Adventures in the City

“Saturdays are for leaving the house, then returning, not knowing what will happen in between, where exactly the city will take me, or which train of thought I will board that day.”

ayhamjbar
Collage by: Ayham Jabr

Saturdays, I have decided, are for lazy walks around the city.

They are for dilly-dallying, for wandering down all the roads with strange, wonderful names that I usually bypass during the week. They are for leaving the house, then returning, not knowing what will happen in between, where exactly the city will take me, or which train of thought I will board that day. It seems all I have on those days is a train ticket to anywhere and a pleasant, thrumming wanderlust.

Saturdays are for denim jackets that flap in the wind, for loose, wild hair that flies freely without care and for sneakers ready to follow the trail of urban adventures. Saturdays are for walking through the older parts of this ancient city, in those places where the trees grow so tall they become mountains that dwarf the sky into looking like flecks of blue idly passing by. They are for bathing in the honeyed light of the sun, for stopping at bridges just to watch the water flow by in rivulets.

Saturdays are for walks in forgotten gardens, those ones that are protected by trees  bending over them, standing as boundaries between the city and its gardens, accidentally creating havens and whole other worlds in the process.

Saturdays—this Saturday was for eating melting ice-cream while sat upon graffiti’d walls, looking over the city and its people while humming some happy song. Or trying to decipher the meaning of the message written in the skies. Today was for wearing a scent and letting it drift to the wind, to the city’s rooftops and to the harbour, even to the foot of the mountains.

Yeah, this Saturday was for taking blurry pictures of the sky, not to share or post on Instagram, but just to remember. To remember that this Saturday happened. That life can be good and beautiful without being complicated. That it’s always the simple things. In that case, maybe Saturdays aren’t for all those things after all. Maybe they’re just a day to breathe, to be.

 

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:

 

“Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?”

” Breakfast was going to be cold milk and chocolate cereals, and I felt I could pass. Besides, anytime someone has milk and sugary cereals for breakfast (at 11, of all times) a dietitian dies or feels extremely offended without knowing why. So why not have no breakfast at all? It’s probably not a good idea to go into a heated kitchen without eating breakfast, but I’ve woken up at nearly 11, who’s saying I know anything about good decision-making? “

Alice
Gif from Alice in Wonderland

I woke up at 10:45 today.

By the time I started thinking about breakfast, my aunt called. She was going to make roti today, an indian sort of pancake. But not just any kind, no. Today, she was going to outdo herself. Today was going to be the Roti Olympics, the Tour de France, the Superbowl. Breakfast was going to be cold milk and chocolate cereals, and I felt I could pass. Besides, every time someone has milk and sugary cereals as breakfast (at 11, of all times) a dietitian dies or feels extremely offended without knowing why. So why not have no breakfast at all? It’s probably not a good idea to go into a heated kitchen without eating breakfast, but I’ve woken up at nearly 11, so who’s saying I know anything about good decision-making?

So I pull on some clothes, stuff that unruly hair in a semblance of a bun and glide down the streets, staring down anyone who dares look my way because I’m also not a morning person.

My aunt, or rather, one of my aunts, is well beyond 70, carefully reaching for that octogenarian status, the way a patient hand plucks a berry from a vine. You would never be able to tell though; she does not look a day over 50. Her eyes twinkle, as they always have and her face is smooth, lacking any deep wrinkles. But it is her energy for life that will leave you disbelieving. It’s something I don’t even have. More often than not, she is out of the house, going to some charity event or organising little gatherings with friends.

“Today,” she tells me “I’m doing it. I am making that layered roti.” She says with such glee, because she’s already started and it’s looking to be one of her best attempts yet.

Soon enough, my hands and shirt are covered in flour. We are rolling out dough balls so soft, so freaking soft that I cannot fathom what sort of witchcraft must have gone on to make that possible. Roll it out the thinnest you can, she says in that tone of the teacher she used to be, because we are going to do some magic. It turns out, after we are done sprinkling flour and glazing with purified butter, that we are fixing two of the stretched out dough pieces back-to-back and then folding them into layers, the way you fold an origami fan. Then when you have the folded dough, you roll it into a circle and watch as the layers form countless ridges that you can feel even when the dough is again rolled out.

It feels like you’re rolling time away, tucking seconds into seconds, stacking minute upon minute. It is work so detailed and delicate that even Time helps you out and slows down a little. As though it is also waiting with bated breath, pushing back the hand on the clock, hushing it, saying: “Oh hold on now! What’s the hurry—let me see what’s going on.”

Now that the dough has been rolled out again into its final form (In other words, frighteningly round), I run my finger over the ridges left between the layers. It’s calming and hypnotic, just running your finger around this soft mound, tracing the contour the way you would trace patterns in the sand. It’s effortless yet amazingly satisfying, the kind of simple thing that makes you appreciate being alive.

