39 hours between East and West
The crescent moon doesn’t give much light tonight. Only a handful of stars blink and twinkle above the coconut trees. But the air is warm. Like every night.
A few revellers stumbled by, on their way home. It was not quiet, where we stood, but it came as close to silence as it could. The sounds of the birds, mopeds, tuck-tucks, of hammering, knocking and footsteps were less frequent around midnight. Dogs barked and howled as usual. There was a rustle here and there, a cat appeared on a wall, crouching down, looking at me. It was just an ordinary night in Varkala.
As we drove off, the taxi slowly turning on the corner, I looked back.
Sanjay stood there, next to his moped, upholding his hand. Smile on his face. Maybe there was melancholy in his eyes. Maybe it was my own. I waved back, and he disappeared.
In town the shop windows are locked up with metal panels. Tatters of newspaper on the sidewalk, broken plastic bottles on the street. Dogs stroll around, stop and look at the taxi. At this time the streets belong to them.
Sanjay made me cry. How not to cry, when someone is looking at you in sincerity, not saying a word, but eyes speaking out loud. I couldn’t help it. It just burst out. Reminded me of a song.
And a hand to hold your throat, to stifle that crying choke.
That’s what it felt like. Crying choke.
I keep my countenance. As I always do, except for those rare moments of weakness. I perfected it. I just pretend that things are not happening.
We drive by my favourite supermarket. The auditorium. The roundabout with the golden statue and the Communist flag. We leave the dark shade of the underpass behind. The fish-market, whose smell made me sick. The other supermarket where they sell everything. Even maple syrup and capers, you know.
The taxi blinks, turns and I don’t know the streets anymore. I try hard, but I cannot recognize anything. I lean back and feel the head wind in my face. It’s getting chilly. I put on my scarf, over the head, like an old woman. Although I am sweating in my woollen Ali-Baba-pants, my long-sleeved shirt. The irony is, I know I will be freezing in these clothes. When I get off the plane in Europe.
I look around. In the corner of my eye a huge backpack, Greg sleeping in the front seat. He must be really tired, to sleep in the front seat of an Indian taxi. A crackle of plastic makes me jump.
“Sorry?” Petros looks at me, from behind the backpack, cigarette in his hand. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Thank God you ask, I’d give my right arm for a smoke.”
We remain silent while sucking our cigarettes, watching the landscape, the night flying by. Now and then we exchange a few words. They trickle down like the little brooks on the cliff, quickly oozing away in fatigue.
“How often have you been in Varkala?” – “Ten times.” – “Will you come back next year?” – “Om namah shivaya.”
I met Greg and Petros twenty minutes ago. Jake knocked at my door while I was uploading music to my Ipod, for the journey. Asked me if I wanted to share a taxi to the airport. With friends of his friend Michael, the mandolin player. Why not. I like that Petros is as silent as me. I just want to let my thoughts run free.
It is 2 am. Hundreds of people in front of the airport. We enter the brand-new building, which has the shape of a UFO. We check-in. Petros and I start looking for a smoker’s room, but first we have to get through security check. The woman in khaki, with a scary something that looks like a machine-gun on her waist, asks me to open my hand luggage. Because her colleague wrote two words on my nametag. I have to take out everything. Do they think I have explosive substances in my notebook? My level of tolerance is going down. I know a grim look is spreading over my face. I feel ostracised. One lighter.
I walk around to find my companions. The cold neon light is dazzling me. All of a sudden Petros appears by my side. A knowing smile. Our secret token. I think it says: I’ve been to Varkala. We stroll around, discovering the airport. Find our refuge, a small Chai shop. We sip it while waiting for Greg. The taste is sweet, milky. It is 2.30.
And then, after uncounted minutes, Greg appears, tall and shiny with his not very tanned skin, in a proper white T-Shirt and blue jeans. How come he looks so fresh. He tells us he could enter the security-check at the business class counter. His eyes sparkle, a smile playing around his mouth. “Because you’re American”, says Petros. We joke around, somewhat lost. We lose our words again. We sit down, in brand-new iron chairs. We try to be comfortable. Our flight is 45 minutes delayed. It is 3.30. Now and then a bubble of words bursts between the three of us. Now and then Petros and me go to the men’s toilet. To have a smoke.
