Tending to the unlovely core


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Category: Reflections 27 Dec 15


The calendar seemed to be looking at me balefully as I packed in London, eager for the warmth of Trinidad, embodied by a poinsettia I saw at Victoria Station. ‘Really, you are going to discard me, after I kept you company for 12 of the 15 months you’ve been away from home?’

‘Well, you’re last year’s news,’ I argued back. ‘Besides, I don’t want to lug the past around with me. I’ve done too much of that.’ ‘Sure,’ the calendar glowered, ‘just because I am no longer new, full of possibility blooming with Japanese prints, because I am endlessly circled with faded ink, a reminder of events once anticipated, now over, marked by the makeshift hook of your window pane, you don’t want me. ’ ‘It’s not like that.’ ‘This is about discarding the memory of our rocky road together isn’t it?’ We eyeballed one another. ‘Fine,’ I said, stuffing the worn calendar into my overstuffed bags with books ending that peculiar conversation with an inanimate object.

Actually, it was more than that. The calendar reminded me of why I left Trinidad. Ostensibly for a writing course but it was also about shaking off the mold that had settled upon me, the stagnant comfort of a small island, where depressingly I could pull out a column I had done ten years ago and it could pass as current news. Little changes in the torpor of our lush cocoon. Neither the brutality, nor its infinite magnetism.

I arrived in London 15 months ago, in the autumn. Disorientation, settled isolation. Fear of the unknown. I engaged, but haltingly. I hadn’t lived in a big city for years. That winter I ached for places I hadn’t been in for years, the tree house belonging to the late Michael Als in Toco, in lush forests, fresh water pools along our beaches, the mist in Paramin, the view from Laventille, monsoon rains, the sun beating down on melting asphalt.

After years of being wife, mother, daughter, friend, journalist, of being anchored, I was rudderless, an aviator with no sense of time, space or direction. It took me time to locate myself, the grocery, the gym. I lived on eggshells, keenly alert to danger, my nerves alight. I checked under the bed for mice, wondered if anyone could smash open my basement glass bedroom doors, heard doors creak, the sigh of a city, trucks, the screech of the street. The trees must have begun to change colour but I didn't notice, carefully making my way to class on the tube, checking to see if I had my keys, money, travel card. I can’t be locked out.

I listened to Leonard Cohen on a loop, watching the dark days get so short that I didn't know what day it was, or what time of day. I worked all night sometimes, slept as if drugged in the day. In this old building doors slammed, windows creaked, the rain tried to get in. I missed the only day it snowed.

But something else was happening. The work. In class, where we critiqued one another’s writing under the direction of a tutor, veil after veil was being stripped. Nobody wanted a sanitized version of life or fiction. I realised then, how adept I had become at keeping up appearances in our small islands, and in the process stunted my subconscious and work in progress.

Marcella, a classmate, came to stay with her light step and her poetic Brazilian ways. The living room was warmed with delicious aromas. I would get a menu on my phone on WhatsApp. Paella, Brigadero made with condensed milk and cocoa, nourishing soups. “Come out from your cave,” she urged.

I did. We watched gentle trashy TV, of dinner dates, renovations, recipes. “I need to walk,” she would say, looking like she could star in the Girl from Ipenema, and we did, through late roses, and daffodils, though parks, and lanes, to Kings Cross and Mile End, to Notting Hill Gate and Euston. She found us places to write. A cosy cafe, just off room 12 in the National Gallery where she would silently pass a sandwich from home to me. We would share plugs to make sure we had enough charge on our laptops, read one another’s work, laugh at one another’s clothes. I draped in a fluffly pink blanket, she gypsy red pants. We slapped away one another’s loneliness. We drank in the city, the vast parks and tiny dark lanes, walking briskly till it was time to say farewell.

“You must love yourself,” the girl at the beauty salon scolded me when I went to get my hair done before I came home. She’d seen me wearing glasses, the same sweater too often. She didn’t find it funny that I once went out in my pajamas to the corner store and got taken for a homeless person.

“You don't care anymore,” she said. Actually she got me wrong. I learned to tend to the unlovely core, to recognise my own mediocrity, to acknowledge my potential, privilege of freedom, health, travel, safety in this chaotic world, swarming with the dispossessed, to see others more clearly, to swallow bitter self knowledge. I thought I could figure out life by thinking, looking out of the window, but discovered life unfolds when you are out there feeling the sharp chill, pushing past gnarled winter roots, to expose your frailties and receive human kindness with humility, and outstretched arms, like the suns benediction in the tropics in this season of goodwill.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur