Not Permanent…

My parents have repainted the house that I grew up in. The walls are so pristine now, they do not flaunt the staunch tattoos of another time – pen scribbles and cello tape marks, scuffs and chips from things that moved around in another time. The furniture is mostly new too. My old desk was handed down to my cousin, the old dining table is with an uncle. There are things that were there when I was around, of course there are. The kitchen table has marks from when I left a burning candle without a holder. The dressing table in my room still has the old box with cards and gifts from those I once used to speak to, every single day. A bit of the old and the new in every room – like my parents and Miss A. Who I once was, who I am now, bits and pieces cobbled together to make a person.

The garden, it is overgrown in some parts and bare in others.

“There was a swing here,” I tell Miss A. “And a garden bed here and roses over there.”

I spent years playing hopscotch around the pathways and I used to chat into the evening with the best friend. She is gone too now, but I did get to meet her, we sat on the same step after all those calendar pages, we talked of the same things we did when we were younger and when the world was this strange place down the highway. She went home after that and as I waved goodbye, I knew I was not staying either.

Homes are not permanent. Only the times spent there are. That is the way it is for most things in life but why would childhood teach you such a harsh lesson!

My parents still talk about the day in the early hours of dawn. Outside the sky is black but a bit of pink is creeping in from underneath the doors, a bit of light is pushing against the curtains. They talk about the day that is yet to be and the day that has since been.  About the hibiscus in the gardens and the coconuts that need to be stored in the spare crates. About how the old water tank will need a new pump set soon. The winter outside their window and how two quilts aren’t enough because the weather forecast was wrong yet again. They complain of how the new teapots these-a-days have bent handles and how they need to stock up on some kind of light bulbs. About the squirrels raising a ruckus in the garden, and the back tiles that need scrubbing. It is a soft muffle, their voices, laced with sleep, in the early hours of an incorrectly forecast winter morning

Then they switch topics and talk of politics and cricket and mull over election results in some far flung north eastern state. The tea boils over in the meanwhile, in the teapot with the bent handle, and the cups go clink-a-clink. There is a scraping sound as the biscuit tin is opened and the door to my darkened childhood room opens just a little bit.

“Do you want tea?” they whisper. “It is cold outside.”

“It is 5 AM,” I grumble and disappear under the blankets.

“I could get you tea here,” my mother says. “You could go back to bed after you drink it.”

“I am in bed,” I say. “And I don’t want the tea.”

This has not changed, this bit, we have had this dialogue for years. She walks away closing the door behind her and suddenly I want the tea. But then sleep, blessed and warm, beckons and it remains unsaid and discarded, this morning wish. Tomorrow, I tell myself, tomorrow is when I shall say yes to the tea.

Like so many childhood things, like so many grand plans that never make it to the cusp of the day, that tomorrow slips away too. Some things are meant to be done later, some things come postmarked with a future date.

The garden is sleepy and agreeable in the afternoon. The air is woody and has a tang – it it smells of the cold in the way only my hometown does – it is heavy with the memories of a thousand past afternoons. The winter sun is at once plump and meagre, a marvellous contradiction of sunlight. I fall asleep on the swing this time, and the road, it stays quiet like it did when I was a child here. A bird chirps. A tap drips. A door bangs three houses down. I fall into a dreamless sleep because when you are home and safe, you do not need any other visions.

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Somewhere in the middle of the nap, I wake up to find myself covered with a blanket. Dregs of sleep in my eyes. The street still a quiet child, waiting to be given the go-ahead to talk again.

“Do you want tea?” my mother asks. She has, I suspect, been staring at me all along, waiting for me to wake up.

“Yes,” I say and her face lights up.

She brings me a cup almost immediately and we drink tea on the porch, me on the swing, still under the blanket, she on the side chair. Occasionally the swing bumps into her chair. There is nothing else to do on afternoons like this. And so we say little and yet there is such a crowding of memories.

