped around my waist. I didn’t even take the book I had been reading with me. I was too far gone into reality for any sort of escape. It was just me, that towel, some sunscreen and a cold bottle of limpid, peach iced tea the colour of sunsets, that had condensation dripping on the sides.

I remember my bare feet sinking into fine, too-warm sand, toes wiggling as they tried to grow roots into the sand, like palm trees. And then slowly, I entered the sparkling ocean, lukewarm from the sun, until it reached my waist and I dove forward. Later, I lay on top of the waves, my body cooled by the water and heated by the sun. I looked into the clouds until my eyes closed from the brightness of the sky. And I let myself be taken away, back and forth, right and left and everywhere in between. I was level with everything, heartbeat in sync with the waves, ears echoing the gentle woosh of the ocean.

Somewhat ironically, it was as I lowered myself into the ocean that I reached the height of that summer.

Is it wrong that when I think of that summer, it is that moment that matters most? That moment when I was all alone, and nothing else existed?

(But it doesn’t matter now, does it?)

Conversations With The Past

luceferous
Art by: Luceferous

“Have you ever wanted to be a thing?” she asks, her eyes wide and expecting.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of being something other than human. Most days, I’m quite happy being a complex constellation of thoughts and emotions and occasionally, home to one or two indescribable inner phenomena.

“What do you mean?”

Her face scrunches up, thinking. Then, she points to the sky. Too bright, too blue, and scorching my retinas.

“The sky?”

She shakes her head, pigtails swaying with the movement.

She points harder, her hand moving to follow something.

It’s a black plastic bag, stark against the summer sky. It is flying higher than the tallest building, dipping and soaring, flailing and being blown away towards the harbour. It’s drifting, drifting…

Free, free…

Maybe it’ll even stick to the masthead of one of those sailboats. All the while uncaring of the business of humans below. Unconcerned by the clinking of coins, the rustling of bills. Or the man shouting through a megaphone that you get 2 pizzas for the price of one in the next hour. The whirring of the slurpee machine, blending a rainbow of colours and the condensation gathering on the outside of the clear plastic. The crowds of people trying to enjoy their Saturday. Café-goers sitting by the terrace, one leg on top of the other, loose and content, sipping on some cold thing as the wind ruffles their hair, threatens to pick up their large hats. Or even the thick, black fumes of vehicles and the mellifluous yet angry “Dring! dring!” of a bicycle bell caught among car honks.

“You want to be a plastic bag?” I laugh.

Her pudgy little face scrunches up again, growing red and angry this time.

“Hmm, I wanted to be a clear plastic ball once.” I tell her.

She peeks at me, as though giving me a chance to redeem myself. It’s not everyday you get the chance to impress a child, you know.  At least not intentionally.

I don’t know why I still remember though. That clear beach ball. We’d lost it in the summer of 2004 to a roaring ocean. We were playing catch in the sand, right next to the sign that said “Dangerous bathing”. And then the ocean breeze caught the ball mid-throw and it disappeared in the froth of the sea, between the large, black rocks. Afterwards, we could see it drifting ever further from the coastline, reaching for the horizon. There was no saving it, either. We could just watch dolefully as it went away.

Drifting, drifting…

“It’s strange, but I still think about that ball sometimes.” I muse.

And it’s true. Many times after, in class or on the bus, I caught myself thinking about where that beach ball could have reached. Only later did I consider the possibility that it could have burst. But it didn’t matter long, that idea. The image of it drifting away was stronger than any imagined truth.

By now, my little companion has forgotten all about her grudge. Her eyes are twinkling, focused on some blank space, living the tale of the departed beach ball.

She grips my hand suddenly, tugging on my sleeve.

“And then! And then! What else did you want to be??”

I laugh as we walk away into the city, navigating the cobbled roads.

“Well, once, I wanted to be a parachute…”


Listening to:

 

…Never Made A Skillful Sailor (2/2)

 

Huebucket bicycle5
Art by: Huebucket

At this point, you either black out or you are paralysed.

Either way, no one starts gracefully. We all gasp for air, our throats seized with panic at first, our arms and legs kicking in fear. Ironically, we act like fish out of the water, thrashing around, wrestling the elements. Submerged in bills, decisions, appointments that you don’t know how to handle.

