Sailors left behind lockets for their loved ones before they set sail. Mine was a platinum oval that opened into two halves. The small pictures inside had us looking opposite ways.
I would touch it compulsively, like the fortune rock my mother held in her palms when she needed comforting. Washing dishes over the sink, walking through the market, smelling roses on the way back home. I dreamt dreams in whale sounds.
Not knowing where you were going was confusing. I did not know how to think of you – was it day where you were, or was the light just setting? Was the ocean the blue of your eyes, had you planned a date of return?
Yet I never visited the dock, I had never lingered there like other families, waiting. I was happy to not picture the place where our distance turned real. Somewhere the land ended and there was only sea, for miles and miles and thousands of uncountable nautical distances, until there was land again. And then there, another lover, holding a pendant between their small fingers, looking at the moon that makes the waves in the water.
Grief comes with its furniture, misspelled postage on the packaging. It leaves around the bubble wrap and the cushioning hay, empties the cartons and arranges it chaos while humming a French song whose words mix with each other. It places a desk against the wall, like it were here to stay. Your claylike body accepts the weight of its four metal feet, as they are pressed on like tattoos. It brings a typewriter with missing keys, papers torn from thick books no one ever finished reading. A chandelier made from collected shards of glass, sharp enough to slit your fingers. A flowerpot with magnolias that it never waters.
A second-hand sofa and a table with an Italian lace cover, that shows dust between its cream coloured reticulations. A can of dark blue paint that looks like it could hold stars but doesn’t, to paint the windows nightly. Grief brings no blankets for the cold. But oil lamps, yes, it doesn’t trust electric bulbs. Sometimes, it sits in the dark on a rocking chair that neither recognises it’s weight nor oscillates, and if you pass by it, you may not notice it.
Grief brings a clock with no hour hand. A cracked cup that cuts its lips every time it tries to take a sip of juice. There is no mirror, no cabinet or extra spoons. There is an eggshell shaped flask that it dreams of keeping a fish in. Grief has no name, and plans to call the fish with hoots. It keeps pebbles on the floor, blue, grey and brown, like a half-made seashore that someone forgot about. And a refrigerator to keep mechanical tools, a spade and an axle. It has a radio that needs a change of batteries and crackles with transmission buzz. A hotplate to cook food, and a piece of paper with emergency numbers written in haphazard handwriting.
There are too many places on earth that don’t exist on a map.
A black pebble beach you can see from the top of the cliff, but cannot spot the ladder to descend to. A shop selling home-cooked lunch that moves from one corner of the station to another every day. In the monsoon, a puddle that sits in the middle of the street that you must manoeuvre around if you’re on a bike, and holds rainbow-like colours if you look at it at the right time. A small cramped space below the bridge where skateboarders meet to smoke, where a lost baseball waits.
A path in the woods that will lead you to a freshwater pond, built only by repeated bootprints and patches of uprooted grass. A village with no addresses where people eat on banana leaves right below a red dot with a name.
Google maps does not recognise the two steps before the door where you have passed timeless evenings talking to your sister about spring and moving to the city to find a job as a separate place, even though that is what you think of each time you say home. The just-befores, the in-betweens and the places you must walk to after the last bus stop. The yellow cottage you passed by on a pre-planned train journey to Scotland? Nobody will give you directions to if you drive by the tracks on another Sunday and stop someone to ask.
But if you’re lucky you might still find these places, or they’ll find you, especially if you aren’t following a blue arrow on a map that doesn’t look anything like earth, that has no awareness of makeshift swings hanging from trees, the roads that could be, a route with no pitstops to pause and stare at the cows grazing in full meadows before mango sunsets.
My beret was damp with rainwater. Something about the rain today makes it sharp, prickly against my skin, like shards of glass. An angry lover has thrown a bouquet of pink roses on the floor, all its thorns falling down in a melody. I did not think of the umbrella in my bag as I walked from the driveway to the door. I place my hat in a watery choice on the coffee table. The eyes in the oil-painting we bought for our hall look numb. They seem to be looking away, outside, at the ice plants that smile like death.
I turn right, and walk upstairs. The sound of your music plays with my footsteps. I picture your hands moving like liquid from one key to the next, and in the spaces, something fills like a flower blooming in slow-motion. On the podium, I pause to brush my fingers on window. But the raindrops race and I quicken my step when your song grows louder. The attic’s green door is open, and your ghost sits on a stool by the piano. Your grey eyes turn to me, full of tears that refuse to cry, as if all the rain in the sky was here, in this grey room, between us, and if I touched you, it will all disappear.
I pull a chair and sit down opposite, fold my hands on the lid and place my chin on my arms as I listen to you stop at a crescendo, and then softly, play on, a song of life after love. I have left no wet footprints on the stairway, the house is cold like before. Nothing can tell if I was here, and for a while, you were too.
I wish we lived in an age of letters and radios and playing in the parks in the evening. An age of passing smiles to strangers and reading poetry out loud to share your favourite lines. Having to go out to buy flowers and fresh beans for tonight’s dinner.
But in the pre-computer age, how do you tell someone you miss them when they are miles away on their birthday? Shall I write you an e-mail at midnight, and pretend to have loved you in letters? Let technology save us sometimes when I want to show you the colours of dusk in my sky
You still have a moustache of chocolate foam above your lips
So we fumble a little at the door
Before I peck your cheek in a goodbye kiss.
I rush to the balcony to look at you again
You hadn’t turned to the mirror in the elevator
It’s five past nine, and you are running late.
You squint your eyes and look outside the window, trying to discern if it’s snowing against the bedsheet white sky, or whether all of this is a passing illusion and you still haven’t quite woken up.
You look down at the swatches of grass and the cement of the roads for a sign that will give it away, for settling clouds,
but snow falls like whispers, kisses from a secret lover, full apples dropped from a tree that smash against the earth and turn unrecognisable the next second,
it’s already being pinned under walking boots and seeping into the fine geometric lines on the pavement,
In some lives, you are slow, as you watch the watercolour spill softly across the grass. Turning from blue to white, then meeting pink and red pools and quickly quilled into flowers.
On other days, hurrying, a paraphernalia about to turn into a painting waits spread across the living room floor. You leave violet fingerprints on the knob as you leave home.
You bring your minute,
And I’ll bring mine
Let’s share another joke,
While we have a little time
We can drink our ciders slowly,
And study the falling snow
Sit here a while longer,
With a few moments more.