Litro #148: The Going Home issue

Cover Art: Rising by Jeanie Tomanek

Contents:

Letter from the Editor by Eric Akoto

A Mother of My Own by Lucy Kellet

A New Place on The Map by GC Perry

Chinese Hamburgers by Kevin Baker

I Heart Containers by Patricia Morris

Listings by Brad Ellis

Mendacities by Michael Cohen

Going Home by Grazyna Plebanek

Author Q&A with Steph Cha

Welcome! to The Going Home issue Litro#148.
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Litro #148: The Going Home issue – Letter from the Editor

148_coverDear Reader,

Litro, the magazine for the general reader dedicated to short stories, ideas, and the people who make them- and those just starting to put pen to paper, would like to thank all our readers new and old who wrote to us last month – some where shameful personal plugs, some due to various Acts of law– have had to be omitted, though we liked them nonetheless but on the whole a big thumbs up from you all, you can read some of these on pages 11 & 12.

This month in Litro #148 we explore the notion of what Going Home – means to us. Is it a familiar physical space? A refuge? A feeling? A state of mind? Or is home actually to be found in another human being – maybe your partner, your parents? How do you know when you have found it?

The concept of home is locked in our memories. Continuing changes we experience in life makes it infeasible to remove memories of one’s past. Especially when you have been absent from the place you call home- the place you was raised- then you return some years later. That home becomes a home – because of the shared memories of events- the laughter’s the tears, conversations, news- that took place with family and friends. It’s these shared experiences that gives a sense of meaning to the place we call home.

When you leave the home you was raised and grew up in, that home is missed. Forgotten at a certain extent. Remembered every time someone relates something to it.

Our cover art this month is ‘Rising’ by American self taught artist Jeanie Tomanek – ‘Rising’ focuses on the idea of death and the final journey to wherever that leads, often the thought of going home.

The collection of stories this month though all told through different lenses, all give tales of feeling at home, of discovering / rediscovering home giving varying degrees of answers to what home can mean to us.

We open the issue with A Mother of My Own, by Lucy Kellet, a story in which a young adoptee ponders her true identity- in-doing so she realises her home is life that has been created by her adopted parents, finding her home in these parents.

In GC Perry’s, A New Place on The Map, a father re-visits his fractured family and finds his home in the family he is separated from.

Kevin Baker takes us to the Far East with his essay Chinese Hamburgers, the smells and bustle of the Chinese markets the familiar physical space gives the character his meaning of home.

Inspired by a BBC documentary following a year in the life of a container ship, Patricia Morris’ I Heart Containers, tells the story of these well-travelled containers and the untold stories and secrets they contain.

Brad Ellis’s Listings, tells the tale of a couple desperately seeking the perfect home, told through the eyes of an estate agent.

In Mendacities, Michael Cohen gives a dark tale of a woman who imagines murdering her husband and reveals the paths our minds travel to find our way home.

Polish writer, Grazyna Plebanek’, personal essay Going Home –tells of Plebanek’s time spent between the place she calls home Brussels and the country she was born Poland.

Finally in our author conversation this month-well not so much a conversation but a quick fire round of four questions- is with award winning Korean / US writer Steph Cha.

Wishing you all a happy and pleasant journey home for the holidays – where ever home is for you!
Until 2016,

Editor in Chief,

Eric Akoto




A Mother of My Own

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Coral slipped past the open door of her father’s study before he could ask what she was doing. She breathed out. Excitement fluttered through her as she looked at the envelope in her hand, the chipped varnish on her nails glinting against the paper. The curls and swoops of her handwriting made the institutional address feel whimsical, full of promise.

Her father’s bald head shone in the lamplight, just visible through the slats in the bannister. He was probably typing his sermon for Sunday’s service on his Dell PC, a sensible computer for a sensible man. It was in one of the MDF drawers next to him that she had found the address.

From the gloom of the downstairs hallway, she emerged onto Marbury Road, each house identical to the one she stepped out of, purposefully, red hair streaming behind her. She marvelled at how people who hadn’t grown up here navigated this labyrinth of streets, each house a carbon copy of the one next to it. But Baxby suited her parents down to the ground. Except they weren’t her parents. And this was what the letter was about.

The sole piece of evidence of her life before being adopted was a photo of her as a newborn, that photo of her in a plastic hospital cot, the cone of her tiny head covered in red hair. It was the hair that must have given her real mother the idea for her name. And her name was all she had of her mother, all she could hold on to.
For Harold and Dawn, her adoptive parents, it was enough to live in Baxby, to watch their BBC drama on Thursday evenings, to get takeaway on Friday nights. Trips to London were rare and they never went abroad, though they could afford to. But it wasn’t enough for Coral.

Coral believed in magic, in wordless, airborne things. She had tried to explain this to Harold once, things like how photos could never truly capture people, because people were transient, only existing in time, like moments, different from one second to the next. Though afterwards she wished she hadn’t opened her mouth. He would never understand.

She slipped the envelope into the letterbox and let it drop. Finally she was sixteen, legally within her rights to order her adoption records here in Scotland, able to act on the thoughts of her mother that burned inside her, a fire that could never be put out.

This was about being known. Known by someone who could meet her eye and nod, and in that nod for things to be implicit. I know exactly what you mean, that nod would say, that is what life is about. We share secrets because we are alike. We march to a different drum, dance to a different beat, and our hearts sing along to a tune that others don’t hear. That nod would say we see beauty that others don’t, so much beauty that we don’t know what to do with it. We try to explain it in a picture or a poem or even a song. And people call us unfocussed– teachers, elders– but all we want to do is express that beauty, share it somehow. Her mother would have that sparkle in her eye. She was sure of it.

Harold and Dawn rarely spoke of her mother. When probed, they evaded the subject. It was as if they wanted to deny her existence altogether. But Coral had roughed out a sketch of her life from titbits of information scavenged from overheard conversations.

Sariah Cummingway was her name. She had won an accolade at school for her artwork. At the time of giving birth, she had been very young. By now, Coral figured she must be an art director at an ad agency, or another creative role in London. Daydreams of the minutiae of Sariah Cummingway’s life swirled in and out of her mind on most days. Her handbag was a favourite. She imagined it to be the sort she might have delved into as a child, pulling out objects of interest– a perfume bottle, a lipstick. Her mother’s things would have a certain scent, of rose perfume, something French in its undertones.