As you awaken the next day, tossed and turned around, nebulous like the froth of the sea, it dawns on you that for a long, long while, it will be just you. You and this vast, endless world. Temperamental, smooth, deep, calm and yet strong, this is what you’re up against. So deep it is that your feet never touch the ground. You are constantly out of your depths. There is nothing that has been as hard, ever. You are trying, heartbeat after heartbeat, to just stay alive. It becomes exhausting to live like this. So you stop trying. You find out that you can just lay back and let these waters take you wherever they will. For a while, that is life. You let yourself get drunk and seduced by weightlessness, over and over.

You do not care, you have no spirit left in you. Until the ocean turns inclement and it takes you by surprise as though you’d forgotten how it could be. Its waters turn you over, swallow you, crash in on you wave upon wave, and your body fights with a vigour you thought you had lost. You wake up one day, sober,your head feeling like an egg that has been cracked open. ‘What am I doing with my life?’

Sometime after, as the ocean is calm again, you meet some other soul. Thrown off a boat, haggard and famished like you. Under normal circumstances, you would have never cared for them. But now you are inexplicably linked, to the end of your days. Because right now, anyone will do.

Little by little, you learn together to hold your breath longer. You learn when to go with the ocean’s tides and when to swim against currents. You are learning that while you cannot find consistency in something this wild, you can learn the ways in which it is unpredictable. You learn to breathe again, to handle the tides, wave after wave. And if you’re drowning again, there’s someone who’ll save you.

By then, you keep meeting others like you. Drifting towards you like lost souls. Soon, with knowledge and the many people by your side, the untamable ocean just becomes life. With ups and downs, and storms that you have learned to weather. And one day you might have a ship of your own and someone to make walk the plank…


Note: This is Day 24 (!!!) of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the previous part for this story here. Short stories (Or just stories) are not really my forte, so if you have any constructive criticism, let me know 🙂

A Smooth Sea…(1/2)

“Some people choose to walk until they no longer feel the wood beneath them. They walk until the only other option is to fall. But some take up the chance to build up speed, to run and launch themselves ahead, into the night, into the unknown. “

Huebucket bicycle5
Art by: Huebucket

On the cusp of adulthood, at the end of the paved road, standing before a cliff with nowhere else to go, a silhouette strangely like mine. A person who keeps looking back to where she came from. You would think, with how much that poor soul is trembling, that there was a pirate’s sword being pushed into her back and merciless waters at her feet. And between them, only a feeble wooden plank soon to be pulled from under her feet if she doesn’t jump first.

I just try to imagine that moment. The lead sinking down in the stomach, stretching it so it reaches even the feet. The roar in the ears, the voices chanting to jump! jump! Being pushed out of a ship that has kept you safe from many a storm before, as you hid deep inside the ship’s belly and listened to Nature wreaking havoc, feeling the sudden, jerky undertow rocking the vessel. But now, on a stormy night, it is your turn. Tonight, you face the storm.

…jump! jump! jump!

Finally, a breath, sharp and something you feel even amidst all the fear and screams.

…jump! jump! jump!

Weightlessness, a brief moment of apnea, of bracing yourself, closing up all you can.

Some people choose to walk until they no longer feel the wood beneath them. They walk until the only other option is to fall. But some take up the chance to build up speed, to run and launch themselves ahead, into the night, into the unknown.

And when you finally hit the water and the first drop splashes, everything around you dies down. The screams and chants fade, there is only freezing water sloshing around, clamping around you like a fist, and a depth underneath you that keeps sucking you in. Your heart is beating so hard and fast it feels like a fish caught in a net, trying to fight its way out.

At this point, you either black out or you…

TO BE CONTINUED


Note: This is Day 23 (!!!!!!) of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. This story is a two-part one (Although actually, maybe it’ll turn into a three-part thing, who knows). You can also read my entry for Day 22 here. And if you liked this story, I’ve also written about this kind of ocean theme before, which you can find here, here and also here. (What can I say, I like the ocean). 

 

 

Too Big For The Ocean

“You no longer know the ocean. You do not remember running after airplanes taking off by the sea. Bare feet burning on the asphalt, laughing as we sped up, believing we would also take flight if we went fast enough. “

artbypuuung
Art by: Puuung

Years ago, on that sweltering summer day, we ran into the sparkling ocean, shrieking and splashing and living. Today though, I’m drawing starfish and seashells on the corner of a letter that will never reach you. Even so, I’m writing to you about how the ocean calls your name. How I wish every seashell I put to my ear would echo the sound of your laughs. I wish the ocean we shared before didn’t have to be the one thing to separate us now.

But do you remember what summer was like here?

