Beginning(s); middle(s); end[ing(s)].
How do you mark these chapters? How do you (neatly) mark them?
We sat on the edges on two rocks somewhere around Na’our. You faced the west and I the east – each trying to take in the changing colours of the sky, the rocks and the trees. A scene unlike the lowland landscapes of the book that made us friends.
I chased a lot of sunsets – within the city and the concrete and in the stretches of rocks, sand and the mountains. I walked with sunsets – up and down the hills, along streets that would become the quotidian. Sunrises, however, remained elusive – sometimes painted yellow, sometimes in blues. They were reserved for summer mornings with running shoes, for the parties that tested your endurance, and for evenings that turned into sleepless nights. Always elusive, always reserved for the highs and the lows.
You learn to cherish the goodbyes, the closures and the stories to-be-continued. First, it was a yellow mug with an image of a llama with Dali’s moustache. Some years later I’d realize my alma mater’s mug was also left behind. Somewhere. There was a missing green knife somewhere in the middle. Most recently I parted ways birthday gift – an hourglass with سميرة scribbled at the bottom.
The ones from before are evading your memory for now. Remembrance feels like a muscle which calls for regular practice. I’ll for a long time remember this night in the first room I’d inhabit in Amman. About a week after moving a small doubt would manifest into a deep ache around my body’s core and I panicked. What have I done?
It was also friends, acquaintances and regular strangers. Friends would include those known for nearly two decades, those half a decade and those I’d meet for a few months. It wasn’t that I hadn’t lost them before, it was only that I grew more accepting of it. About the regular strangers – I sometimes wonder if they notice my absence in the spaces we shared.
You find joy to have parted a little fonder, a little less bitter. You reassure the man next to you that you’re not afraid of flying and that you’re only taking a moment to grieve. What have I done?
On the last evening in a foreign land, I gifted myself a ring.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, I chose an ice-cream shop over a museum that night. The well-reviewed German ice-cream shop happened to be closed and would open five days after my departure.
So, I walked.
I walked the alleys removed from the many pieces of history that have overwhelmed me the past few days. I roamed the back streets and watched television in passing from windows and open doors.
Children played in these alleys. Vendors sold fruits of many colours and tastes. Motorbikes honked and men kissed cheeks while firmly shaking hands. Shop windows displayed sequined and fluffy white dresses that someday someone from that neighbourhood may adorn. Or maybe not.
The streets had patterns of light and shadow – some spaces were flooded with white fluorescent lights, some with warmer hues and some with none. I guess the same was true for the smells along the straight streets and around the corners.
One of these straight streets housed an antique jewellery store. I passed it twice only to enter the third time and soon to be overwhelmed.
As we recall a memory, many parts of our brain rapidly talk to each other, including regions in the brain’s cortex that do high-level information processing, regions that handle our senses’ raw inputs, and a region called the medial temporal lobe that seems to help coordinate the process. One recent study found that at the moment when patients recalled newly formed memories, ripples of nerve activity in the medial temporal lobe synced up with ripples in the brain’s cortex.
Many mysteries of memory remain. How precisely are memories encoded within groups of neurons? How widely distributed in the brain are the cells that encode a given memory? How does our brain activity correspond to how we experience memories?
For instance, recent work has demonstrated that some memories must be “reconsolidated” each time they’re recalled. If so, the act of remembering something makes that memory temporarily malleable—letting it be strengthened, weakened, or otherwise altered.
Seeing the ring during a video call, my mother inquired, “Is that a stone? Did you get it for any particular reason or just like that?” [A rough translation from Bangla.]
Of course, what she meant to ask was if any astrology, an astrologer or a non-astrologer man was involved. They were not.
The ring ended up a bit too loose for my ring finger, just enough (but still loose) for the middle and absolutely odd-looking for the index; the colour a bit strange resembling a boil on the skin at times. At other times, it reminds me of dry reeds soaked in sunlight.
You see, I am usually drawn to opaque blue stones and this was the first one that wasn’t any shade of blue. This one was pale yellow.
The collector – the shop owner – tells me it will help balance my energy. Hmm, I remembered just how fatigued I’ve been in recent months. He tells me it’s about 200 years old. My guess was some 150 years. He tells me I know my jewellery as I smell the old silver. He also tells me I should experience another coast of his country. I tell him inshallah the next time. I did mean it – I want there to be this next time. Maybe during my 30th year? Or the entire year and more?
I wear the ring – still a foreign object – the next morning. I slowly move it to my ring finger as the man driving asks if I’m married. I say yes. He asks where the husband lives. I say the same place I live in. He asks why wasn’t he with me. I tell him that the husband left early for work. He asks if we have children. I tell him no. He asks how many years we’ve been married for. I mistakenly pause and quickly follow-up with over two years. I carry on to paint a happy picture of two workaholics in a childless partnership. It works.
[It is] A reminder to have faith in [my] decisions, regardless of how erratic or strange it may seem to myself and to others. A reminder to feel a little more enough. A reminder that I am capable of shedding some of this pessimism. Slowly, slowly.
A woman clad in black screamed and cried at a speed and in a dialect impossible for someone like me to grasp. Maybe she really needed to catch that train that night, but couldn’t. Was it the last one? Maybe. Or maybe someone she knew was able to go inside, but not her? So she cried and banged on the crowded train’s metal doors.
I don’t know.
People around us…looked. Some even recorded the woman – the one clad in black. Most filmed with their smartphones and some with cameras dangling from necks or shoulders. Most often the right shoulders. Perhaps these were shared immediately or later with friends and strangers? #welcometoegypt? #crazycairo?
The ones recording mostly had lighter colours than the hundreds around. Some – darker but foreign ones – even wrote a few words about this a few months later. Not ‘professionals’, not advocates – but voyageurs at best.
What questions am I – are we -asking?
I had a fairly unexpected meltdown at the Giza train station on the second night of the new year. I watched; I cried; I watched; I sat on the platform; I thought, and I cried. A few hours later, I slept. And I don’t know why I reacted and felt this way.
BUT this isn’t about you, I. Listen I and tell your self-absorbed thoughts – it is absolutely not! Not even half an ounce, silly child.
(I) Hope Egypt does better. They – the people – deserve better.