Coral set herself up for a long wait, finding determined diversions—drawings and walks to the park to smoke cigarettes and read manga comics. The GCSEs were finally over. School was out for the summer, and kids could be found in the park wearing bikinis and listening to iPods in the roasting heat. But Coral was wishing the holidays away, checking the post daily. One time, Harold caught her running downstairs as the post hit the doormat. Coral said she was waiting for a delivery from ASOS.

The adoption records arrived sooner than expected. She ripped open the envelope and scanned the paperwork. The information was scant, and there were no details listed for her father, but there was an address, and that was all she needed. She climbed the stairs two by two and sat at her computer to check the electoral roll. Her mother still lived there. Coral couldn’t have dreamed it would be this easy.

The judder of the tube carriage swayed Coral’s slight frame from side to side. She had told Harold and Dawn she was staying with Harriet. Why should they know where she was going? They were unsupportive of her quest.
Occupation : Dancer. That’s what the records had said. As the train screeched through the tunnels, Coral’s mind was a blur with images of Sariah the theatre ballerina, whirling through the air, movements fluid, so unlike the matronly bustle of Dawn’s rounded features.

She slid the passport photo from her purse. Her mother’s face was beautiful against the crimped blue curtain of the photo booth, red hair shining in the light of the flashbulb. Sharp cheekbones protruded from under a blunt fringe and a map of freckles were scattered across her nose. A reticent smile lifted the corners of her mouth, as if beneath that smile lay the secrets of the universe.

She would surprise her. Perhaps later they would go for coffee in one of the nice cafes in Brixton Village she’d found on Google. They would have so much to catch up on.
As Coral surfaced from Brixton station, a junkie shuffled along the pavement talking to himself. Smoke sidled from joss sticks on a stall manned by a lad in a skullcap and robes. Coral kicked a cigarette butt with her Doc Martens, the sunlight shining on her pale legs. This was London. Its twists of reality stirred something in her, lives playing out in all their tarnished glory.

It was still early, and she had time to kill, having decided half eleven was a good hour for an unsolicited visit. She looked around wide-eyed at a man selling reggae CDs in a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop, at people crowded around a fishmonger’s, at arches under the railway containing small businesses– a nail salon with a bright green frontage, a hair shop specialising in afros. A whiteboard advertised jerk chicken for three pounds available from a van, and a train rattled into the station on the bridge ahead.
‘Watch where you’re going,’ a busty Jamaican lady frowned at her as she passed.

At 11am, she began her ascent up Brixton Hill, the address clutched in her hand. A car went by, a bass rhythm buzzing from its speakers. She turned right down King George street, past a boarded up pub. Dried-out weeds poked from the paving of front gardens. Paint peeled from windowsills in the sunlight. And before she knew it, she was standing outside number 94.

Her eyes took a moment to appraise the scene, the stuffed bin bag just outside the door, the thick closed curtains downstairs. She thought she could see a light on upstairs, an orangey red glow through a piece of fabric.
She hadn’t expected to feel this nervous. With a small mirror from her rucksack, she checked her reflection, moving a strand of hair from her face. The gipsy earrings and tasselled top shimmying across her skin in the breeze would have made her stand out in Baxby, but here she was anonymous, just another soul wandering these streets. If Harold and Dawn had seen her they would have made her change. Clothes that showed too much flesh were ‘leading others into sin,’ according to them, as if she was somehow to blame if a pervert looked at her.

Her gaze darted from the mirror as the door opened unexpectedly. A man appeared, his stooped figure descending the steps from the front door. Coral scolded herself for never considering that her mother might be married. The man glanced furtively from one side of the street to another, and turned back to the door. His hand burrowed in a jeans pocket and produced a couple of ten pound notes. It was only as he crumpled them into a hand protruding from inside that Coral realised that somebody else was present, their face hidden by the shade of the door. The man took off down the street, and Coral’s attention was drawn back to the door as the hand chucked a cigarette butt to the ground, and the face was visible for a flash.

It was a woman. Coral couldn’t make out her features from where she stood, just the sunken shadows of her eyes. Her black hair had the bluebottle tinge of boxed dye, dry ends splaying onto her shoulders. A leopard print nightgown dangled from her braless form.

The distraction of seeing these two characters, lodgers, Coral presumed, had settled her nerves, and it was with a sense of calm that she walked to the entrance and knocked.
The door opened. The woman leaned against the doorframe and let out a sigh, wrinkles deepening as she squinted into the sunlight.
‘Yeah?’ Her voice was horse, barely there.
‘I’m looking for Sariah Cummingway?’ The breeze had stopped and the heat was stifling, rising up from the tarmac.
The woman seemed in no hurry to answer. She lit a cigarette, lips crinkling in an o shape as she blew out the smoke. Orange make-up glittered on the tight flesh of her shoulders.
She frowned, lips downturned, ‘You’re looking at her.’
It was as if a strong wind had taken Coral’s breath away. Time had rendered her mother unrecognisable.
‘I’m… I’m Coral.’
In the seconds standing at the door, Coral made a violent adjustment to her expectations. This could still be ok, she decided. She may not be glamorous, but her mother would still have things to offer. They were flesh and blood.
‘Coral…’ said Sariah, her voice trailing off. Her eyeballs had a glassy sheen as she stared over Coral’s shoulder, pupils like pinpricks in the grey-blue lakes of her irises.
‘Your daughter,’ Coral added, hoping the word might change things. ‘I came to see you.’
‘I don’t have any money. That’s what you’re after, isn’t it?’ she said, then lost her footing, gripping at the doorframe to support herself. ‘Chip off the old block,’ she muttered.
Sariah seemed to recede behind her eyes, undulating between being there and not there. It was as if she had forgotten that Coral was standing at the doorway. Then Coral noticed her mother’s arm, track marks like she’d seen on TV on the insides of her elbows.
‘I don’t want any money,’ Coral said quietly. She felt lightheaded, ready to pass out in the heat, the sun beating on her back.
‘Then what do you want?’ Sariah’s chest rose and fell in a kind of pant. ‘What would I want with a teenager?’ She expelled a short laugh, shaking her head. Then her eyeballs rolled back and her eyelids half-closed.
On returning to Baxby, Coral thundered up to her room and lay with her face on the backs of her hands, stomach flat against the mattress of her single bed. The dusk sky threw a pink veil over the room as she wept.
She paused, and for a moment her thoughts untangled. What if this woman wasn’t her mother? She was high– unpredictable, untrustworthy. Perhaps she thought Coral had money, so pretended to be who Coral was looking for. Perhaps the adoption company got the address wrong. Just a slight of hand and 94 could be 49, and behind the door of 49 would be a different life.