The sun heating our faces, turning our shoulders red. The shaved ice coloured pink, green, yellow and blue that would melt on the stick, dripping down our hands. The wind filtering through the locks of our hair stiff from dried salt. The cold water we would drink straight from the coconut, heavy in our small arms. Do you remember that even then we held hands? Back when we knew nothing about the world, and it seemed the most natural thing to do?

Do you remember? But they tell me you’re trying to forget.  I can’t bear to ask because I’m always hoping I’ll hear the sound of your feet on the sand, sloshing against the welcoming waves. Always imagining you will return to the ocean and dare call it home. But home is no longer the space between our intertwined hands. Home is now an apartment building squeezed in between two others, right? Home is a grey flat lost in the metropolis, a shrub of greenery peeking out of a tiny, stuffed balcony.

There’s no point, right?

You no longer know the ocean. You do not remember running after airplanes taking off by the sea. Bare feet burning on the asphalt, laughing as we sped up, believing we would also take flight if we went fast enough. No, the city is yours now. This little village by the sea is nothing to you. Only a dot on the world map. A bit of green drowned in all the blue. You’ve outgrown the ocean, I guess. So I can only understand that if you’re big enough now to cross it, the only reason you are not here yet is because you don’t want to be.

I finish off the seashells with a golden pen. And the rest is muscle memory. Fold the letter in the envelope. Push it in the back of the drawer. Place it on top of the stack. Try to forget.

 


Note: This is Day 18 of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the entry for Day 17 here.

The Seamstress and the Sea

“Even the fish are trapped in a photograph, stuck in a time loop, in the moment before —before the adrenaline pumps, before life happens. And now, here they are. Trapped in a photograph forever, weighed down by dust bunnies.”

I went to the seamstress’s workshop today, wearing the patterned dress I wear too much already. But it’s navy blue and speckled with peach ship wheels and tan sailboats. And as though in the most perfect of worlds, even the golden zipper looks like a coral formation. I meandered away into the city, watched everyone else live their lives for a moment, reaching the quieter alleyways until, there it was, the workshop. Tucked away in a more obscure part of town, slotted in between houses coated in a film of smog.

It is not, by any means, a cheery workshop. Rolls of fabric leaning against the dull, not-so-white walls, cutoffs and stray threads discarded in heaps on the grimy tiled floor. Everything —the old, broken down sewing machines, the boxes and power outlets, even the water bottle— looks worse for wear.

Everything is so stagnant; it looks as though nothing has really moved in years. In my sleep-deprived state, I can almost visualise throwing the bottle in the air and the water not moving one bit. Even more painful to watch? The large A3 photograph that must once have been a bit beautiful. It’s all blue waters and yellow fish trying to break the surface, to emerge in a dazzling spray of ocean water into the blueness of the sky. But even that is frozen. Even the fish are trapped in a photograph, stuck in a time loop, in the moment before —before the adrenaline pumps, before life happens. And now, here they are. Trapped in a photograph forever, weighed down by dust bunnies.

It’s the kind of place you hate as a kid.

Because Time stands still, nothing moves, not even a wave of the imagination. But now, now that I am this…this adult who fears the passing of time…I don’t hate it. It feels like a saving point in a video game, like a place where nothing ever happens, where you could stay for a long while, knowing that you’ll be safe from the world, knowing that nothing will touch you. Maybe that’s why people choose lives like these. It’s unmoving, it’s safe.

But her, the seamstress, she’s not like that. She wears colours, purples and reds and oranges, and bangles that clink when she moves. She shows off gleaming dark ebony skin, her rotund arms and shoulders gleaming under the artificial light. There is just something about her. Maybe it is that she is young, probably around 27.

She isn’t done with the dress yet, which should have been done yesterday. So now, I have to wait.

I sit down on a stool, not-so-white and worn around the edges. It feels out of time. As though the curse of slow time and unmovingness was befalling me too. The sailboats and ship wheels on my dress are no longer moving. I am, after all, stagnant. So I tap my foot against the tile to keep the curse at bay, to prevent the dust from settling on me. Else I feel like I will be here forever, like her.

I watch her work from the corner of my eye — drat you, shyness— taken in a little by the whirring of the machine, the repetitive stabbing of the needle into the plum rose of my mother’s dress.

