We are still at the foot of the mountain when the sky clears and the first hints of a sun appear.
And here it is.
The city and the paths of our lives.
Somewhere out there, our lives are unraveling in our absence. The baker is rushing on her feet, carrying out trays of bread for us to buy later. The hyperactive ophthalmologist is probably up already, checking to see that I have an appointment later today. The bank is investing my savings away; light sunrays must now be dancing in the spaces between my thick, bunched up duvet, left in a hurry earlier. Police officers are milling about by the barracks; stray dogs are already wandering the uneven streets of this reckless city in search of a life.
This is where we have been born, where we live, where we will die.
It’s a bizarre experience: to have lived in one place all your life.
Where others might associate a garden to one moment in time, one summer, one person, this whole landscape is a gallimaufry of memories to me, each one piled on top of the other. 24 years spread too thickly over these same buildings and streets. Memories from all the ages and transformations of our lives layer every corner of this city; every park bench, bus stop and hole-in-the-wall restaurant bears a distinct patina of nostalgia.
Out there in this maze of lives are the people we used to be, stored in the minds of people who once knew us. People who don’t know what we’ve become, for whom we slowly stopped existing, erased by absence.
I no longer have the courage to take the road where we walked together, forever ago now, a lifetime back. But there are days when I still have to. Days when I must push past the rush of memories, the thickness in my throat and walk all over my feelings because Life simply calls for it.
It’s never easy to be the one who stays. There is no place to hide, nowhere to run to.
Balmy summer nights. Condensation trickling down glass bottles no sooner are they popped out into the heat. Glistening droplets sliding down, making the bottle slippery, one moment away from crashing onto the floor.
There is a warm, orange tone to life. The everyday scenes have changed to reflect that. Dripping mountains of coloured shaved ice, necks glowing with perspiration, a looseness in the limbs, the general air of summertime carefreeness and mouths that sigh, sigh, sigh: at the heat, the late buses, the sweet, good times.
I feel like I am living in a metaphor. That somehow, this moment is more than its apparent sum, hiding more meaning than I am able to decipher. Summers always feel a little far away somehow; I know there is a large part of them I cannot touch even as they unravel underneath my fingers in waves of summer tunes and late-night conversations. There is a depth I cannot feel, a susurration my ear is not attuned to. But I believe that life happens twice: once in the moment, and then again in retrospect. So I stay up nights not to understand, not to grasp and pursue this vast unknown expanding in my chest, but to experience, simply. To sigh at the cricket concerts, at the humidity sticking to my skin like a layer of cling film, at the gentle smile of a summer love.
Whatever meaning there is, whatever lesson or symbolism lays dormant in these moments, they will come to me when they need to.
Presently, I am filling up on the sticky sweetness of right-nows, enjoying my gentle metaphors, my odes to freedom and pink-peach summer skies.
I want a little more time to feel these in-betweens. Why do they have to come in flashes? Why do they have to be windows of opportunity forever lost if you do not jump through them? Like twilight, why do these moments have to be fleeting? I want more time to decipher this melancholy, to unravel my feelings, to pick out my memories from the film roll of my life.
Yet it seems so selfish to ask for more time when I have already had so much of it. The clock has been kind to me this year, allowing me more moments of peace than I thought I could get. But as the decade draws to an end and the sun sets on another 10 years of my life, I need a moment to stomach it all: how far I’ve come, how far I’m meant to go.
I mean, at the other end of this coming decade, I could emerge as a 34 year old. At the beginning of this decade I am leaving behind, I was 14. My twenties feel like a whole moment in-between so far. A transition period, a world made of bridges I have to cross or build or repair.
So forgive me if I am holding onto time, begging it to stop for a little while for me, I just want to understand. I want to clearly understand the immensity of the ten years that have passed and the ten more to come, maybe.
