“How are you? How have you been? Who are you?”
I don’t know how to answer these questions anymore, where once I had perfectly formulated, sure-as-steel answers. I’m still catching my breath and making sense of sounds. I’m experiencing the first summer in two years. In many ways, it is my first summer. My first, eyes-open appreciation of the atmosphere of my tropical island city. The pandemic brought us so many lessons.
The past is blowing into my life in big gusts. Hasty apologies, clutching reunions, overboistrous celebrations. It is too much. Even more than the multitudinous questions which I’ve barely began to decipher. After learning to sit quietly what is, is it difficult to now want to return to the whirlpool of what we wish things were. Desires come by the thousands, after all, Ghalib said. And every wave washes away the salt, the taint of the previous.
I sat under the Syeda tree today, so called because she is the person I first spoke to about what it means to me. She’s the only human I speak to when I’m here. The rest is conversations with trees, caresses for the flowers strewn on the ground (champa, Syeda told me), whispers to the sky.
There are dark clouds gathering. It even dripped rain for a few seconds. My wistfulness mists at my eyes. It will soon be June. I will spend the next week up in the mountains, closing out a life and all the other things that go with it – bank accounts, death certificate, histories, relationships. Endings are answers of a kind. The mountains have only ever been sad for me. Maybe that is the way it is for those who are of the sea.
And when I return to my island city, it will be drenched in monsoon. My least favorite season. A placeholder time for memories of colds, rubber boots that bite, new classrooms filled with old bullies.
I don’t know how to tell people from my past this. It is not that I do not love them anymore. It is that I’m not the same person I was in February 2022. I cannot go back to the way things were before. Like the waves, I return but every wave is different from the waves that came before it. I cannot, should not, anymore be encaged in glass bottles of the past or all I’ll be is tears. Saltwater. Srividya tells me, we’re all older now. Pandemic older.
Syeda sends me a text reminding me to capture this moment and says “Bless you.” I reply with a photograph. I probably won’t be able to sit under this tree in the open air before October. The insects that I take turns with, in renting a piece of the day, will turn predators. And such is the cycle. Is the virus part of the cycle too?
In March 2020, we thought 21 days was an impossible time to be cut off from the pulse of living. Who knew it would be two years before we plugged back in? Even less that it would feel so alien. I feel like a living tree that has got entangled in live wires. They don’t hurt me. But I ground them, which is another way of saying, I kill the buzz. Yet, I found crushed flowers on the ground, trampled beneath the feet of those who scurry. Mine not to know if they are human or animal, nor judge if right or wrong, too fast or frenzied.
Maybe June will be new. Raindrops come by the thousands too. Maybe the answers will too.