I am so tired. Indians in uniforms, the cleaning staff, sit in front of a blaring flat-screen. They are all asleep. How can you sleep in all this noise.
At 4.30, a tinny voice states the boarding call. We walk over to the gate. Stampede. I am literally pushed into the aircraft. As I encounter my seat in the last row, there is an Indian man next to me. Brilliant. No sleep on this flight. Greg and Petros have their seats near me, but neither do they have more than one seat. To stretch out. Wait. Greg has two, of course. We conspire in the back of the plane. When I come back from the bathroom, Petros is sitting next to me. He smiles. My Indian neighbour has moved to his previous place.
I can feel the aircraft moving. Ready for take-off. I love this feeling, when it takes off. When I am pushed into my seat, gravity so heavy in every bone.
I look out of the window. Blue sky, slowly it is dawning. Blurry white clouds below. Nothing else to be seen. This is a night with no end and a morning with no tomorrow. Everything is merging.
I have lost track of time, already. I only know this flight is about four and a half hours. I wonder what time it is in Varkala, try to count the hours. What is everyone doing right now? What is happening? If it is seven am, Manu will still be asleep. If it is eight am, he and his staff will be in the kitchen. I see them preparing Uppuma and Chai. I see Guy in front of his little cottage, having breakfast, in the back of the garden, reading the newspaper, smoking a cigarette. I see Bo, getting ready for a yoga-class. She is wearing her green long-sleeve and leggings, her dark curls tied up to a knot. A tired look on her beautiful face.
Bing. The seat-belt sign is turned off. Stewardesses rushing to and fro. I bend my knees, put them on the rear side of the seat in front of me. Petros is dozing and Greg is sleeping, his chin on his breast. I take my Ipod out of my bag and turn it on, while watching the infinite blue, through this little oblong.
For every king there’s a crown, and every time I look around, I am the kin of infinite space.
I am a tired king. A zombie king. In infinite space, somewhere in the air, between Southern India and Dubai. A space without frontiers. Nothing to hold on to.
There is no use in staying in India. But where do I go to and what is this place to me?
I doze off. I am in a dreamlike state, images floating through my head. I see the balcony at Manu’s. A part of me is still there. It is tied to Manu’s Garden. Glued to its colourful painted walls, to the green branches of the coconut trees. As if I was connected to Varkala by the adhesive threads of a cobweb, connected by invisible suction cups. I see Pinky’s tremor, how her legs vellicate. I see Sujata, the woman working at Manu’s, with her mobile, sitting in the morning sun, texting to someone. The camera takes off, flies above Varkala North Cliff. Goes down in front of the last shop on the cliff, close-up from the blurred tattoo on the arm of the 13-year-old shop-wallah. I see the sky turning pink by the morning sun. I see dolphins, jumping out of the waves. I see the dogs sleeping on the beach.
A memento motion picture in my head. The soundtrack is composed by Bonnie Prince Billy.
There is a time to sing these sings, and a time to have them sung.
A time to bring the tune and a time to have it brung.
A twitch in my muscles wakes me from my dream. My mouth is dry. I clear my throat, stretch my arms, hit Petros by mistake. He shakes his head, like saying, never mind. He is reading a newspaper, his seat upright. I realize the descent has started already. Where has time gone. I must have been dozing for hours.
I wave at the stewardess. I am awestruck by the colour of her lipstick. Emirates-Red. I try not to stare at her lips, while asking about my connecting flight. She wears a thick layer of make-up. She reminds me of Delphine Seyrig in L’année dernière à Marienbad. I recall a dialogue in this film.
“I have never stayed so long anywhere.”
“Yes I know. I don’t care. For days and days. Why don’t you still want to remember anything?”
“You’re raving! I’m tired, leave me alone!”
“Miss?” She looks at me patiently. I nod. She says I’m allowed to get up early.
When the plane is in taxi modus, I grab my bag and give Petros and Greg a hug. I am grateful they were with me. I don’t know them, but they gave me a feeling of home. A feeling of consistency. And then I run off.
I have ten minutes until boarding closes. Ten minutes are enough for a big cappuccino. Lucky me, there is a Starbucks next to gate 231. I stumble down the escalator, try not to spill the precious light-brown liquid on my way. As I roll down, I see them gathering, waiting for boarding. European faces. I walk towards them. Then my steps slow down, come to a halt.