She listened. The familiar opening theme to Heartbeat rose up from the TV in the living room. Knowing Harold would be occupied for an hour, she crept to his study on a hunt for more information.

At the doorway, she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her hoodie, and walked to the ottoman in the corner of the room. Her interest in Harold’s things had always been limited to her adoption information, and she had never given it more than a cursory glance. The hinges creaked as she opened it. She was greeted by a neat row of spines– envelopes and thick books without titles. Tugging at the top of an envelope that was wedged between the others, she tried to free it. As she pulled harder, a shower of rectangles fell to the carpet like confetti.

They were photos, photos of her. Coral sat on the floor, knees hugged to her chest, and turned over the ones that had flipped. Here was one of Dawn holding her in the air as a baby, arms outstretched, eyes meeting hers. Coral’s fingers thrummed the other spines and pulled out an album. She stroked its velvet cover and the stitched lettering that said ‘Baby’, turned the pages slowly. Even more of her.

Her hand curled over the edge of the ottoman as she caught sight of a Clarks shoe box inside. She scooped it out. Crammed in the box were yet more prints of her, hundreds of them. She peeled them out one by one, pressing them onto the carpet.

The shoebox was empty now, save from a piece of paper at the bottom. It rustled as she picked it up, unfolded it. It was a typed letter.

Dear Mr and Mrs Wormald,
We can only apologise for the five year wait that you have both endured so patiently. As you know, the adoption process can be a long and sometimes painful one, and we do appreciate your patience in this matter.
Today we are writing with some good news, however. We now have a match for you. Her name is Sariah Cummingway, and she has a one week old daughter called Coral. Ms Cummingway is battling a drug addiction, and has been known to social services for some time. For this reason, Coral is in need of a good home, which I hope you are both still willing to provide.
I would be grateful if you could arrange to come and meet Ms Cummingway and baby Coral at your earliest convenience.
Tom Spelling
Encompass Adoption Agency

The woman she met today was really her mother. Coral reread the letter, just to be sure, and another fact jumped out from the page; Harold and Dawn had waited five years.

Five years. A rush of something entered her being. And nothing, not her real mother, nor drawing, nor all the new clothes in the world could compare to it, the sense of being home she felt at that moment. The knowledge that however far she strayed, however far across the world she might roam, that she had a home with Harold and Dawn. And that they loved her.
She heard a voice and turned her head.
‘We know you don’t like photos, that you think people are transient and shouldn’t be photographed, so we didn’t show them to you,’ Harold said. He was standing with Dawn at the doorway of the study. Coral wasn’t sure how long he had been there.

She had said those exact words more than two years ago, and been so sure Harold hadn’t listened. Coral knew she wasn’t a lot like Harold and Dawn, but sitting on the floor of Harold’s study, she could see that they were trying their best to understand her. She swallowed her pain down, and a bit of it, just a bit of it, melted away.
Perhaps she would never be known. Perhaps she would travel the world to find friends, lovers, other human beings who could meet her eye and nod an acknowledgement of true and complete understanding. Perhaps that was what life was about, searching for those connections.

‘We like photos,’ said Dawn, ‘We like them very much.’

Harold and Dawn had seen her first steps, her first laughs, and the infant tears on her cheeks. And maybe that kind of knowing was better than living with a junkie who wasn’t interested at all.

Coral looked up at the man and woman that were her parents, the overlapping photos blanketing the carpet around her, a record of those first moments of knowing. And Coral decided that maybe she did like photos after all.




A New Place on the Map

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The car rolls to halt and I put the handbrake on, knock the gear lever into neutral and turn the engine off. The radio cuts out. I can see the telly through the living room window. Unknown men and women dressed in oversized, furry costumes cavort across the screen, transfixing my children. I see the back of my daughter’s head, my son in profile. They are still.

In the hallway – the letters. It reminds me of when we split up. Living separately, but still corresponding. Together. Apart. I had forgotten she has such beautiful handwriting. The letters – a warning sign.
She’s in the kitchen. On the laptop. Doesn’t look up when I enter.
‘Kids okay?’ I ask, trying to lift my voice, the way telesales men sound when they call me at work.
‘Fine,’ she says, layering this simple word of positive affirmation with something quite different.
‘Good day? Write some letters?’
‘Well, you’ve seen them, so yes, obviously!’
I go to the living room. They’re watching an animated cartoon now. They don’t know I’m there. The cartoon is funny, but they don’t laugh. I remember I didn’t do something I should’ve at work and for a moment consider whether I need to email or phone someone, or whether it can wait. My son farts. He and his sister chuckle, not taking their eyes from the screen. They still don’t know I’m there. I like watching them.

The letters are addressed to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Culture, the Mayor of London and the BBC.

In the kitchen, I put the kettle on. ‘Tea?’ She nods.
I’m not sure how to frame the question: how to avoid the defensive reaction. ‘What are the letters about?’
She screws her lips. Looks at me for the first time. ‘You never take my projects seriously.’
‘I’m interested.’
‘A maze,’ she says. ‘London needs a maze. A landmark maze. The kind of maze that people can have an experience in. The kind of maze that no city yet boasts. A maze which will do for the labyrinth what the London Eye did for Ferris wheels.’
‘A maze?’ I say. I try to sound interested. Intrigued. I’m not good at this type of thing. Even to my ears, I sound incredulous. Since the kids and then her illness, there have been numerous episodes like this. A kind of mania for something. A reaching out. Reaching for something beyond her kids and her house, and me.
‘Do you have to rubbish everything I do? I’ve got ideas. Vision. Imagine it: the world’s greatest maze. A landmark. A destination. A new place on the map.’

‘Not everyone likes mazes,’ I say, knowing this is not what she wants to hear, that this is not the kind of response which will ameliorate the tension in the room. ‘Someone people hate that feeling of being of lost.’

She cuts her eyes, shakes her head. I forget about making tea and get a beer from the fridge. I go and watch my kids watching telly. Kids’ TV has finished, so now they’re watching a cookery programme whose drunken contestants are being mocked by the voiceover. My children are utterly still. They still don’t know I’m here. Sipping slowly from the can of beer, I turn from the kids watching telly to the letters by the front door.

If it wasn’t a maze, it would be something else.




Chinese Hamburgers

Lenovo Digital Still Camera

I arrived in Beijing at the height of the summer. The view from the taxi’s window was familiar – there were a few more cars than before, but dust still covered everything, reducing new Audis and antique VWs to the same metal ghosts.