A week later I pack my bags and Miss A’s and we cry a little bit on that same swing. There is so much to say when you part for a while, there are so many incomplete stories that beg to be finished when you open the gate to leave. Instead I joke about the garden and I fuss over the luggage. I try to pretend I am not leaving the house behind. It knows though, it has seen my pattern over the years. So I crane my neck and try to gather in the walls, the jasmine creepers, the errant hibiscus, the mango trees, the faithful swing, the neighbours with wet eyes and wrinkled palms – they all wave back, they do not break eye contact with me. It knows, like I said, the house, it knows that I will go past the bend in the road and not be back just yet. My heart sags, my throat hurts and I do not dare speak.

If they had told me that goodbye was an essential word in the vocabulary of grown-ups, I would have asked the house to hide me in one of its many forgiving nooks, I would have created a tree-house in the old branches, I would have parked inside a tent under the beds. But I am gone now and the house has stayed behind.

And one day, I shall see it again but that day is not today.

There were so many days in my childhood when I wanted to grow up and do things. Big people things, adult things, things that extended beyond the fence and the rusty gate.

Someone opened the gate and it cannot be shut again, I think my childhood escaped when I was growing up and I did not even notice.

And now, I have a key and I can go where I want to but that damned, damned key – I cannot lose it even if I want to.

Homes. Not permanent. Time. Permanent. The twitch in my heart. Eternal.

Change of Guard

“My Uncle A passed away this week,” your mother tells you over the phone.

The enormity of the demise does not register right away.

You never got to see your grandmother, your mother’s mother. She was always a photo around the home – a gentle sepia portrait, her eyes so much like your mother’s (and therefore yours), her smile warm and welcoming, her gaze on an object in the distance. Thus it was that you came to know and love a woman who you never saw but re-created through part legacy, part longing.

You spent all your summer holidays with your  mother’s side of the family. Every May, you made the 3 hour bus trip, in a dusty red State Transport bus to your aunt’s home.  Your aunt lived in a rambling old building where your grandmother’s brothers including Uncle A also lived. It was an ancient buidling with endless nooks and crannies, creaky wooden staircases,  latticed balconies and a huge amount of people distributed amongst the eight individual houses that the old building house.  Every house had someone you were related to – it was a merry gaggle of aunts and uncles and second cousins and first cousins and great- aunts and old grand-uncles and everyone else that was somehow, family.

You could wander into anyone’s house around lunch time and they would set you a plate and you would eat. If you went to the neighbouring house, you would be fed lunch again, you did not refuse. In the afternoons, while your mother and your aunt and the extended family chatted, you wandered the large building, opening doors and discovering new and old worlds. It was the magic hour, the world lay suspended in a brief stupor, a humid silence coloured the world. And yet you played with stray cats, you hid behind the dusty cauldrons that housed the water for your morning bath and you played hopscotch on the blazing hot tiles in the paved courtyard.

“Come inside, do you not feel the hot sun?” someone would say. It could be anyone of the extended family, love and discipline and meals and treats were shared around here, you were looked after by everyone in the building, even the building itself.

You were a child here surrounded by a thick blanket of summer,mangoes, late night icecream and family that sat around and talked and drank endless tea. You stayed awake, bright eyed and revelling in these chat sessions, hugging yourself to stay alert under the whirr of the fan and the animated chatter. Your mother was a child here too, but you did not realise that till you were grown up.  Here she talked to her uncles and aunts, she sat at their dining tables and they made her tea and fussed over her. Her, the youngest daughter of the sister they lost so tragically, without any warning.

You would talk to your mother’s uncles and her aunts several times a day. They wanted to know important things about you like what flavour of milkshakes you liked and whether you were doing your times tables in school and how you liked your tea. They gave you little gifts, sometimes a crisp 50 Rs note in a plain envelope, sealed and fresh, brimming with the promise of everything you could hope to buy. Sometimes it was little lunch box or a book,  little gifts that you recieved with profuse thanks and then packed carefully to take back home. You had surrogate grandparents every summer, you never realised it till today, till you accepted that they were all gone.

They bulldozed the old building one summer. You had grown up by then and you had moved out of home. Your aunt moved away to a better and bigger place. Your mother’s uncles moved away too. Your summer holidays were still fun but you did not have the luxuryof a house anymore where you could open doors and find so many branches of family sprawled inside.

