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.
It started with a frantic search for Beauty, something I was looking for like a missing gold earring. I couldn’t find it where I was: somewhere amidst smog-stained skyscrapers and the confines of open offices. To no avail I turned myself inside out. To no avail, I looked out the window, soaked in the morning dew and afternoon sun. It was as though Life was consumed by endless shades of grey. Like I had swapped my rose-coloured glasses for smoke-tinted shades.
Beauty would not come my way: it refused to sprout from the cracks in the concrete, to touch me even through broken streams of sunlight. Spurned by the world, I turned inwards, chasing the ball of light flitting about my consciousness. But there was something off about it, too. It was oddly calm, unmoving as though tranquilised. Then, uncharacteristically, I turned to others. I made the first step then the second and the third. And let me just say: people are beautiful but I wouldn’t go looking for Beauty with a capital ‘B’ in them.
And then finally, colour appeared to me in the lazy, drawled-out sentences of a yellowed library book that hadn’t been borrowed in 25 years. It is there, in creamy pages infused with a nostalgic scent that I finally felt the sun dappled on my face. I awoke to the sweet smell of pressed camellias and the lone sound of a lovesick violin… I found beauty in someone else’s eyes, I felt warmth through some other skin.
It was such a lazy novel to read: not much happened but the passage of time. The plot mainly stayed in place, only ever swaying slightly to the left or right, like a person who is trying not to fall asleep even as their head lolls about this and that way. I did fall asleep to it so many times though, rocked by visions of summers eternal and love enduring. These words left on my eyelids daydreams the way a pressed flower leaves its feathery marks on the pages of an old book. It was slow too, unhurried like a riverboat trip through time. My heart slowed to a gentle, rhythmic beat, joining birdsong and the rustle of leaves in their naturalness.
Ah, all these unfathomably rich sentences, these pages overflowing with wonder and an underlying magic — these Spanish names, the gorgeous sound of the R’s I’ve been learning to pronounce. Fermina Daza, Juvenal Urbino de la Calle, Florentino Ariza. Oh and the stretched-out sonorities: San Juan de la Ciénaga, Escolástica.
Lazy, drawled out like a long summer afternoon on the terrace, body too heavy to move significantly, uninhibited, tired, forming slurred words, limbs far too lax to hold any tension…
Do you ever feel that this life is not really yours?
I have this deep, unsettling conviction sometimes that one day I will wake up, and it will all have been a dream.
I must have wandered off one late summer day, probably during a family picnic at the beach. Trying —without knowing— to touch a moment of infinity, to connect to the strange energy swirling inside of me. I tried to talk to the ocean, to understand the hidden language behind its ebb and flow, and the eons-old story it tells.
“Tell me what you know about the stars.” I whispered.
I let the washed up shells guide my steps, imagined waking up within one of them, bathed in a pinkish glow. All around me, the world was telling a story and I was listening. To the winds that told me where they go to rest, to the rocks that have only ever felt life, to the sands that murmured stories of when they were corals settled deep in the ocean.
I must have wandered so far as to get utterly lost. But I was unaware. Too taken by the secret magic of the world to notice. I wandered for years following that inner light, only looking up much later, far away from the beach, from any sounds of laughter, from any comfort of family.
And ever since, I’ve been trying to find my way back. Have been trying to connect to that same energy from that day on the beach, many summers ago, in the hopes that it will take me back.
So far, I have reached a desert, where seashells have been swapped for fennecs and other desert dwellers. The desert sand tells a different story : one of dunes and unfathomable mysteries buried in its breast. And again, losing a few years, I listen.
Once or twice, I think I collapsed from heatstroke. And in between my barely open eyelids, I glimpsed the beach from another world, another time. The backs of the people I love are turned to me, and even though I’m so near, they can’t see me, they don’t even know I’m gone. Or that I will be gone.
But then, on the third time, I wake up.
All the years I’ve lived in the desert dissolve into dust; they were never real. That is how life feels some days. An imaginary journey, something I was too young to embark on, something too dangerous. I’m constantly straying from the things that brought me warmth and comfort, and my whole life is spent seeking that lost haven, never knowing whether I will find it.
Note : Did that even make sense? 😂 I don’t know, but it’s good to be back posting.
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.
“If reality were nothing but an agreed upon lie, childhood would be the most beautiful lie we would have.”
It’s always so strange to see childhood friends being adults.
To see them in suits and beards, wearing 9-inch heels and nail polish when I’ve seen them eating glue, their hair a nest, some of their teeth missing or moving precariously in their mouths. It feels like a masquerade, like another school show they’re putting on.
Any moment now, the sticker-beard will fall off, the nail polish will wash off and they will all shrink back to their normal sizes. In this way, life feels so unreal. Like I will wake up from a nap and will find myself in that old classroom with the worn wooden chairs, the smell of flowering trees and summer wafting through the windows, chalk dust all over my hands. And my friends will be laughing at me while my teacher sighs and tells me to go wash my face.
Sometimes, life feels like this weird, far-fetched dream, the kind you have when you’ve had too much sugar during the day.