My driver was singing along to a love ballad on the radio, his falsetto ruined by cheap tobacco. I smiled from where I sat in the back seat, my shirt already soaked through with sweat. So much had happened in the three years since I’d left China, but it melted away when the plane touched down, as if the flight had travelled through time.
In one of those coincidences suggesting cosmic design, The Carpenters came on the radio with Yesterday Once More.
“Very good,” the driver said, pointing at the radio, and smiling back at me.
“Yes,” I said, leaning forward and putting my face next to the grimy Perspex divider. “Very good.”

I was heading back to the small city of Xingtai, where I’d taught English for a year at a university. At the time, I hadn’t had the slightest inclination to stay on for longer. Those 12 months had burnt out my circuits and left me completely frazzled. I hadn’t particularly wanted to go home to England; I’d just wanted to get away from China.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps even just a few months after getting back, I’d started to feel a strange sensation of home-sickness. Just as you only feel a mosquito’s bite once it’s flown, China had got under my skin without me even being aware of it. I watched a documentary set in Beijing and smelt the streets they showed on screen, heard the voices in the background calling out for me. I felt exiled, as if China was a second home that I’d abandoned. The longing to return built steadily, until one summer I found myself with three months of leisure and enough money for a plane ticket. I messaged my old employers, asking about the possibility of them letting me stay in my old apartment. I was astonished when they agreed. After so long, I was going back.

I dozed on the train from Beijing West, thinking about all the things that had made my life in Xingtai. I’d kept in contact with my co-teachers, but my student’s subsequent lives were a mystery. The last time I’d heard from one of them they’d been working in a factory in Shenzhen and were expecting a baby. I felt a little pang of guilt, though it seemed natural that we’d fallen out of touch. We’d all known that my presence in their lives was temporary, and we’d made the most of it while it was there.

What I missed most was the place, especially the area around my apartment. There had been a market a minute’s walk away from my front door, and it was there that I felt most at home. I could still see all the familiar faces – the gap toothed grandma selling knock off clothes, the guy in an old army jacket ladling black broth into plastic cups, the bicycle repair man surrounded by broken pedals, the tailor and her Soviet machine; a whole cast of characters acting out their lives in a muddy alley, offering all the services anyone could need for a pocketful of change. It all came back in a haze, like the clouds of steam that used to rise from the noodle stand, carrying everywhere the peppery scent of coriander.

I’d missed the street food in the market more than anything. My favourite lunchtime treat had been a rou jia mo, known in phrasebook speak as a Chinese Hamburger. It’s a misleading name. Instead of questionable beef, the Chinese Hamburger contains tender chopped pork, stewed in soy sauce and 20 spices. Instead of a bog-standard bun, the meat is held within crisp, unleavened flatbread, salty and fresh from a clay oven. There’s no lettuce, tomato, or gherkin in a Chinese Hamburger, no red or yellow sauce.

I’d bought my rou jia mo from a married couple, whose stall was on the back of a tricycle. The speed with which they prepared the food was miraculous, made even more wonderful by their apparent lack of effort. The wife would knead the raw dough into perfect white mounds, and then lift the lid off the oven and whisk out the cooked bread, refilling it with raw dough in one continuous movement. At the same time, with a dreamy attitude, her husband would ladle a hunk of meat out of the blackened pot and set to chopping it with his cleaver, all the while gazing into the distance and chatting idly with his wife. She chided him frequently for his slowness (to no obvious effect), though a smile always lurked at the corner of her mouth, a smile that spoke of a long-suffering patience that had ripened to love. I wished I’d been able to say a proper goodbye to them, and to thank them for feeding me for 12 months, but even after a year my Chinese hadn’t progressed much beyond single words and pointing.

I’d searched in vain for rou jia mo in Chinatowns around the world. Like a weird inversion of Proust’s madeleine, whenever I thought of China I could taste them, and the desire to eat one again was as strong as the smokers need for nicotine. Now, finally, I was getting my chance.

We arrived at Xingtai station, and I hailed a cab outside, surprised that I still remembered how to say the address. We pulled out into the traffic, horn blaring, and started on the old route home. Round the backstreets, onto the main road, under that bridge, round the square – it all came back to me. I got lost a couple of times, thrown by the building sites that broke the landscape like bomb craters, but soon enough a familiar building would appear. I sat bolt upright when we passed the park, for I’d knew we’d soon be there.

I paid the driver and nodded to the bemused guard at the Univeristy gates, then hurried through the campus, barely giving my old class rooms a glance. Groups of students eyed me in silence. I didn’t mind, I was so eager to sink my teeth into another Chinese Hamburger I would have walked through fire to get one.

I turned a corner and went by my old apartment, stopping to talk to a pair of kids with a rabbit in a plastic cage. My belly grumbled and I carried on, turning another corner and then stopping short.
A newly laid road, flat and white, stretched far into the distance. There were no cars on it; the destination was still under construction.

I retraced my steps, thinking I’d made a wrong turn. It was no use. The market was gone. I spotted the bicycle man squatting by the gate, still surrounded by broken pedals. He nodded to me and turned back to his work. Everyone else, including my rou jia mo couple, had disappeared. I wondered where they’d all gone. Had another market sprung up somewhere? Who could I ask to find out?

Over the road was a new shopping centre, its glass sides gleaming in the waning sun. My stomach grumbled again, demanding to be fed. I went into the shopping centre and waited with a bunch of students in the KFC. Looking around at families enjoying their ice creams and chicken fingers, I thought about a quote from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, which I’d read on the flight over. Andy said that you can be just as faithful to a place as to a person. He’s right, but a place may not stay faithful to you.




I Heart Containers

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The train movie is stock-still as I sit, and sip. My first-coffee eyes focus above the window’s transom. If it wasn’t for the glass, I could touch the stencilled white letters T R I T O N on the corrugate wall of the shipping container. This sienna container is stacked on a rusting blue one with spray-painted graffiti ‘I ♥ ’.

Each container is a jumbo Lego brick with its own number, like my passport: BA 27518131. In the hollow of the brick, each hidden product has its own trace identification number.

It’s amazing to consider where the well-used container has been ⎯ how many miles overland, air and sea it travelled and what it carried. How the goods made a difference to factory-workers who produced them, citizens who purchased them or shippers who transported them? If you hammer its metal walls, the sounds and echoes would tell tales.
Burrard Inlet, North-Shore Mountains, and the Port-of-Vancouver frame this face of globalization. The back and forth of urban living requires no lawn-mowing.

Without travel ease, my life might have been circumscribed by the view outside my windowpane. These containers became standardized and circulated the globe like hormones that pulse through the body. We both ‘came of age’ in the sixties. When the diesel engines fire, we scatter the world.

***

Five years ago when the BBC tracked one container’s waybills, I took it as a sign, pulled out old passports and traced my own trajectory. Up until that time I had felt lost in transit, perhaps I could gain agency and ownership of my life path.

In the fall of ’68 I was eighteen and empty, when I left Winnipeg – the distribution centre for Canada. I flew east to University of Toronto as if I were sealed at the point of entry, as they do with dangerous cargo on containers.

In the summer of ’72, a graduate with wages from one year of work, I toured Europe on buses, ships and railcars through England, France, Spain to Crete. Dizzy; my skin absorbed ambient temperatures and smells the way container walls suck up moist winds.

Sixteen months later, when I journeyed to Vancouver I was no longer a virgin. I married, tended the cherry tree and built a pension. For the next eight years, I was as landlocked as the shipping industry in a recession. My career flourished and the containers allowed me to shop the world into my living room.

***

On January 4, 2005, I was in Papua New Guinea reviewing 1980’s photos, when my brother phoned to say Mom had died. I jettisoned across seventeen time-zones to Los Angeles arriving before I left. The cranes at the port opened their arms to my loss, or at least that was how my squeezed heart felt.

Five mourners stood over the grave. Only my brother and I knew her before Alzheimer’s had robbed the story of her life. We were her wantok (Melanesian word meaning one talk or family). As her coffin lowered into the sunny hill in Eden Memorial Park, Sammy Davis Jr. crooned her song, “What Kind of Fool Am I,” on a ghetto blaster. Lifting the shovelful of dirt, my arms remembered the weight of my infant son when I carried him on the plane to visit her. And how he slept in her closet drawer.

I returned to Papua New Guinea, and stayed long enough for unfamiliar notions of ownership to become familiar. If I had been born in one of those tribes, and witnessed that first airplane burst out of the sky and the first white Australian loom towards me, I too would have thought – this is happening for a reason. These ghost ancestors intend the cargo for me and with the help of a shaman I would have grabbed as much as I could. You see my potato peeler, can-openers and shoes disappeared in this country, as did container content.
On the slow passage back to Vancouver, the construction from China’s newest shipping terminal on an artificial island produced deafening noises.

Re-entry into this modern world was an uphill adjustment, nicknamed reverse culture shock. I hissed at Vancouverites leashed to their designer-dressed dogs and shuddered in supermarkets unable to make choices. Only the cadence of trains soothed me. Even their shunting pacified.

***

In these retiring summer days, I am no longer lost. I paddle kayaks along the Pacific coastline. I recover intact running shoes and bathtub toys washed up on unscheduled shores. Ships sometimes hit a storm and containers fall into the sea. Oceanographers use barcodes to track the floating objects and learn about currents.

In winters, I explore precious cultures: hiking mountains with yaks in India, and with Sherpa in Nepal, practicing yoga in Bali and diving with parrotfish in the Caribbean. Containers litter island landscapes. They are used as storage, offices or homes, it not being worthwhile to return them.

Each destination has a delicious moment where my clothes, eyes, and ears are still tuned to home, but my skin knows that I am somewhere else; the weird sense of being suspended betwixt two distinct places. I take in the new ridges, the crevasses, and the heat of the familiar sun. I’m not there and then I am there, me, enveloped by all the adventures that reconfigure me.

***

That BBC container is now a soup kitchen in Africa. Decades ago on safari I vowed to revisit dancing Botswana to laugh again. I should be at the World Cup instead of here. Not done yet, I crave more baggage checks.

Looking out at the port at dusk, the yellow-light blinks on the forklift. A computer operates the two hundred feet high cranes and choreographs the placement of the containers. The concealed contents remain a mystery. As parts of the ship are cleared of incoming containers, reloading begins, and dockside activity becomes frenzied. My window muffles the mechanical beep beeps. A fresh COSCO container faces me through the glass and wonders how many miles overland, air and sea I travelled. I attach this boastful narrative to my waybills. The smirk on my face can’t be contained, knowing they add up to a life story.




Listing

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Deborah Hannily fought the urge to scream when her client Paul stepped out of his car and said “I thought I said nothing out in the country.”

She wanted to scream because he wanted to stay close to the city, but his girlfriend Brittany wanted to be secluded. He didn’t want to live in a country-style ranch house, but she said it would be her ideal home. He wanted each room to be separate, but she wanted an open-concept living space. Their wish-list looked like an argument put on paper.