Then you heard the obituaries from your mother over the years. One by one, they passed away, taking with them their gifts, their promises of crisp notes, their steel lunch boxes, their friendly banter on the steps, their admonishings to abandon the afternoon sun.  One by one they became empty chairs around the communal dining table, mounted photos on aging walls, a past reference to a time now irrevocably eroded.

Uncle A was the last of the grand-uncles. 38 years after his baby sister, your grandmother, died in her sleep, he passed away in a town that was far away from the bustling house of the past.

“There is no one of that generation left,” you say to your mother. The greatest of absences. The simplest of truths.

“No, they are all gone now. All the siblings,” she says. She does not have her siblings left either. They are really all gone now, the old house included.

When you were a child, these people built a fortress around you, a canopy overhead that kept the sun and the clouds out. You are left with crumbling battlements now, the house is in ruins.

There is no canopy anymore. The mighty trees have been felled, there is an endless horizon as far you can see, a clearing where once there was a magical land.

The sun blinds your eyes now, there are not many people left to shield you anymore.

RIP Uncle A. And everyone else that left.

Little Worlds…

On most days when I make my way to the After Hours School Care to pick up Ms A, a shy face with twinkling eyes and a pretty smile greets me. Ms Riya is all of 3 and is a recent addition to the child care centre. She doesn’t speak much English yet, or much of any language for that matter. Sometimes, I see her on the swings humming to herself. The family has migrated recently and Riya wanders behind the other kids trying to take in the accents, the sights, the sounds and the action on the play-ground. She follows me around as I sign Ms A out and gather her school-bag.

“Hey sweetie”, I say and bend down to ruffle her hair. She brushes my hand away, but the bright smile is intact. When we get to the main gate, A and I realize that she is following us.

She runs up to A and holds her hand tight – not a word yet, but a firm gesture. “I have to go home, I will see you tomorrow”, A tells her in a voice that is ever so gentle and friendly.

“You come home with me?” Riya asks. The voice is like a little wren’s, high pitched and fairly surprised at itself.

“I cannot come home with you Riya, but I will play with you tomorrow, yes?” Riya nods sadly and troops back to the other kids, pausing every now and then as she looks at us over her shoulder, her face visibly downcast. She makes her way to the side gate that offers an unfettered view of the road. As we drive off, we see a small face watching us intently.

After that it becomes a ritual of sorts. Riya follows us around every evening, she still doesn’t say a word to me but she asks A to come home with her everyday with a defiant sort of hope. A tells her the same thing with commendable patience every evening.

Somewhere along the way Riya learns to smile at me. “I playing duck duck goose”, Riya informs me one day. This time my “Shall I play with you, sweetie?” is met with a shy nod. She wanders away from the game in a matter of minutes. I follow her around asking her if she wants to play something else. Ms A has disappeared with her friends and I figure that I could play with Riya till A makes an appearance. Riya wanders off to the overgrown part of the garden and ducks under a hedge and disappears. I wait on the other side of the hedge for her, wondering if this is her way of getting me to play hide and seek.

“You okay, Riya?” I ask her. Typically, there is no response. She emerges from the hedge a minute later, eyes gleaming, leaves and twigs in her hair.

“A playing. Riya found her!”, she tells me. And before I can comment, she disappears again and I hear her telling A in her own little language that A now needs to go home with Mummy. The first lesson of settling down is learning to let go.

 A regales me with tales of Riya as the term progresses. Riya offers me titbits of information about the weather or the duck and goose game or the swings most evenings. She no longer wants A to come home with her but some days she does ask if A can stay back for “a play”. On the days that I acquiesce to this request, Riya makes happy sounds. “Like a happy magpie”, A says.

Riya soon becomes a part of the landscape to me and I cease to think more about her growing attachment for A. A part of me has forgotten the pristine simplicity of a world of swings and hedges and hoping your friends can go home with you at the end of the day so that the evening stretches for ever. An evening can be infinity when you are only 3. I think nothing of the fact that Riya is a small child in a new country trying to find some familiarity in alien surroundings. The tragedy of being an adult sometimes is not so much that we are well past the cornerstones of childhood but that we gradually forget to acknowledge these signposts when we do see them.

