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 walking 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 untrusting. 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. The pauses are filled, like flowers blooming in slow motion. On the podium, I pause to brush my fingers on the window. The raindrops race and I quicken my step as 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 if 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.
The shadow of a roof on a wall with chipping paint
one house has a chimney and the other has a tree behind it
washing hangs on a clothesline
seen in a mirror of a home where no one lives
a creeper grows flowers
smooching from one balcony to a terrace in the shade
Sometimes, buying marmalade can be a big step. It could mark the settling down in a space, the waking up to a familiarity, claiming a spot in a refrigerator that wasn’t yours yesterday. I think there is something romantic in walking around the kitchen, eating toast without a plate, and spreading your arms on the sofa, like you belong here.
It might be how you start making a new life.
When you walk out of a forest, you turn into a tree. No longer human and made of skin. Your arms are barks, your legs are stems and you must let birds sit and chirp on them all day long. Before you notice, like wrinkles, your leaves will age. Like rings, years will settle in the iris of your hazel eyes.
And when you reach the city you can try to hide, camouflage yourself between the skyscrapers that rush past your neck, fit yourself between two grey towers, a little space on the pavement, on a hillock in a community park. But you will still swing with the wind, shed leaves in autumn and dress roads with your blood oranges. Your branches will spread, and the world will know where you’ve been.
There is no hiding it. You are a tree now.
And you must grow towards the sunlight until you catch fire and burn.