Other days though, it is childhood that seems too farfetched. Too perfect to ever have been real. Like something a younger version of you would go to a genie to wish for.
But it’s real. Or at least, it seems to be. If reality were nothing but an agreed upon lie, childhood would be the most beautiful lie we would have.
“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. “
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?
“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.
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…
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.
“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.
“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. “
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 grass is so tall you cannot even see the city to the right. It’s just you, the rustling leaves, and the road ahead. “
At the plateau, the landscape diverges into two paths: one paved, curving around the hill, dotted with electricity poles and power lines. The other is steep, still covered in grass and shrubs growing around football-sized rocks. The first time, we took the paved road. Because we didn’t know which way was the right way. Because other people were also taking the paved road. I wonder if there had been no one on that first day, if we would have taken the other road instead? If we would have given in to this itch in ourselves to go find out what was at the other end of that road. I wonder, how many decisions we make in life simply because we see other people do the same. How much of us is truly our own selves? How much is mere imitation? Where do we end and where do others begin?
I’m a little bothered by it now, especially with how much I adore Frost. But today, today, we are taking the road less traveled by. It is winding and uneven, I’ve stumped my foot on a few rocks and my pants have caught on at least a dozen thorns.
But the wind on my face is worth all of the city. It’s so strong and crisp I would worry about taking flight. But why would I need to fly now? It feels like the world is laid out before me this afternoon. The satellite dishes are gleaming white in the sun, the water on the rooftops is reflecting its light, creating the most enchanting illusion of honeyed depths.
In between deep silences, our oddly matched group ( A 12-year-old with bloodlust and a fascination for all things dark and creepy, a chatty, surprisingly well-rounded 14-year-old who might or might not be anaemic, a 20-year-old whose thoughts I cannot read, and well, me, cowardly yet curious me) is reminiscing about summers past. About how we would have barbecues at night in Grandma’s garden, how we would hide in the storage room under the stairs, and remember when we had parakeets? At this point, we have climbed up and then gone down. The grass is so tall you cannot even see the city to the right. It’s just you, the rustling leaves, and the road ahead. Further down, the road narrows, and an eerie silence reigns. The conversation has changed to food and we are ranking the best and worst fried chicken we’ve ever had. It is agreed upon that KFC is not what it used to be. The 20-year-old has eaten a piece of fried chicken 2 months ago that he can’t seem to forget about.
“If I try to remember really hard,” he says, “I can still taste that drumstick in my mouth sometimes.”
But no amount of fried chicken could distract you from the disturbing silence. Especially when the 12-year-old is raving about zombies, murder and this being the ideal place to hide a corpse. As though an omen, a warning, there is a decrepit, fallen tree blocking the narrowing path. As someone who has studied literature before, you would think I would pay heed to foreshadowing. But like fools, we march on. There are faraway sounds of roosters singing and lonely birdsong. Along the way, we see a huge tree covered in vine, greener than grass could ever be. There are attempts at an Instagram photo, all failed.
We walk and walk until the path gets too narrow and thankfully, thankfully, we decide to turn back.
Now, we’re walking in line and even though we’re walking away, I’m still fearing an attack any minute now. So because I have watched exactly 3 horror movies in my life, I know what to do. I place myself in the middle. Got my back and front covered. Totally unrelated to this, is the fact that I am a Gryffindor.
The sun is setting as we return, and this time, there is an all-out photoshoot taking place. Gotta get that light, says the 14-year-old. It’s peaceful, with this orange glow cast over us. We’re dragging behind, lazy and sweaty, content.
By the time we get to the foot of the hill, the sun is no more than a thin band of light on the horizon, and we walk home in its dying breath.
Note: This is Day 11 of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge 🙂 You can find the previous part here .
“Guilty, childlike expressions on wrinkled faces hidden behind cards held up so high, the whirring fan no one hears anymore, and the rare, cool night air that is consumed in the concentration of human warmth”
Ice cubes melting in dark, bubbling soda, clinking as he twirls the tall glass dripping with condensation,
Humidity in the air, a stickiness that is here to stay and mosquitoes buzzing around, seasonal flies attracted to the light,
Laughter and shrieks, hands banged on the table, voices crying victory and monopoly bills flying in the air,
Guilty, childlike expressions on wrinkled faces hidden behind cards held up so high, the whirring fan no one hears anymore, and the rare, cool night air that is consumed in the concentration of human warmth,
Cold, red watermelon, juice dribbling down chins and hands, the rinds left lying in piles like beef ribs and T-bones after a barbecue,
Pimpled faces isolated, all tucked in an airless room, gazing into a phone, no longer whispering, but guffawing and teasing, cries of “Call her! Call her!”
Loud snoring and a body sprawled all over, TV commentators commenting to no one in particular, several clicks and giggles, “One more for the album”,
Good nights, thank yous and we’re goings, then 15 minutes chatting at the door, “Anyone want tea?”, a congregation in the kitchen, and a beautiful summer night that goes on forever.