A week later I decide to pick up A early as a surprise of sorts. I have called up to let the carers know of this but A insists on making a stop at the child care even as I insist that it is too hot to go for any kind of a walk.

The sky is a relentless blue; the air hot and scented with the sharp tang of the gum trees. The sweetish whiff of camellias infuses the air even as the gardens lie heavy and unflinching in the afternoon heat. Somewhere in the nearby pine trees, a kookaburra sings in a burst of somnolent tones. The afternoon is bathed in a stupor so thick that most souls have retreated to gentler universes behind shaded windows. I almost don’t see her at first but then suddenly, right next to the camellias on a lonely and possibly quite hot park bench, I see a solitary figure wearing a giant hat; scanning the roads that lead back to the school eagerly and resolutely. A small, stuffed,teddy bear keeps her company.

A breaks into a run as soon as she sees her and Riya’s face breaks into a giant grin. “Aaaaaaaa”, she screams with unbridled joy, even as she whirls around in impatience till A unlocks the gate and gets in. She flings herself at A as soon as the gate is opened and buries her face in A’s skirt. As A hugs her and talks to her and makes her giggle, I make my way indoors to let the carers know that I am picking A up.

“Come in now, Riya”, Carol the genial carer says as she scoops Riya up.

“Do you know she does this every day?”, she asks me. “She cannot tell the time yet, but as soon as she hears the school bell ring, she drops everything she is doing and races out to wait by the camellias for A to get here and gives her a hug. “ And suddenly I realize how much this little ritual means to Riya and therefore to A. I cannot bear to think of her little crestfallen face if we had skipped the walk and gone home directly. We are part of Riya’s carefully constructed little universe now. “Bye”, Riya says cheerily as we head off. “See you tomorrow?”, she asks A, and squeals in joy when A promises to do puzzles with her. This time I am the one that troops back to the car, pausing every now and then to look at her over my shoulder.

You are never too old to be homesick. You are never too young to make a home wherever you go.

Lost or found…

When you lose your luggage and arrive in a foreign city with just the clothes on your back, you are more a survivor than a tourist. You wander the streets of a suburban, sun burnt city on a hot, golden afternoon. The streets are dunked in gold. The mountainous terrain exudes a strangely picturesque quaintness to an otherwise harsh landscape. The heat is reminiscent of the summer days of yore. You think of all that has been left behind and quell the mild sense of panic that comes from the realization of having lost most of your packed belongings. We are no strangers to loss, any of us. But we pretend that we are defined by what we possess and we shudder at having to find sense in a void when really the void has been there all along.

But.Yet. There is a footloose liberation in travelling light. Because your baggage does not define you anymore. You know that every journey is its own destination –but how many times do you get to learn the lesson that every destination is really a journey too? You sit down on a park bench and watch life go by. People meandering back to the lives they have built carefully or perhaps accidentally. People buying groceries and cooking their dinners and cleaning their cars. People walking their dogs and people getting their takeaway. Families and individuals and people that are in between either stage. You watch them like watching a play unravel. Because you are here for the sunset, wandering footloose, like we said. And you are here defined merely by the spot you have subjugated on a park bench.

You wander past a jeweller’s shop and something in your heart twitches a little. For all the nonchalance about losing everything, there are irreplaceable trinkets in everyone’s luggage. You wonder if you will ever see the old and shiny golden chain that has withstood generations and time and family ties. After a while, all links to the past become muted and indiscernible. And we forget sometimes, that just because something can no longer be seen, it does not cease to exist.

When the past becomes a part of the present, you can no longer imagine a future without either entity. And so you rue over the loss for a while. And then it occurs to you that when someone gifts you a memory worth keeping, it is a gift without a return by date. No matter how much change seeps into our lives, a bit of the old always percolates in with the new. So you have lost the family heirloom as things stand but really, fragments of the past that contribute towards defining you still stand intact and unsullied. And no amount of drifting or baggage will ever take away that which is innate. Perhaps you should travel light; you arrive at better places that way.

