Friday, September 18, 2009

I buy a ticket and take the train. “I am a rock, I am an island,” is singing somewhere at the back of my head. If I’d never loved I never would have cried. Simon & Garfunkel: the inseparable duo who separated, the proof of human division, of communication break down. I am a rock, I convince myself, and a rock feels no pain, so it is better to be a rock, after all. I travel abroad and I am anonymous, independent. I travel abroad and the closest thing to home is the little purple passport in my back pocket.

A few weeks on, the same story: I buy a ticket, take the train – from Cardiff, this time. There are scatterings of Welsh-speaking softness on the platform, people here and there with a lilt of homeland about them. I listen in, briefly, but choose a different carriage to the silver-tongued Celts. I have no need of home, of attachment, of hiraeth, I tell myself. And an island never cries.

I get off the train, haul my blue suitcase over the bridge. The suitcase has a faded brown leather tag on it, with my grandparents’ name and address handwritten on it. Return to sender: the suitcase and I are going home.

Lemon sole, chicken soup, crème catalan. I produce tokens from my rucksack: a yellow eggcup and a flowery china mug for tea. There are really beautiful buckets of roses on the landing.

After the operation she has lost a stone and a half. Her smile and her eyes are the same crinkly marmalade though.

We eat together. They normally divide the labour up, and Emi does the potatoes and the bread and butter. Now though, after the op, Emi has had to take on all the food-furnishing. The family are sending Waitrose food hampers up so that they have plenty of ready meals and fresh fruit and veg, to make mealtimes easier. Of the food hamper items, the lemon sole and crème catalan rule supreme. It's great that she's eating now. Each mouthful disappears like a stealthy cat around a corner, but the mouthfuls are thin as petals and her appetite is wilting. We start the crossword, but she wants to go back to bed. Emi and I chaperone her up the stairs and it is the most important thing I have done all month, all year maybe. We are supposed to stand behind her in case she falls but it is not our bodies which protect her from falling.

I come back down the stairs slowly , trying not to let feelings form like thin skin atop boiled milk. I am not a rock, nor an island. Simon and Garfunkel were wrong, totally wrong. When I get to the bottom of the stairs, thinking about the food hamper, the cards, roses, visits, presents, my grandfather looks up from the crossword. “to support another, six letters. What d’you think that is?”

It’s family, I want to say. It’s love, Emi. It’s you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

sainsberries and bustivals

The sweet-sweating physicality of it, the way the words run their way around your head without stopping for breath, the way their imprint leaves its inky footprint on your thought-tracks like print from a newspaper, the trace of which will just not leave your fingers.
She would not leave my mind. The bus was heaving with shopping, earphones rollicking as the back of the bus bumps and grinds with modernity. I see streetwise kids spitting music like it’s white fire or fruitstones - the heavy beat of R&B on their phones is a pallid imitation of the real thing: women kids men rapping on the street at Carnival, colours swaying and rubbing, exploding. She got on the bus quickly, heaved her Guantanamo orange Sainsbury’s bags on top of mine on the luggage rack and sat down.

“I’m so sorry, would you like me to move my bags?”

She smiles, her nose gem sparkles at me in the electric light. She has a soft voice that reminds me of sundried apricots, and her skin is the warm brown of light muscovado sugar caramelized. “Nah, darlin’, don’t worry, it’s fine. I just wanna keep my guitar next to me.”

Curious, I sneak a peek at her Sainsbury’s bag. Gluten-free Fairtrade chocolate stars and organic muesli. Her handbag is made of gold-sprayed Coke can ringpulls. I always thought that recycling ringpulls, one of the brash symbols of consumerism, would result in tackiness. Not so: her handbag looks pretty damn fine. She has fashion-friendly sandals and full makeup on, but when she picks up her designer phone it’s to tell someone that she’s been, “In India. Yeah. What’ve I been doin’? You know me, darlin’, pretty much huggin’ trees the whole time. Yeah. Just been to the Southbank actually. Hmm? I was busking. Yeah, thought I might catch some inspiration.”

She is a paradoxical mix of urban and nature-loving, of eco-friendly and consumerist. Here she is, looking like the hottest woman around for miles, on the latest mobile phone with her non-reusable Sainsbury’s bags, yet she is also a tree-hugging busker with a tendency for ethical eating. I love her, because her environmentalism is a positive part of her life, intertwined with having fun and making clothes and music. I love her, because her love of life radiates through her. Her urban and eco, her fashion and ethics, are not conflicting spheres ( I realize): here is someone who loves life, and who also wants to protect it. Who seeks harmony in every sense of the word.

A mother gets on, hauling a baby in one arm and a pushchair in the other. The young woman and I shift our stuff quickly, so she can get on.

Behind me, a South African woman chuckles: “Ladies,” she giggles, “would you ever see men carrying such baggage? Never! Never! We always do the shopping, we always pick up the clothes from the launderette! We always carry the load! Men never carry anything!”

The young sugarbrown woman winks at me. “I don’t do nobody’s laundry, babe!” she exclaims, and we all giggle. I feel sorry for the man hunched up behind us, reading the Telegraph. He is pretty defenceless against our sexism. He is carrying nothing.