Note: It’s not yet 2020 where I’m from and as I post this, but I hope you can take the best of this decade with you. I do not like to think that new years can bring anything, so to speak. My belief is that we are the ones who bring change. But it’s hard not to get swept up in the spirit of newness, to not feel a swelling of hope in spite of every evil thing we know exists in the world. So I wish that, wherever you are in the world, you can take some of that hope with you and hold onto it. Happy New Year, everyone ❤️
Any time now…any moment now, I will wake up to a whole new world, glittering beneath me like stars, constellations.
There is something about this term I adore : voyaging under the cover of night, wearing midnight on your back like a hooded cape encrusted with stars (stars, stars, stars everywhere in my vision, these days). Something about it is simply so delightfully secretive, an endless source of wonder. What could happen in the night, I ask myself, that the morning would know nothing of?
2 a.m. escapades to the city come to mind. When you and I burst out of a stuffy apartment filled with the moisture of summer and emerged into the fresh breath of night running down the streets. Hushed laughter, messy hair and pyjama bottoms made their way to one of those shops that are always open, no matter the time of night or day. The sound of fritters sizzling quietly in oil filled the night as we whispered for fear of breaking some sacred silence.
Night flight is…
Stumbling out of a club flashing all shades of colours, the walls outside booming, shaking with music. And us, drunk on nothing but adrenaline and freedom, waving our arms out of the car window, swinging and swerving around the scenery. Do you remember how we tried to grab fistfuls of the night to not let it turn into day? We wished ardently for the night not to slip from our fingers like sands of Time. So we grabbed onto night’s sleeve so that it would not turn into the day, but it did.
And now, I am simply counting the days. 8 to go until my night flight, my covert adventures. 8 days to go until I have the night for a companion. 8 days left until I somehow go right through the glass of the plane window reflecting my awed expression from the other side. And I will find myself floating next to the stars that have guided me all through my childhood, to my darkest days, to now.
“How lovely it is to finally meet you.” I will say to the stars.
To be able to graze them, even when separated by thick metal layers and engines, what an absolute privilege will that be.
I understand now why people call celebrities “stars” — they shine brightly and are so unattainable, yet so beautiful from afar, from where we gaze up at them from the gutter. I’m afraid that perhaps I am a little more old-fashioned and prefer the original kind of “star” — a fireball burning beautifully into the night, kindling the dreams of every dreamer of a child.
No matter how many times I say it,no matter how many times I try to expel these blue feelings with my breath, they simply won’t be forced out, and I am left blue-hued and blurry. It is as though my body has gone up in fumes, like I was walking down the street and a stray witch’s spell hit me right in the chest, turning me into blue smoke.
And what’s left to do when you’re smoke but to wander and disperse? To dissolve into particles in the thin night air—to never be whole again. Endlessly scattered, like the foam of the sea when it crashes onto black volcanic rocks.
My mind is all sorts of foggy now, so I am staying in and waiting for clearer skies.
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.
“The day is new, but I am an old, old soul navigating this life through in the old capital…”
The old capital sleeps still as my footsteps echo in its dimly-lit streets, shoes clacking against the marble floor of a colonial-age building that stands proud and mighty, even in the dark.
These teeming thoroughfares that are always loud, infused with smog, resonating the cries of vendors are now so calm, so silent. Almost robbed of life. But there is this silent energy that thrums in the old city, as though the heart, the essence of the city came to life at night, revealing itself to me.
In the orange light of the streetlamps flickering gently in a puddle, the years slowly pass me by.
There is a scent of wildness and freshness, and there is too much sky. Too much sea; the port has yet to be. The city is so young, only now emerging from the ground. Wisps of a language too old for me to understand float in the air. In coaches and carriages, there are men and women, dressed in the finest cottons and silks on their trip to the newly-born capital, hair coiffed, faces painted. But behind them others trail. Nameless. Faces darkened with sweat and grime, with no choice but to be brought to this foreign city and to do as others will. History will remember the names of the ones who brought them there. But their own stories will forever be lost in the nooks and crannies of the capital. The city reminds me that it has never been kind.
But it is archaic, has been there for a long, long time.
The carriages fade, and instead, a crowd amasses near the docks. The first letters have arrived. And newspapers several months old, spices, all sorts of items from around the known world (silk from china, embroidered cloths from India…).
Soon and yet not soon enough, the faces of those who wander the capital freely change. Now, dark skin gleams proudly under the sun, braided locks tumble freely in the wind.
And then all the horses fade. Soon, a few sleek and shiny cars ride along asphalted streets. The capital is changing. It has been changing for a long time now. A boy cries out headlines, stacks of newspapers behind his frail legs. Families bustle around, buying groceries and presents for upcoming holidays. The city is warm and welcoming, now. Many a wayward sailor finds home in one of its hidden places.
And then the boy is gone, and the headlines speak of a war. The streets are cold, the sunlight unwelcome. Whispers of “the war” fan now-sparsely populated roads. The people are glum and thin. Smiles turn out to be rarer commodities than food. Officers, decked in imposing uniforms stalk around, seeming tall and all too important, whisper heatedly of things only they know. The city does not grow much during that time. It hides.
And then the war is over. It is a blink of an eye to the old city, that war. Yet for its people it seemed like it would never end, even when it did. The city is never the same after.
The cars grow sleeker and more numerous now. But protests fill the streets of the city ever so often, and the old capital can only bow to the determined faces, the strong arms brandishing signs.
And then all too fast the years flash by, and even as my eyes water from the whiplash of that much knowledge all at once, I catch glimpses of faces that seem distantly familiar. Faces that I have only ever seen this young and carefree in yellowed photographs. Floral skirts and wild hair flow in the wind, large, tinted sunglasses resting atop noses.
And then there is a child tottering about near the port, ignoring a melting heap of ice-cream, instead entranced by the horizon, the boats and ships leaving the harbour. I know who that child is. I remember.
And later, later, the city rises from the earth and the night, touches the skies and doesn’t mean to stop there.
The day is new, but I am an old, old soul navigating this life through in the old capital.
Do you ever feel like…home is not home to all of you? That yes, home is soothing and comforting—safe, but even between the toasty layers of your pajamas and blankets, there still hides the smallest ball of light, vibrant and tireless, restless to just go. Scratching at all your carefully arranged layers of warmth, emerging like a heartbeat that you try to quiet down after each thump.
It isa secret you hide from yourself, willing yourself into ignorance, into safety. Not wanting to partake in the destruction of comfort so painstakingly obtained.
It’s strange to feel that so constantly.
To have your quietude stampeded upon from the inside. Defied by a wild heart bathed in kaleidoscopic visions of ethereal worlds. I want quiet and solitude, reflection, meditation, but my heart is still so young. Unused to the ways of life, eager to find out more, more, more, as much as the world can give and more, more, more.
So it stirs me up from peaceful sleep, taints my peach-painted dreams in colours of sky and ocean. It whispers of adventures and worlds to be visited, explored, created. And like an overexcited child on a sugar high, it will not go to sleep. Never, absolutely not.
So when it can no longer ignore its pull, my weary, wrinkled soul will take that young heart out to see the world. And there is something about that youth, that excitement, that makes my soul bloom anew. If only just a little.
The newness of discovery reminds me again of how beautiful the world can be. If only you look at it with the right eyes.
“I’m scared sometimes that I’ll never find out. That I’ll always feel this gaping hole and never be able to fill it. And my only merit would be to have existed as long as I would have—a sort of congratulations on not dying. “
“I feel like the last of my species sometimes. Like a human-shaped dinosaur. ” she laughed grimly.