When all is done and said and the evening shadows have lengthened; when the sun has gone his own way and the silences are preparing to roost near you, when the quiet murmurs of the heart that talk of loss and longing can no longer be shushed, you realize that no matter what stays and what goes – you are defined only by what the heart salvaged from the depredation of your travels. Everything else can be discarded and renounced and left behind. You carry your destination in your heart. The journey is a mere formality.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond…

 A summer afternoon long ago. Hot, humid,  winds chase idle leaves through the silent streets. In the distance, approaching thunder. A flash of a dust storm. And then a furtive but determined knock on the rusty steel gate. “Didi, do you have a job for me? Anything I can do for you?”. The dust storm reappears and picks up pace, the thunder in the distance is more meancing. “You need a gardner Didi?”. A quick look towards the swollen skies to ascertain the arrival of the impending monsoons.  “It will rain Didi. And the plants (a wave towards a profusion of seedlings awaiting their fate by the window sill) will grow all at once and growing plants always need to be looked after”.

In the next 30 minutes, Samuel Kandul, betting firmly on a strong monsoon that would create havoc in our garden, procured himself a job. He also managed to add grocery shopping (“The garden will look after itself  after the first round of the monsoons, Aunty, I will shop for you when it is too rainy, haan?”), and the occasional bicycle maintenance to his list of duties.  My mother gave him a cup of strong tea which he turned down emphatically. When she pointed to the storm outside, he agreed to drink the tea in the portico only because it was too windy and wet for him to venture back home. In the midsts of an impromptu electricity failure that prompted my mother to light up a large kerosene lamp, Sam with the westerlies lashing his tiny frame and the rain throwing the occasional damper his way slurped his tea from the mismatched cup and saucer that had been given to him. He lived in the tenements behind the old muncipality school, we heard and he had four young sisters. At 10, Sam contributed to the family’s income by doing odd jobs but he had figured out that he needed a permanent job and had presented himself outside our bungalow.

The monsoons raged that year but they could not alter Sam’s obsession with cleaning the gutters to remove the wet leaves and moving the potted plants from the portico around, so that they all recieved the rain’s bounty in equal measure. For someone who had largely seen the meagre and unfair side of life, Sam pursued fairness with a vengeance bordering on obsession. After my father threatened to hide the rickety and moldy bamboo ladder that was Sam’s latest tool in gutter cleaning, Sam offered to climb up the neighbouring mango tree and slide down the parapet into the gutters. “Perhaps you could also tell me what to say to your parents after they discover that I let you break your neck”, my father chided him. Sam looked at him aghast, “And what would they say if they realized that I stayed indoors while the leaves piled up?”, he demanded as indignantly as he could muster. Committment was a feverish thing in the Kandul family, as we were soon to realize.

Sam learnt to water the gardens, weed the side walks and polish the old bicycle as a treat on Sundays. He learnt to pick and store the never ending supply of fruit from the garden and when asked to leave some fruit on the trees for the birds as was the rule in our garden, Sam who had never shown much of a skill for any kind of maths, suddenly became adept at ratios and proportions. When he was given his share of the fruit, he accepted it with a solemn thanks and offered to exchange his share for the less plump and rather sickly pile behind. “It is all fruit Didi and someone needs to eat it”, he pointed out when I asked him to banish the thought.

When Sam did not turn up on a Saturday, he caused more of a worry than a stir. Monsoons and heat waves and darkened streets hadn’t stopped the boy from turning up for work and this was unlike him. He turned up the next day and refused to come in and stood near the gate. When I opened the gate to let him in, he thrust a telegram in my hands and asked me to pass it on to the Aunty and the Sahab. “My grandparents arrived yesterday and my parents had to go to work, so I stayed with them”, he explained. “That telegram arrived after they did, otherwise I would have told you earlier”, the normally cheerful voice sounded upset. “You didnt need to show us the telegram”, my mother gently admonished him, “We believe you”. “I needed to let you know that you were believing the truth”, Sam said simply before disappearing up the garden path.