I hesitate. Something inside me shrinks. It is cold here, but it is not the temperature in this hall, that makes me shiver. There are no emotions. Nothing to hear in the sonic waves around me. I don’t know where to turn to. So I head for the bathroom. To brush my teeth. As I look around furtively, I realize I am the only hippy. There are five women around me, waiting to use the loo. They are queuing patiently, proper looking in their leather boots, high-heels, branded jeans, winter cloaks and make-up.
I look at myself in the mirror. I cannot see me. No mirrors in India. Slowly I start perceiving. And I see myself through their eyes. The colour of my hair is bleached. My eyebrows are not really plucked. My face hasn’t seen make-up for months. Eyes narrow, cheeks red. I have no deodorant with me. I don’t even have clean fingernails. My gypsy feet hidden in my only pair of socks. I spit out and dry my mouth with my scarf. Oh my, they have paper napkins here. Don’t use your scarf like in India.
A woman washes her hands next to me. Golden rings and jewels on her fingers. I look at my odd rosewood necklace. The charm bracelet with little images of angels and Jesus on my wrist. Why do I fly to back again?
I don’t care where I come from, because I care. This is what my friend Daniel said. I just have to remember this, and detach from Austria. I am not Austria. I don’t have to identify with this country. I realize there is a fear in me. An absurd fear of having to stay there.
I pretend to rummage around in my bag. I turn on my mobile. The time is set for Varkala. I don’t know the time in Dubai nor the time in Europe. Nothing is tangible in this infinite space.
As I embark the plane, I cannot look at people. But then it happens, as I stumble along, looking for my seat’s number. Eyes meeting eyes. But nobody is smiling. Six hours. The couple sitting next to me, I cannot tell where they come from. They look American, but they speak a language I don’t know. On their itinerary I can see they have many more flights after this one. I smile at them. I want them to know I am happy to sit next to them. I am grateful they don’t speak German. And then, they smile back.
I stretch my legs and wait for the second take-off. There it is again, this feeling. The aircraft leaping into the air, taking my body with it. This I love. I look out, at the skyscrapers of Dubai. I remember this woman Kirsten I met in Shiva Garden. She works in Dubai. She said, the city has no soul.
When the seatbelt-signs are turned off, I take out my notebook. My thoughts are going high speed on memory lane. With no intention and no destination whatsoever. The last text I wrote comes to my mind. I remember how nervous I was when I put it online and how grateful I am that people appreciated it. Sentences come to my mind, I write them down in the order of their appearance.
“Continue avec ta vie comme tu fais. C’est ravissant.”
“There goes another day.”
“It’s all about keeping yourself open for everything.”
“All I wanted was for you to believe in me.”
“I believe every man should have a phase in his life where he sleeps with a lot of women and goes wild.” – “I think we should sleep with everyone we meet, when it is convenient.”
Time to destination 4:30. The screen in front of me shows me where we are going. Arabian Emirates. There is Baghdad. I wonder what it looks like down there. Where war is at hand. Turkey. Eastern Europe. Austria.
But I am actually nowhere. The only thing I know is, that one door to some previous life has been shut. I just realize it in this very moment. I cannot go back to be who I was before. I am someone else already. I close my eyes.
There’s a lap for resting head. There’s the only nesting bed.
There’s the souls to cry among. For the things that don’t get sung.
I can’t sleep. I am too tired to sleep. I get up and walk up and down the aisles. I enter a bathroom and close the door. There is nowhere else to go. I stay there for a while, looking at the bottles of soap and cream. The little slots with napkins. The basin, the collapsible door. I get out after ten minutes. Now I am brave enough to look around. To look into people’s faces. Most of them are pale. Tired. Bored. Sleepy. They don’t look back.
I sit down again, push my seat back. Legs outstretched, blanket up to the nose, earplugs. I peep to the left, my neighbour is watching a film I don’t know. His wife is writing in a tiny notebook. Time passes. I close my eyes again. I can feel sleep creeping up my spine, my arms, my legs. Finally.
So I’m down and so I’m out, but so are many others.
So I feel like trying to hide, my head beneath these covers.
A hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes. Emirates-lipstick.
“Miss, did you order Vegetarian?”