“I know what you said,” Deborah replied, stepping away from her own car, “but you’d be surprised how much this house meets both of your must-haves.”
Brittany stepped out of her side of the car, the wind catching her dirty blond hair. She tucked her waving locks behind her ear and crossed her arms as she ventured onto the leaf-covered front lawn. “I like it,” she said. “I think it looks really quaint.”
“Well of course you like it,” Paul said, not taking any steps away from the car; he even kept the driver-side door propped open, perhaps hoping he’d be able to jump in and drive away at a moment’s notice. “This place looks right up your alley. Did you notice how long of a drive it was to get here? It’s at least forty minutes away from downtown.”
“It’s not like it matters. Whether it’s a five-minute drive or a fifty-minute drive, you’d still be out until two in the morning.”
Deborah rolled her eyes. These were the types of jabs Paul and Brittany had been throwing at each other throughout all twelve house tours they’d been on. If they were left in each other’s company for more than two minutes, one of them would insult the other. A couple more houses, and she was sure someone was going to start swinging. And, personally, she was hoping Paul would be at the receiving end of it.
“Okay, you two,” Deborah said. “Before we get started: yes, it’s a country-style and I know that bothers you Paul, but it’s thirty thousand below your budget so you two can decorate it with whatever style you like. Also, even though it’s a long drive from downtown, if you notice, we’re in a pretty cozy neighborhood out here, so you’ll still get that neighbor-to-neighbor connection you were wanting.”
Paul gazed at the houses surrounding him, all similarly-built ranch houses from the early part of the century, and grimaced. “I’m not sure if these are the kinds of neighbors I was looking for. I was thinking more…young people. People who’d want to go out clubbing without putting in their going-out teeth.”
He smiled to himself. Brittany shook her head. Deborah pretended to enjoy the joke to please him, but not so much that Brittany thought she found it funny.
“Look, before you judge this place completely by its appearance, let’s take a look inside, shall we? And again, remember that any style problems you have can be remodeled.”
Brittany was already halfway through the front door by the time Paul finally stepped away from the car, sighing. The wind picked up again, shuffling the dead leaves on the ground, as Deborah led him through the entryway and closed the door behind them.
“So as you can see, we’ve got a nice mixture of open-concept and separation here,” Deborah said as the couple began to meander around the bright, spacious living room. “You’ve got the living room, kitchen, and dining room all open to each other, but then in the back, through the dining room, you’ve got a secondary living room all by itself. So it really is the best of both worlds.”
“I don’t know,” Brittany mused. “The whole reason I wanted open concept was to be able to see everything at once; even if I can see most of the room, I can’t see into that back room. And that really bothers me.”
“I’m still not sure why you’re so worried about everything being open,” Paul said, already migrating toward the back room. “It’s not like you have to worry about entertaining guests or anything.”
“What if I wanted to spend more time with you? What if I wanted everything open so I could talk to you no matter what room you were in?”
“Well…” He didn’t finish the statement. It hung in the air like decoration. He let the silence sit for a moment before pointing into the back room. “So would this be the man cave I was wanting?”
“No, this house has a basement,” Deborah said as Brittany slowly strolled into the kitchen, pretending to examine the cabinets. “If you look through the kitchen into the laundry room, the door is to your right.”
“Oh, that’s great, actually,” Paul said. “In fact, if you two don’t mind I’m gonna go check it out real quick.”
He stepped past the two women and ducked into the laundry room, sticking his head back to call out, “Make sure you give this kitchen a good look-through, Brittany. Let me know if you think it’ll work out.” He turned the corner and opened the door to the basement, the sound of his footsteps descending the staircase echoing through home’s small hallways.
“He trusts your judgment about the kitchen, eh?” Deborah asked, leaning her elbows onto the laminate countertops. Brittany nodded back, fingering the knobs on the stove. “You two must really be into cooking.”
“Not exactly. He’s…kinda wanting me to get into it.”
“How come?”
Deborah scolded herself. She’d been trying very hard over the past month to stay out of their personal life, but every once in a while she’d slip and let her curiosity override her objectivity. At the ninth house she showed them, she learned that Brittany was on maternity leave, even though she’d neither seen nor heard any hints of an actual baby. And at the previous house, Brittany admitted that she didn’t really have any friends left; they all stopped seeing her after she started dating Paul. She hadn’t learned much about Paul, though; except that every time he opened his mouth she wanted to remodel his face.
“He thinks I need a hobby to get into,” Brittany said. “He thinks that, since I’m not working right now, I need something to keep myself occupied…and I have a habit of falling into some pretty bad hobbies by myself.”
Deborah stepped away from the counter and joined Brittany in front of the stove. “Well if you’re going to get into cooking, this would be a great kitchen to do it in, don’t you think? Look at how cute and old-fashioned it is. Hand-crafted wood cabinets, spacious layout, recently renovated hardwood floors. And look at all this counter space.”
She walked around the L-shaped counters, running her hand along the countertops to emphasize the amount of space. “Plenty of room for a big microwave, cutting board, coffee maker, knife block…And I know you were looking for a gas stove, weren’t you?” She strolled over to the dining table, turned to face the kitchen and leaned back against one of the chairs. “Can’t you just picture yourself making some apple pies or homemade soups in here?”
“Yeah,” Brittany said, stepping away from the oven. “It’s all pretty good…but I’m not sure if I like these countertops. I’ve had some bad experiences with laminate before; it’s pretty prone to scratches and stains.”
“Don’t forget, this place is thirty thousand below your max budget; countertops can be replaced. I’d probably recommend either tile or quartz if you’re worried about scratches or stains. Granite will work too, but it might not gel as well with the old-fashioned style. And wood will fit the style well, but it scratches pretty easily too…”
Just like that, Deborah slipped into her element; selling her on how the house could look instead of how it does look. Ignore the dings, the dents, the stains, the burns; those can all be buffed out. Look at the layout, the functionality, the potential. Look at what you could do with the space.
She went through her routine with Brittany, leading her through the entire renovation process without waiting for her to voice her own opinion. Her opinion was wrong, tainted with the kitchen she’d already seen. She wasn’t seeing the kitchen Deborah saw.
She had given her suggestions about everything except the appliances by the time Paul finally came back up from the basement. There was a rare smile on his face.
“I really love the basement,” he said, walking straight through the kitchen into the dining room, next to Deborah. “That’ll work perfectly as my man cave. There’s plenty of space for my flat screen, my pool table; we can put a new sectional down there…and there’d even be enough room left over for a bar. You know how much I’ve been wanting my own bar.”
Brittany looked at Deborah and rolled her eyes.
“Well that’s good to know,” Deborah said, taking a step away from him. “I knew you were looking for your own space, and I was thinking the basement would work better than this back living room.”
Paul’s smile went away. “Why? Is there something wrong with it?”
Deborah didn’t get a chance to reply; Paul made a bee-line for the back room, which was built a step lower than the dining room. “Oh, I see what you mean. This place is kind of ugly.”
Brittany followed him warily, poking her head through the archway. “It’s not ugly,” she said. “I think it’s kinda cute.”
Of all the rooms in the house, this back room was the room Deborah was most worried about showing Paul. The room had three of Paul’s absolutely-must-not-have items: a bulky wood stove, shag carpet, and waist-high wood paneling covering each wall. Not to mention the home owners had staged the room to look like it was from Little House on the Prairie, with knitted throw pillows on the couches, large white doilies draped over most of the furniture pieces, and small wooden animal sculptures sitting atop decorative shelves perched on the walls. The room was like a time capsule for the 1970s. And even more unfortunately, she was showing it to one of the most critical clients she’d ever met.
“No, not at all,” Paul said. “This room is gonna have to be completely gutted. There’s no way I’m spending any time in this room the way it is now.”
Deborah stepped in. “And that’s a possibility, with all the extra room in the budget. It won’t take more than sixteen hundred to tear down all this paneling, depending on whether you two want to do it yourself. And with the shag-”
“Wait, wait,” Brittany interrupted, stepping between Paul and Deborah. “Don’t get too crazy with the renovation talk. I happen to like the way this room looks. It’s very cozy.”
“No it’s not,” Paul said. He was wandering the room, arms crossed and staring hard at the walls like he was already overseeing the demolition project. “It’s ugly, it’s outdated, it’s cheap…It makes me feel old and sad. It has to go.”
Brittany walked hard up to Paul’s side, catching him off-guard with her sudden closeness. “What is your problem? Why do you hate this style so much?”
Paul hesitated. “What do you mean? I’ve always hated this style. It’s just…not the right fit for a young couple.”
“Bullshit. You have been so dead set against this style, a style that I happen to like, that I’m beginning to think you’re shitting on it to go against me. Is that it? Do you not want me to get my way?”
Paul shook his head. “No, of course not! Why do you always have to play the victim?”
“Well excuse me for ‘playing the victim,’ but it’s hard to think you’re not targeting me when you’re talking about ripping apart the one room in this house I could call my own. Because, and forgive me if I am mistaken, you would most likely spend most of your nights either holed up in the basement or out clubbing. No matter what this room looked like, you wouldn’t spend any time in it.”
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a room like this in the house.”
“Why?” Deborah suddenly asked, causing both Paul and Brittany to turn toward her. She covered her mouth with her hand and stepped backwards, stammering, “S-sorry. I don’t know what made me ask that.”
“No, I want to know too,” Brittany agreed, turning back on an out-matched Paul. “That makes no sense, Paul. Why would this room bother you so much?”
Paul threw his arms up. “Because, Brittany, I watched my grandparents die in a house like this. In a room that looked a lot like this one.”
He sighed and took a step away from the two women, wandering further into the room. “When I was around thirteen, my grandmother was going through Alzheimer’s, my grandfather dying of cancer, and every time I visited them I could see them get weaker and weaker. My family kept getting calls in the night of Grandma nearly burning the house down because she forgot to put out a fire in the fireplace, or Grandpa passing out in the living room and coughing up blood into the carpet, of…Grandma sitting in the corner, panicking and soiling herself while an ambulance wheeled Grandpa away. And no matter what I do, I can’t get those images out of my head whenever I’m in a room like this.”
Brittany was silent for a moment, her hands resting in her jacket pockets and her gaze fixed on Paul.
Paul looked at her, then shifted his eyes to Deborah. “Are you two satisfied now?”
Brittany took a soft step toward him and put her hand on his arm. “Why did you never tell me that?” she asked. “I would’ve understood…”
Paul looked at her. “Well, we don’t always tell each other all of our secrets, do we?” Brittany quickly let go of Paul’s bicep and stepped back, forcibly. Like he had physically pushed her.
Deborah had to hold herself back. She wanted to learn so much more about these two, but prying farther into what was clearly a loaded comment would have been too dangerous to the threat of her sale.
She had to push on. “Paul, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said. “Like I said, this room can be totally changed since this style clearly…disagrees with you. If you want, we can move on to the rest of the house. I promise you, no other room looks quite as dated as this one.”
“Well, Brittany,” Paul said, moving past his wife. He gestured toward the archway. “Shall we move on?”
She looked toward him, slowly, before nodding and shuffling out of the den, Paul following close behind her. Deborah, mouth shut, quickly went after them.

