I think we learned to name cities
before we had actually seen them,
Small French and English towns
states in other continents
islands peppered along the seas,
We learnt to hold them on our tongues
before we could be there
smell their air
hear the chatter in cheap street-side cafes
with red and white checkered tablecloths,
Walk their cobblestoned roads
and feel the sun shine
in a hundred different ways,
We once had the map
a hodgepodge of words in our mind
like the mush on a party plate
and that was enough.
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.