“I give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
- Judith Minty, “Letters to my Daughters”
We left the winter beaten landscape of Sweden drooping like wilted flowers dying for a single ray of sunshine. Over the years, Scandinavian winter had cast its ominous spell heavily on us until we recognised the melancholic and uninteresting streak that had begun to bend us out of shape. We could hardly appreciate the brisk summer because we knew that winter was longer, darker and it was coming. There is something about a severe winter that gives one a feeling of being trapped in a white prison. A month or two or even three of this can be romanticised but a six of those every year is enough to turn one acerbic like wine turning into vinegar. People like us are not built to survive long winter months; neither are we built to sustain scalp-piercing heat. We are simply constructed to live in a place where the weather doesn’t interfere. And where would that be? We wondered and we dreamed of it every day of our lives. Without our knowing, our children had become like us searching for the one place they could call home where life wasn’t about thick layers of clothing that was too difficult to peel off, or about being baked alive under the sun. “It’s just a matter of time. We will find it dear.” We reassured them with enough hope that hugged our dreams tight at night. What we didn’t know was, that they were growing like lotuses in a pond with roots floating lightly in the water. They could grow into beautiful individuals or into despondent creatures with no desire to ever root themselves. That was the repercussion that was likely of our flights for the search of a better world. But we braced for it with the hope of seeing them turn into fantastic human beings who had the best of many worlds and for whom adapting would be like their second skin. Perfect people for the future they await, we imagined. We could be wrong but we liked to believe that we were right.
* * *
Snowflakes bundled up like balls as it hit the ground and covered the train tracks until it wasn’t seen any longer. Icy cold wind drove the snow in the air with a horrible force that pecked the faces of passers by. Trains got delayed and passengers sitting on-board blew out clouds of frustration. Those that stood on the platform waiting for their rides kept waiting until the toes turned blue inside their shoes.
We sat on our seats bloated with the anticipation of the sun in a couple of hours feeling like the luckiest individuals on earth.
* * *
We had packed our lives – once again – in boxes and left, in search of some place better. Our aspiration of “some place better” had grown taller over the years and we rolled on like stones gathering no moss. Something that was unique about us was, how we just packed up and left without looking back. We made mistakes like everyone else did and we found ourselves drawn back to the dreary winter ravaged land that only had a hint of a fleeting but spectacular summer. Sooner or later, we’d be packing once again. When we weren’t actively doing something to change our lives, the tedium of routines transformed us into brooding sagging individuals, growing old before time. The thing about us was that we were the male and female version of the same person. We perceived things alike and we made similar decisions, sometimes even without thinking. We were like the current on a stream meandering towards one destination not fated to do otherwise. While some may think such a combination stale, we thought it was convenient and peaceful. Very peaceful.
* * *
The waves started big and menacing further off and diminished into an unthreatening frothy fizz along the shore. We dug our feet on the golden sand and sat reading under the shade of branches overhanging the beach while the children ran in and out of the sea. The sun was just right and the saline breeze left small slivers of salt on our darkened skins. Along with the children, we ran into the sea riding waves until sea water burned our eyes and throat, becoming children ourselves, squealing when a big warm green wave flushed us towards the shore. Once the sun disappeared below the sea far away, and once the sea turned black from green we walked back to the house and washed away the salt. Fresh stir fried seafood piping hot and stinging with taste of fresh chilli, spring onion and lime leaves awaited us at the sea side restaurants where we spent most of our evenings, with the children always finding a meal of their preference. Over a glass of local beer we looked at each other and we smiled happily exchanging no words, only a deep understanding that we had done the right thing. Even if it was only for some time.
The balmy climate soon grew into stifling hot evenings, and scorching afternoons had us hibernating during the day only to slink out of the house at night like nocturnal animals. The kidney shaped pool that reflected the sky earlier, grew green and slimy under the swelling heat. The water in the pool grew too hot to swim and it stank of sour breath. With curtains drawn we lay on our beds during the days waiting for the sun to disappear. When at all we went outside, we hunted for air-conditioned cafes and sought refuge at once. Sometimes we grew more confident as the smell of fresh seafood wafted from the open seaside restaurants and we ate until our skin puffed up from sweating too much. The children quietly went on with their week with the hope of a colourful weekend, never complaining. They went where we took them without a single protest. Sometimes they walked behind us and beside us through the blistering streets of the city, quietly, certain that their parents were taking them some place better. We felt blessed to have these young travelling companions who drank the world around them in large gulps and wondered about people, about cultures and about religion. We tried our best to give the best answers, to satiate their wondering; their pondering.
The temperature soared to an unforgiving forty-five degrees and we continued to hide inside during the long afternoons, waiting, planning our next move. By the way the wind stopped blowing; by the way the food rotted inside the refrigerator; by the way swine flu started spreading from the north, and by the way even heavy rains couldn’t slacken the heat, we knew it was time to leave. We hoped we’d stay but we saw early on, that this was not the “some place better” we’d imagined. Where that would be, we didn’t know yet. The only thing we knew was that we were leaving and so we piled the to-be-packed belongings in one heap and the to-be-thrown / given things in another, the latter growing into a bigger heap than the former. Just like the old days. We packed as we listened to Free Energy, Hey Marseilles and soundtrack from Warm Bodies. Sometimes we listened to peppy Bollywood numbers and made chicken curry for dinner. The children looked forward to escaping the inferno just as they had looked forward to fleeing from winter land, certain that they would be led to some place better. Where that would be, we still wondered. The most important thing however was to move, to be on the move until we found that place called home where we could all drop our tired travelling selves, put our feet up and say that we were home. Finally home.
Well, I can’t tell you where I’m going
I’m not sure of where I’ve been
But I know I must keep travelin’
Till my road comes to an end
I’m out here on my journey
Trying to make the most of it
I’m a puzzle
I must figure out
Where all my pieces fit
- Dolly Parton “Travelin”