I nod and take the plate. Burnt mushrooms, an undefined green, soft something in a red spongy ball. I hope it doesn’t start moving. There is chocolate cake as well, and orange juice. I offer the cake and the juice to my neighbours. They shake their heads, but hey, they smile. The cutlery falls to the floor, then the napkin. I always feel like an elephant on a plane. To boot, I lose parts of the food between table and mouth. Not that there was a lot of space. But still. I spoon the jam and ask for black coffee. I wish I could have coffee and cigarettes now. My favourite breakfast and a great film. The White Stripes sitting at a small table, scratching, silent, smoking.
Two stewardesses with a fire extinguisher rush by, towards Business class. I imagine some old American woman, maybe from New York, sitting in her chair, lighting a cigarette. And then the plane would crash down. And like in Cast away, I would survive and would have to pull my teeth like Tom Hanks, with a piece of wood. Or maybe I would die. Would be ok. There is nothing to worry about. Dying is just like being born. Our essence is unconditional love. We cannot get lost. Life is in perfection already.
And with this thought, I am on autobahn again. I remember the scene when I said goodbye to Gopal and Vishnu. Gopal blessed me. He put his 69-year old skinny working man’s hands on my head and blessed me. I could feel it. I could actually feel his blessing. And I remember the sad look on his face, when I mumbled that I don’t know if I will come back. I remember how I felt tears rising, and how I ran off. All these goodbyes were so honest. How grateful I am.
I am hit by my neighbour’s elbow. I look up, the screen says we are above Black Sea now. I put the plate on the floor, open my seatbelt, sneak off to the back. There is this little window in the door, it has a lens. I peep through it. Snow-covered mountains. Montenegro, maybe.
The mountains look beautiful, yet not very appealing. I can feel the cold coming in from the plastic. Don’t sit here, says the sign. My joints hurt. I do some stretching. Take my arms back and clasp my hands. My muscles are stiff. As I bow down, I see the legs of the stewardess walking by. She has nicely shaped legs, petite ankles. But how does she manage to walk on heels all the time? As I get up, I see Ryan Gosling, Til Schweiger and Viola Davis on the screens. I see the little bearded man from the film “Up” on the nearest one. An Indian girl, sitting in front of it, has turned it on. Right now she looks at me with big eyes. I look back and smile. She doesn’t.
Life is like the seasons, after winter there comes spring.
So I keep this smile a while and see what tomorrow will bring.
I go back and I don’t know how, but the hours pass. I write a few lines, so there is no congestion on the autobahn in my head.
I will go back to my sister’s house. Wash my dirty clothes, my dirty face, have a good sleep and get over it. Sometimes you just have to take a nap and get over it.
The remains of my belongings fill up a room in her cellar. My futon, my cupboards. Boxes over boxes with tableware, clothes, bed-sheets, blankets, pillows. Even a fridge, covered in butterfly stickers. Anything you need to make a flat cosy. Indian style, of course. I have some of the pink and orange wall paint left, if you need any.
I don’t need it. I want to travel lightly. There is a gap between who I was and who I am. I’m on a paper aeroplane, somewhere in-between.
There is so much to do when I go back. Finish the book by march. Talk about it with my mentor. Apply for scholarships. Edit a film. Maybe visit a friend in Estonia in April, go to Israel in May, to Northern Italy to this artist in residence place. Berlin, UK in July and Nice in August. By September, for my birthday, I want to be in Asia again. That means I have to write the book about India from May on. And get a publisher for the autobiography. And get a new tattoo in March. And do Yoga every day.
I look up. Time to destination 1:45. There is Austria’s outline on the screen. Vienna. Graz in the south. there is a town called Wachau. Well, this one doesn’t exist, dear Emirates. Salzburg. Where I loved and lived for many years. Long gone, a lifetime away.
Time to destination 30. World map on the screen. I see the countries the airline approaches. India. Next to it there are Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam.
I’ve been many places, maybe not as far as you.
So think I’ll stay a while and see, if some dreams come true.
As the plane is descending, it feels like this is happening to somebody else.
The machine rocks as the tyres touch the ground. I feel the weight pulling me forward. It slows down. Maybe I just keep going now, without thinking.
I watch the power lines, in the upper part of the window. They move in a rhythm, going astray, getting together again. In perfect tune with the train’s sound. Dudum dudum, dudum dudum. The woman opposite me, her face is pale, spotted, empty. She is tired, her eyes red. Her hair is randomly dyed, blonde. She holds on to her small backpack, as if it could fly away. She stares out of the window. I feel more homeless than ever before. As if I lost my identity in those colourless fields outstretching before my eyes. They are even greyer than in my memory.