This time around, my aunt is making roti. But the time before, it was Baklava, before that it was Wonton soup, and before that it was Quatre-Quarts, which is, for all intents and purposes pound cake. But many of our cakes here tend to be French, even though we have a certain appreciation for all things British. But it’s mostly, I think, because we’ve picked up on the French way of being all : “Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas…” (Oh, after all, why not…) , that sense of indulgence that makes you reach for another piece of cake when you know you shouldn’t. La gourmandise, they call it, un petit péché mignon (literally, a cute sin). Yes, we are the kind of people who think that if you are eating a piece of cake and feel guilty, that you’re doing something wrong somewhere. How many times have we said: “Oh, après tout…”, giving up on diets just to enjoy a sweet, milky cup of tea with family and friends, colleagues even? How many times have we said : “Eat now, diet later”? And oh, all the times we get laughed at when we get back from the doctor’s with strict diet rules AND NO CHEATING THIS TIME. But we can’t help it mostly, we’re hobbits for crying out loud.

Although that’s something I love seeing. Rotund people. People who look like they just got married and have put on weight. You know, round, rosy cheeks, arms that turn soft and a little pudgy. On men, you see it especially well when they insist on wearing slim-fit shirts. You can see some of the buttons really struggling to keep it together, but the man wearing the shirt couldn’t care less because he’s well-fed and glowing, and still thinking about the dinner from yesterday. It’s never too much weight really, just enough that it spills over, like when you pour batter into a cupcake paper liner and it overflows just slightly, to everyone’s delight. I like calling this phenomenon The Weight of Happiness. Like you have too much happiness and some of it just had to go somewhere, you know? You are happy, so you eat. Or you eat and you become happy. University has made me all sallow-cheeked though and my hobbit family is constantly trying to feed me.

The rotis are still frying on the pan, so I let my eyes wander. The kitchen is a world of its own, a laboratory full of ongoing projects. There’s half a coconut lying on the marble counter, more cartons of fresh eggs than any one person strictly needs, a macaron recipe tacked to the fridge, fruits waiting to be pressed, bananas hanging out with oranges and a bag of semolina. A strange herbal tea concoction is steaming by the sink, as though that were normal. There are herbs drying by the open window, sunlight pouring over green glass bottles in which unidentified fruits and vegetables are slowly pickling. And the sunlight on the dark green glass is creating delightfully enigmatic patterns of light against the tiled kitchen wall.

Outside, it seems Time also went all: “Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?” today and is swaying on a hammock on the beach somewhere. Or at least, that’s what it feels like when you see the tall sun-stained plants with their red leaves turned pink in the light. The ferns and some other vine are hanging down from the slightly rusty shelf affixed on the stone wall. The wind is blowing, all sweet-tempered and reverent, rustling the leaves gently, entrancingly, almost lulling the garden to sleep, sprinkling sunlight on it, rocking it like an infant, singing it a lullaby so that it may finally dream.

The roti, it turns out, is everything you would want anything to be. The crust, a thin layer that cracks under your teeth, gives way to the most pillowy texture, something so dangerously soft I am now absolutely certain sorcery was involved in the making. Because the first bite melted in my mouth like sugar in warm milk, I have to take another and another until there is nothing left and I am eyeing another.

Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?

 


Note: This is Day 26 (O.O) of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the entry (which is quickly turning out to be my favourite one) for the previous day here. We also totally made flan today, and the entire day was busy and slow and too warm and amazing, but this is already the longest post I’ve made. If I were to write about the whole day, you’d easily be reading this until tomorrow.

These Sunday Evenings

“A place to drift off, to find yourself loosening up and catching quite the recreational nap, as sunlight would filter through the window and rest  like a feather on one side of your face, all light and warm.”

I am so grateful for our little time-loop, our escape from the world. It’s not much, just a couple hours every Sunday, around 3 to 6, tea, cake and conversation or leafing through newspapers. A few hours of watching crap TV or of playing the same Mario Kart or Just Dance.

Sometimes, we all just lie down and ease into our own worlds, bodies still heavy and weary from the drudgery of the past week, and we don’t talk. We just shove each other around and gaze into our phones.

It seems a pity, doesn’t it?

You don’t see somebody for a whole week and when you do, you don’t even look at them.  But we never needed that anyway. It was never about how much we talked or what we talked about. It was just about being there, all together. Like an agreed upon thing we never discussed, these Sundays at Nan’s place. Some place safe. Somewhere you always belonged even though you could freeze your bum off on the tiled floor if someone decided to sprawl all over the bed. A place to drift off, to find yourself loosening up and catching quite the recreational nap, as sunlight would filter through the window and rest  like a feather on one side of your face, all light and warm. A time to suddenly notice the birdsong and the sounds of motorcycle engines roaring away. A place to reminisce or to tease (“I swear the mattress dipped half a metre down after you ate those 2 slices of banana bread.”) Or talk about the neighbours. Or complain about life and exams and expectations, or moaning about how there is nothing to do.

Just bring yourself, eat cake, drink tea, and be whatever the day wills you into.


Note: ‘NaNoWriMo’ Day 5