The domestic help took to calling him Shyam because she couldn’t say Sam properly. The old lady next door for whom he cleaned windows once a month took to calling him Shrinivas because “the boy deserved a grand and possibly a religious name”. Sam took on the new names with delight. When I asked him if I could teach him once a week, he grinned with joy. “I would have to finish my work first, Didi”, he told me in serious tones. It became a pattern – Sam and I sat in the freshly tended garden every Sunday and I helped him with his math and his grammar and his science. What he lacked in understanding, he made up by effort. He sat on his haunches over the plain, single-lined hardbound books and rewrote his words till they made sense to him. He apologized when I had to explain the same thing twice. He came home with the question papers after every exam and waited while I cross checked his answers. “Didi, help me write about my favourite animal” , he implored one day. We spent a merry half an hour writing about elephants and Sam went away delighted. The grandeur of the animal seemed to replenish any shortcomings the education system had rewarded him.

“Didi”, the tone was urgent and full of confidence as I got home from that evening. “I had my english exams today and we were asked to write about our pets”. Before I could ask him, the answer came loud and clear “Didi, I remembered everything we had said about elephants”. Resisting an urge to laugh, I maintained the facade, “Elephants don’t make very good pets, Sam”, I gently told him.  The grin disappeared but only for a minute, “If I ever get a pet Didi, it will be an elephant – nothing else would do”.

A few months after the elephant episode, the old tenements were razed to the ground to make way for a newer muncipality school. The old inhabitants were offered accomodation on the outskirts of the city. Sam and his family moved overnight and except for short trip to tell us that he wouldnt be working for us any longer, Sam bowed out as dramatically as he had arrived. “I will send someone over Sahab, those gutters will need to be cleaned” were his parting words even as he walked away looking at the foreboding clouds.

I met Sam Shyam Shrinivas Kandul after many years, he said he was earning a living working in a candle factory. The same smile, the same earnestness, the same beliefs (“Kandul, didi, like Candle, we are a family of candle makers, did you not guess that?”).

No Sam, I did not guess that all these years but I think I knew it all along. I hope the candle making works for you ; some people deserve the light much,much more than others.

When you get there…

 [A journey to the inner south Queensland]

It is scrub land out here. Till where the eye can see, there are brave, desolate, defiant and solitary shrubs and trees. An old silo is pitted against a plump,overcast sky. An ancient coal train lies abandoned on the tracks. It hasn’t gone anywhere in the past decade. The paint is rusting, the wheels are sagging and there is merely a line of carriages with no guiding engine at either end. It is still on the tracks though. Like someday, if time were to walk this way again, perhaps the old cogs could fall back into place and the rusty coal train would merely pick up and move on without missing a beat. Perhaps there is a thin line between hope and impossibility. Perhaps impossibility is merely hope that hung around forever.

 The soil is red. Not the fertile red that one would expect in such a tropical setting but rather the deeper red that talks of having seen and heard secrets that coloured it forever. The rain alternates between a steady drizzle and a sulking thunderstorm. The visibility varies based on the sporadic bursts of sunlight that manage to make it through the sooty, opaque clouds. There is road kill in these parts, a hapless kangaroo, a dead emu and a stray koala all dot the road. It can happen to anyone, a sudden sleet of rain, a wrong turn, and a wildlife casualty. There is no town around for ages. There is no farmland or vegetation either. This is the desert but not as we know it. It is a desert without the stretching sands, the endless heat and the silhouetted horizons. It is still a desert though because you cannot see the end of the journey in sight, because there is a still a mirage of an extinct, but gleaming rail line. A mirage defines a desert because it is the only thing about the desert that you would rather want to exist. Everything else is a proven reality, the mirage is the only possibility that could change the landscape and possibly the ending of your story. 

The longest road eventually ends up in a country town because all solitude flirts with company, sooner or later. The main pub is still open for business. Everyone talks to everyone here, a visitor will never be a guest if he is not acknowledged. They are out of food because really, who drives past sleepy deserts and country towns on a chilly June night when even the moon has deserted the sky!Fries and a lemon lime and bitters are dinner. There is a fire in the corner and old country music blares out of the juke box. A draught announces every new visitor as if to say “Look, he braved the winds to make it this far, so take him gladly and share the warmth with him for he will be on the road again, and he will need to remember what it was like, to be warm and to be under a roof”. 