“As though I were existing by accident, as if I were a thing of the past already. An absurdity, an anachronism. Something someone would point to to say it did not belong. Or something to stick in an exhibit in a museum for people to ooh and aah at. Except that I would be an object with no discernible history. As if my history was buried with me, and it got left behind when I was unearthed, reborn into the world. I’m scared sometimes that I’ll never find out. That I’ll always feel this gaping hole and never be able to fill it. And my only merit would be to have existed as long as I would have—a sort of congratulations on not dying.
“No one understands, really. The only ones who can would be others like me. Other people from the past. Only they would understand the pain of a thousand years of living without remembering any of it. But I don’t fool myself into thinking they would be the answer. They might understand, but they have their own pains to tend to. Their own callings to answer to. No, what we need are people with a love of old things. People who do not mind if you are a bit broken, because they understand that it’s pretty amazing that you’re here at all.”
“But dreams are bubbles: beautiful, flimsy and with a certain habit of drifting away, far away into the sun. And I have drifted with the winds and the currents, have touched the skies and stars, possibly in sleep. I have felt nebulas bursting underneath my skin, lighting up rooms in my mind that were never before there. I have had lights and darknesses poured over me in equal measures, have had fires ignited in my heart and extinguished in the same minute. I have touched a little bit of infinity. “
I never thought I would live to be an adult.
Never thought I would be roaming the Earth for as long as I have now—20 years and then some. I didn’t think I would “die young”. No, I just never saw it coming. It was all just so far away; an abstract future I told myself to not worry about just now. But I also never thought I would change, evolve, and sometimes even…bloom.
But between then and now, in that time when I was supposed to learn how the world works, how to put on make-up and make connections, I dreamed. Days and nights that were simultaneously long and short, I was tucked away in a world of my own making. And I invited a few people in sometimes. They were called Saint-Exupéry or Frost, Rowling or Tolkien, Kahlo or Jalāl ad-Dīn( Yeah, first-name basis).
But dreams are bubbles: beautiful, flimsy and with a certain habit of drifting away, far away into the sun. And I have drifted with the winds and the currents, have touched the skies and stars, possibly in sleep. I have felt nebulas bursting underneath my skin, lighting up rooms in my mind that were never before there. I have had lights and darknesses poured over me in equal measures, have had fires ignited in my heart and extinguished in the same minute. I have touched a little bit of infinity.
I have drifted back, now.
Into what turned out to be a forced landing into adulthood. I did not have the pleasure of pulling an Icarus, of reaching for the sun earnestly, of knowing how to fly and never wanting to go down again. I did not have the pleasure of loving the thrill of zeniths so much I would die in the pursuit, refusing to go anywhere but further ahead. I was not prepared, so it was not a graceful landing. I was all fumbling limbs, bruised knees and awkward words. Like when you crash a party and everyone stares at you.
The days of wandering, and indeed the days for wonder are not all lost now. But even so, adulthood comes with a few restraints. Restraints which I balk from calling shackles (For fear that is exactly what they are). Yet here I am now. A young adult. Slightly unlike, I’ve been told (at times pityingly or with a sneer, at others kindly) other young adults I know. There are only few my age who do not find intense passions for words, spoken and unspoken, a little weird. They are not many, those who view solitude as a season to blossom, a door, an adventure.
At times too, without pretension, without arrogance—without wanting to disrupt the smooth flow of normalcy—my hand catches onto the inherent sadness of life. I breathe in the history of places, I let the dust and the memories of forgotten lives settle in. In crowds, I let the untold stories of the world wash over me. So, at times, I am older than I really am. Old, ancient, almost. And all the odder, too.
Because what a mess of many things I am.
A young adult, ambitious, eager to see the world yet unwilling to succumb to the cold, harsh ways of the adult life that comes with it.
Young, then. But also old. As if it was not enough, there is also a child’s laughter, bubbling to the surface. The world through a child’s eyes, brilliant, full of wonder, yet also eyes that are calm and a little weary, even distrusting.
The story hasn’t come to an end. Even now, as I am writing it, I watch it unfold. And I write it, I do, in part for others, and in part to reach myself.