She led them through the rest of the house as if nothing had happened. The bedroom Paul was planning on turning into an office; he liked how there was a view to the backyard, which was right on the edge of a large field. The master bedroom; Paul liked that it had an attached master bath and thought it was a nice size, but didn’t like the small closet or the decor; Deborah had to remind him that the decor could easily be changed. The hall bathroom; he didn’t like the tile vanity.

Throughout it all, Brittany was mostly silent, only contributing with the occasional “Yeah” or “Hmm.” Her mind was elsewhere, perhaps still wrapped around Paul’s story about his grandparents. Or the cryptic comment he made before leaving the back room …Either way, she was clearly occupied with something else, and Deborah had to force herself to stop thinking about it.

The last room in the house was the third bedroom, which the couple was planning on turning into a nursery.
At first, they treated it like a regular room: walked around in it for a minute, planned out the layout for the crib and changing table, looked for flaws in construction, and so on. They were both happy that it was right across the hallway from the master bedroom, so they would be able to quickly run in if they heard any crying at night. Paul was a little concerned with what appeared to be a burn mark in the carpet near the foot of the bed, but otherwise they both seemed to have pretty positive impressions of the space.

Paul was ready to walk out, but Brittany was lingering in the spot where they both agreed they would put the crib. She was looking down, imagining the sight of their little ball of joy bundled up in a blanket beneath her. Deborah looked at her and smiled, hoping that she was beginning to picture herself in the house as well. Maybe she was finally getting through to these two.
That’s when Brittany looked up, tears in her eyes, and said “I’m sorry.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small plastic bag of white powder. She dropped it on the floor, right where the crib would be.
“What is that?” Paul asked, his voice dead.
“I’m so sorry.”
Paul looked at the bag on the floor. Looked at her. Clenched his fists.
“How long?”
“How long what?”
Paul unclenched his fist and slammed the palm of his hand against the drywall, causing the two women to jump. Brittany shrieked.
“How long since you last shot up?”
“Paul, I swear I haven’t shot up since Jackson’s funeral.”
“Bullshit.” The word was a dart aimed straight at Brittany’s throat. He lunged forward and grabbed the bag on the floor. His hand was shaking. “Why do you have this, then?”
“I bought it three days ago.” Her voice was nothing but a whimper at that point. “That’s the first bag I’ve bought since I quit. I haven’t had any. And I swear I won’t.”
“Why buy it then?” Paul was shouting now. “Was Jackson not enough? Are you trying to kill off any kid we have together? Are you trying to show me that sticking my neck out for you was a mistake?”
“Paul…” Brittany’s hands were covering her stomach.
“Are you…” He stood up straight then, dropping his arm down, letting the bag fall. “Are you pregnant again?” His voice lowered.
She lowered her head, her eyes closed and shoulders quivering. She was sobbing now.
“And you swear you haven’t taken anything?”
She managed to shake her head.
Paul reached out and grabbed her arm. “We need to go. I need to make sure you’re telling the truth.” As he turned to run out of the house, his eyes met Deborah’s. He stammered for a moment, searching his mind for something appropriate to say, some social etiquette to refer to. When none came up, he came out with, “We’ll call you with our decision.”
And then he shot down the hall, into the living room, through the front door, and onto the porch, his arm draped around Brittany’s quaking shoulders the whole way. Moments later, the sound of their car’s engine revved through the home, followed by the squeal of tires peeling out of the driveway and down the street.
Deborah watched their escape in stunned silence, holding still for several moments before drifting down the hallway like a leaf caught in the breeze. She shut the front door and locked it quietly, and before gaining full awareness of her actions, she found herself back in the bedroom, her eyes plastered to the white bag on the floor.

*******************

Paul called her back a week later. The call was dry, thankless – but then again, she wasn’t sure what else she was expecting.
“Hi Deborah,” he said. “It’s Paul Summers.”
“Paul.” He had caught her off guard.