You are on the road again and the landscape will talk to you if you will listen. The old hay bales and the rusty stables will have a tale to share because they have been here since the beginning of time. A good story will come to you if it was meant for you, but you could travel the length of the entire road and still come back empty handed if it was not destined to be. A barn owl takes flight and some night life at the edge of the road stirs. You pass small towns in the night – a row of cottages, a school, a church, a couple of shops. The blinds are drawn, but a sliver of light tells you that someone is home behind those curtains. Concentric smoke from the chimney tells you that somewhere behind this closed door is a memory being made or re-lived. That someday, this now nascent memory will include the patter of the rain, the moonless night, the occasional car on the highway and the barn owl’s flight. That everywhere around you is a picture being created and a memory being stored and you pass these ways giving up a bit of yourself at every turn.

“Did it take you long to get here?” The inn keeper asks. How do you define a journey? By the road? By the time taken? By the way time stopped when you didn’t want to? Or by how long you will stay when you know you are already charting your return journey? So I tell her that it took me a while because most journeys do take a while. And I drink the hot tea gratefully and fall asleep listening to the rain knowing that it doesn’t matter whether you stay or you leave or whether you finally get past the bend in the road.

When all is said and done, it comes down to having a memory of the road traveled and a knowing that you will be okay as long as you can look over your shoulder for the paths you traveled, and that you can do it again anytime you want to. And then you toss out the map for the road ahead because you already know the road this time. 

Random Ramblings from Christchurch – I

The sky is the colour of cornflowers. Gossamer, wispy clouds chase each other across the languid skies. A lawn mower hums to itself on a distant grassy knoll. The symphony of silence is broken by the occasional buzz of a dragonfly on the stained glass window panes. A brave ray of sunlight tiptoes in through a door left ajar, ever so slightly. The air is crisp and fresh and smells of pine cones and summer and newly cut grass.  The air also smells familiar, an old all-comforting sense pervades even as the newness of brave shoots asserts itself all along the cobbled side walk. I could live here and I would be home the minute I moved in. I could walk past the rickety, old, timber- slat homes with varnished armchairs standing proudly in the bleak afternoon sun. There is a harmony here; of grass,of brambles and of sweet smelling frangipani that is all inclusive.

The roads like to meander along as do the lazy side walks, where the last remnants of snow are already becoming melting memories. Purple mountains hold hands in the distance and proclaim the arrival of warmer days and warmer nights. Summer hangs around like an old buddy, her golden arms around my bare neck, even as she side steps with me and whispers promises of seasons yet unnamed. In the town square, they are heralding the arrival of dusk. Sunset has painted the steeple of the old corner church with rich earthy hues. The owner of the alfresco café brings out a basket of cinders, all aglow and the warm colours blend in with the air and light up the palette that evening has spread around her. The air is now redolent with the woody scent of warmth. A busker plays his violin even as the shops around him light up for the evening. The gondola is gently led back to its resting place for the night and the boatman anchors it to the dock even as waves from the river lull the boat to a sleepy stop.  The tram driver starts his last trip around the square, the weeping willows in the central park retire for another night. The great lights in the town’s dining hall are lit for another meal and the stained glass windows make enigamatic patterns on the lawns.

Evening eases out, night has fallen even as the first stars light up the night sky. “Do you want to get off near the taxi stand?”, the tram driver asks me.  I nod and he stops for me. “Are you a long way from home?”, he asks me, perhaps because I am taking in the sights with the eager eyes of a tourist, perhaps because I have a map but my heart is charting out my path and perhaps because I have been on the tram all evening. As the giant tower clock chimes nine times, I wonder if he will understand that somewhere on a marked map of an alien city, you look at the parted curtains of a house set behind a lavender hedge and you know that you could walk in there and be home. You dont though, you read the maps and linger for a moment and pass the hedge and take the road. And yet as the shooting star goes and as the crow flies and as the map reads, I dont need to be anywhere else. For now, for sometime.

As Hagley Park sleeps and as the taxi speeds through Christchurch’s inner lanes, I make the journey from a home to a home, punctuated by the stillness of the night.

-To be Continued-