She must have a life, a brilliant (also, rude) part of my brain offers. She has already mentioned a mother. Perhaps she’s here because she’s waiting. Because she has to be safe for a while. Perhaps she’s waiting for someone, a fiancé who is a sailor (could that explain the photograph?) who is far away, burning under the sun, salt drying on his skin. Maybe she has plans to leave it all behind, this cursed workshop, the mountains of dust and cloth and disappear one day. Only, I would never know she was out, living in a coastal town in some other, faraway country, watching seabirds and ships, sewing uniforms and selling flowers on the side, smiling as she sees the ship bringing him back home.

But I’ll never know for sure, because I never ask.

It may all well be a lie. Maybe she will stay here forever. Maybe that’s why I don’t ask.

But now the dress is done and I’m still a bit of a child after all, so I run away, the dress and the sailboats and ship wheels fluttering in the wind.

 

 

 

Seeds and Ocean Blue

“..Imagine an ocean in the backyard. Imagine waking up to the gentle swoosh of the tide, the smell of salt, fresh and tingling your nostrils. But oh, every ocean has an ocean breeze, this cold spray that wets your skin, tickling the life  and laughter back into you.”

 

blueocean
Not my actual hand *Anonymity breathes a sigh of relief*

These are seeds, just seeds, and yet why do I feel as though if I tossed them in the backyard, a whole ocean would grow from them?

In this concrete jungle of a neighbourhood, where grey houses and apartments sprout up from nowhere with their dust and drills, hiding the sky and clouds from view —imagine an ocean in the backyard. Imagine waking up to the gentle swoosh of the tide, the smell of salt, fresh and tingling your nostrils. But oh, every ocean has an ocean breeze, this cold spray that wets your skin, tickling the life  and laughter back into you.

And the adventures…imagine the adventures. Anything from treasure-seeking to unwinding in a fold-back chair, toes in the sand and a good book in hand. But there would also be a horizon, all oceans have them and, and the stars that glitter in the night, their light reflecting off the water that never stills. And the shells, the polished rocks, even the green, gooey algae, the —

Maybe it doesn’t have to be an ocean, maybe just the sea or a river. A brook or a rivulet. Even a leaky faucet or a can of seeds that are just the right shade of blue.

Right?

Scared to Be Free

Regate
(Somehow, this photo caused all this writing.)

“People,” I recall her saying, “They are like boats in a harbour. They think they are free, but they’re really not.”

“Where’s the freedom in only being someone you’re supposed to be?” she asked. “Where’s the freedom in being moored to paperwork, to rules that are unspoken and unwritten? How free do you feel to be made to enjoy the sun’s bright glow behind a desk in an artificially lit room?”

“We’re too scared to be free.” I whispered. “Freedom is dangerous. Out at sea, there are storms. The waves are so monstrous that their very shadows instill fear in our hearts. How much trust can you put in one boat?”

“But don’t you want to know?? Don’t you ever wonder—”

I shook my head. And her voice, the light in her eyes died down.

Later, she was gone, her risk had not paid off.  And I was safe, warm and well-fed. But it still felt as though she had won much more than I ever would.

L’appel Du Large

huebucket-bicycle-11
Art by Huebucket

Have you ever heard the sound of a boat hitting the waves as it sways? Have you ever felt that sense of vertigo, this light-headedness as you rock from side to side, this feeling that can only be called beautiful— a wild, true kind of beautiful? Because sometimes, sometimes it is what I dream of.

This is what I see flashes of in between lectures and assignments, the white foam of the sea, the deep blue waters…This is the calling that reaches me as I plan for the future— “I’ll work for 2 years at X company and learn a language because firm Y, which will be hiring then wants polyglots and then I’ll wait another year to become a permanent employee and then…”

This is the feeling that makes me read reports a hundred pages long without understanding a single word because sometime into the reading, my hand slipped to the side of my head to support it and I found out that if I cupped my ear with my hand, I could hear the sea and its waves crashing into my ear.

And the scent…the scent of ocean salt, I can smell it when I close my eyes, when I put down my pen and push aside all those papers that mean nothing. It lures me in like a mermaid-song, wraps around my being and pulls me inexorably to where adventure lies.

It’s usually the middle of the week when these visions assail me, and suddenly, just like that, I don’t belong to the week anymore. I don’t belong to 5-year plans, to office etiquette and broken coffee machines.

I belong…to the world. To the deep blue seas and green pastures.

.

.

But it’s still the middle of the week, still Wednesday when I think that, and as much as I long to run, to swim, to fly— it’s still Wednesday. And I’m still very much “part of the system”. My life is still a 9 to 5 job. And my dreams…still dreams.