I get off at Munich Ostbahnhof. I manage to get on the next train to main station. I climb stairs, up and down, my 27 kg backpack growing heavy on my shoulders. Pushing my knees down. No backpackers here. Only fancy Munich people. As I sit down, I read Munich-Vienna on the screen. Departure time 15:27.
I get myself another coffee and stare out of the window. I don’t really see anything. I just look. Everything is happening apace now, without my doing. I take my notebook and write. I lose sentences, write the wrong words, repeat myself. I start anew.
There isn’t much that I have learnt through all my foolish years.
Except that life keeps running in cycles. First there’s laughter, then those tears.
The train leaves. There is Germany, Bavaria. Soon there will be Austria. But there is no difference, really, borders are only in the head. These countries look very much the same. Tidy gardens behind carefully raised fences. Solid houses with unblemished, clean walls. Inside, there are dark, mind-numbing rooms. Rooms in which your breath is short, in which grandmothers’ clocks are still ticking.
I am so tired, I can feel fatigue in my staring.
When the train stops in Salzburg, I get up and go to first class. I appreciate this luxury, that I can use my journalist’s ID to sit in first class. I know, I don’t need it, but I want to have some peace. Maybe I am adjusting already.
We drive past my favourite lake, Wallersee. It’s surface is covered with light-blue ice. Everything frozen. Something makes me sad. I can feel it, when I look at the wan, ashen meadows, the dark-green fir forests. Big cars, rolling on solid streets. More houses. The gardens embellished.
The emptiness in this landscape is frightening. There is a regularity and tidiness in everything. But it is deserted. So rich, but forsaken by all good spirits. No people, no animals to be seen, no life. The reason is not the season.
People seem to be afraid. Now I know what my friend Daniel meant, when he visited me. He was so saddened by the atmosphere in this country and I didn’t understand. Because for me, this was normal. I feel tears on my cheeks and turn around, to look out of the window. No hearts beating in unison here.
How I wished to find my place in Austria. A home-base. I was searching for it for more than a year, maybe longer. I was desperately trying to find a little space for me. Now I realize, this country, it is not home to me. And as I write this down, I remember. I had the solution before. I just didn’t know.
Two weeks ago, Seneja asked me if I was going home now. I said, I am not going home, I am simply going to where I come from.
“Home is where my heart is”, I said, “and that means, home is where the people who I love, are. Like you, for instance.”
And Seneja, with her eight years of wisdom, replied: “Then your home is here.”
And I said, “Yes.”
I feel a bit shaky. My thoughts come to a standstill, somehow. I nestle down in my seat, listen to the constant sound of iron wheels on tracks. I look at the endless acres of rural Austria, a landscape I know so well. I feel my breath filling my lungs with air.
I know it’s almost funny but things can get worse than now.
So I keep on trying to sing, but please. Just don’t ask me now.
As I wake up in my sister’s guest room on the first day, I am shocked. I don’t know where I am. I look around, hold my breath. It is eerily quiet. I realize there is a pyjama on my body and I am buried under a thick blanket. I remember I dreamt of white dresses.
On the second day, I still don’t know where I am, as I wake up. I stare at the blanket, so strangely warm and thick. I look at the ceiling. Tears, because I simply want to go downstairs now, to say good morning and throw a smile at everyone. I remember I dreamt of being in India, and of putting an apple in the snow.
As I open my eyes on the third morning, I know where I am. I open my eyes and see my sister’s drawings on the wall. Beautifully crafted black and white paintings. I look at her cupboards, I see my postcards and little figurines I gave to her. In a picture frame there is a photo of her and me, when we were kids. She has her arm around my shoulder and we both seem to chuckle about something. As my gaze wanders, I notice a green plant on the shelf. I feel the softness of the silk pyjama she gave me, the comforting warmth of her blanket. I see a little note that has been slipped in underneath the door. I get up, kneel down and read it. Good morning sis, it says, wish you a wonderful day. Love you.
I remember my intention for India.
It was this: Take me to where love is needed.
Maybe it is still valid. So here I am.
© Marianne Jungmaier, Gumpolding 2012