There was a protracted moment of silence, each person trying to decide who needed to say what. Deborah could faintly hear a woman sigh on the other end of the line. Eventually, she came out with “How’s…”
Paul cut her off. “We’ve decided to put an offer down on the country home you showed us.” He was trying to maintain a sense of friendly professionalism, but there was a dead, monotone quality to his voice. “We don’t want a bidding war, so go ahead and put in an offer at list price.”
“I’m not sure I would recommend that,” Deborah said, her instinct kicking in. “Going in at list price right away might make you seem desperate; they may raise the price on you.”
“Well then we’ll just pay the raised price.” His voice was curt, impatient. “Like you said, it’s thirty thousand below our budget.”

There was another pause, this one more malicious. Then Paul spoke up again. “I mean, I really liked that man cave in the basement.” Deborah heard another sharp, feminine breath on the line. “And Brittany really liked that kitchen.”




Litro #148: Going Home

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I need to buy tea.

I land at the Okęcie airport in Warsaw. From the front of my ginger coat I brush off the crumbs of a “Prince Polo” bar, a bite of Polishness, which the airline served us just before landing. “Prince Polo”, the taste of my childhood, brings back the memory of the voice of my grandmother. To buy the bars, grandma had to stand in long queues. As she had to for everything in that Poland, which one was not allowed to leave. The Okęcie airport served mainly communist officials, they used it for trips to “brotherly countries” (a favourite propaganda term).
Until one day my grandma took off from it too. It was a trip to Sweden and Britain organised for former prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp. I waved to her from the airport terrace, the roar of the engines buzzing in my stomach. The plane tiptoed along the runway like a ballerina from the Bolshoi Theatre, began to glide, accelerate, and offfffff it went…

Tea I need to buy.

My coat absorbed the impersonal smell of the plane’s air conditioning system, even though the flight between Brussels and Warsaw took less than two hours. I bought the coat in Stockholm. When I moved there 15 years ago, my grandmother said: “It is quiet there, safe, good for children”. About Britain, she said: “They have these little houses there”. “Like the ones I used to draw when I was a kid?” I asked.
Before we moved into a concrete bloc of flats, we used to live in a house called a Finnish house. A compound of these yellow houses was built in the Warsaw quarter of Ochota by the Russians, it was a gift from a brotherly nation. Ochota is close to the Okęcie airport, but I do not recall planes flying overhead. I only remember the one that grandma took.

To buy tea I need

I was wrong. I open the cupboard in my Warsaw home and I see – there is tea! I forgot I run out of it in my Brussels home. Polish tea is strong, its called Yunan, I have been drinking it since childhood. A tea-drinkers house – that’s the house of my childhood. We, from eastern Europe, drank coffee only in the office. At home we drank tea – for sorrow, for a stomach ache, for a hangover, or to welcome guests. Dregs of tea leaves bulging at the bottom of a glass – in our home tea was served in glasses – were the foundation of everyday life. “Shall I make you some tea?” grandma would ask rhetorically when I returned from school. “Forget it, she can make it herself,” my mother would admonish her. But grandma was already putting glasses on the kitchen counter, lighting up the stove, heating up the water in a kettle with a whistle and putting dried tea leaves into a brown steamer.
In Belgium, tea is called an “ïnfusion”. It is a slap in the face for my tea-drinker’s identity. In my Brussels home, we drink tea brought from Poland or from Britain — countries of small houses.
When I am I Poland, they sometimes ask me if I miss my country – the Polish language has retained the rhetoric of political emigration, the ethos of exile and inconsolable longing. I bite my tongue. Should I admit that if I miss anything it is Brussels, the “ïnfusion” city, the capital of a country without a clear national identity? After leaving Poland more than a dozen years ago my patriotic needs are met by cities: by Brussels and by Warsaw. I supply both my homes with strong black tea.

Je dois acheter un thé

Brussels is freedom, even though French syntax constrains me in the same way as English. Subject, verb, there is no escaping that order. Polish with its declinations, inversion, is for us, it users, like a dolphinarium. We twist nouns, play with verbs, toy with adjectives.

Un thé je dois acheter

Again at the Okęcie airport. “What are you carrying here, marihuana?” jokes the Polish customs officer checking my hand luggage. Boxes with “Yunan” tea are factory sealed, but one is open. I could have left it in my Warsaw home, but I grabbed it at the last moment and squeezed it into the bag I am taking to Brussels. Twisted, dried tea leaves rustle in the hands of the customs officer, who shakes the box like a baby rattle.
The officer is not much older than twenty, he cannot remember the lines for food, probably drinks latte, a macchiato or a cappuccino at home. He can probably afford an expresso machine advertised by George Clooney. I look for the smile of the actor from the advertisement, but all I see is the face of the customs officer. He smiles knowingly and lets me deeper inside the Warsaw airport. I begin to imbibe its impersonal smell. Okęcie – big, reconstructed, modern – is an airport for all citizens, not just the communist bigwigs. People mill around among shelves heavy with colourful goods, stifling boredom.

Powinnam kupić herbatę.
Herbatę kupić powinnam.
Kupić herbatę powinnam.
Tout est possible. Everything is possible. Wszystko jest możliwe. The syntax of my native language gives freedom. You can juggle it without risking ridicule. Play with it, twist it, fly. Fly.
I walk through the “sleeve” to the plane, leaving behind me the airport building. I turn around and look. I see the old, concrete block, in the past guarded by soldiers in dark green uniforms. When I was a teenager, the fashion craze was to wear a military coat. Everybody wanted to have a camouflage jacket, if not a real one, than at least a fake. We became crazy about military paraphernalia then.

I unbutton the ginger coat, show my ticket and board the plane. “We welcome you on board of our plane for our flight to Brussels…” the engines roar, the plane accelerates, its run becomes wobbly as if the take-off were to slip out of control. Now an announcement in French, the language of my adopted city: “Mes dames et monsieurs…” The phrases set according to western order, subject, verb… Their syntax puts a muzzle on Polish words still reverberating in my head.

The plane detaches itself from the tarmac and … offff it goes! I detach myself from history, from known names, the taste of “Prince Polo” and, among gentle turbulence, I fly towards my other homeliness – Brussels.

I get out at Zaventem airport. I quicken my pace to get rid of the impersonal smell, to finally leave the airport and soak up the adopted smell, the scent of nomadic freedom.

Suddenly I slow down. There are soldiers patrolling Zaventem, the dark colour of their uniforms contrasts with the florid colours of duty-free shops. Now soldiers are guarding my second country. I start going again, as far away from the airport as possible. The boxes with Polish tea rustle in the bag under my arm.