Her mother threw birthday parties on rationing cards, dressed three children in the living room curtains, and sent them to bed with a kiss on the forehead. Her father lived only in the stories, the captain that went down with his ship, the war hero.
Sixteen years later she stepped ashore where her father set sail, trying steps after crossing the ocean that took him, three dresses and a Bible in a tattered suitcase. Governess by day, she told tales of foreign forests before sending new children off with a forehead kiss, Lady in the evenings, at Dr Flemming’s dinner parties, keeping her kisses to her chest like cards.
When the words for hands and home and country were of no use anymore, they slowly slipped away.
Sixty years later, I get off the plane in the country she no longer remembers. Her memories are smoke signals no one can read, but I look to the sky to try anyway.
When I reach the sea, I put my hand in the water, I feel the cold against my skin, how it circles my fingers, my palm.
In a pocket with fraying edges I’ve still got her rationing card.
In lack of proper wine glasses, we improvise with teacups, and as the shutter of a Polaroid camera goes off, she’s pouring rosé, small, pink oceans, bubbles and light storms in our glasses.
We’ve made a cave of my uni room, filled every nook and cranny with silly laughs and fairy lights, hot chocolate scented candles, and unfamiliar words in both our languages. Words we hope’ll make sense when English just doesn’t cut it as our middle man, when the words of home become impossible to translate, – so we let her German paint pictures in the air, and Norwegian show off all the words it has borrowed; we meet in the middle.
There are some things you just cannot learn in your home country.
Dreams are dreamt up tonight. Plans for all the cities that are yet to be seen, Northern Lights still to be chased, the cross stitches of who we’d wish to be one day hopefully coming together. Everything navigated in between sips of pink and the idea of fairy story cities.
There are no thoughts that cannot be put into words, no words that cannot be sown into these blankets, and the four years separating us don’t keep our musings from dancing, from twirling, from harmonising to the same melody.
Because, in the strangest way, it’s like she is me three years ago, just with a dollop more maturity it took me an extra year to obtain. Alone in a new country, figuring it out on her own. We talk about being lonely; we talk about that empty feeling of evenings on your own, beating yourself up for not living your adventure abroad to the fullest, and of the nights that last forever, where you’re surrounded by friends and this new country feels like where you were supposed to be all along, We talk about how that’s okay.
And we agree that on those days, whether the sunset reaches us before we’ve even gotten out of our beds, or if 4 am finds us in the middle of a favourite song, we’ll pour the rosé in our tea cups again, raise a glass to ourselves and our empty rooms and celebrate.
There are some things you just cannot learn in your home town.
Because there are so many people to meet, so many friends to make, hands to shake, eyes to get to know. So many languages to learn, so many wines to taste and teas to test, so many pictures to take, that need their own space in an album somewhere, or hung above a bed, the memories of your own fairy tales lulling you to sleep.
So many stories, of the adventures that are waiting. So let’s raise a glass to that.