Your eyes have seen the sun rise on 90 days, you have felt the dust of three months on soft skin. The woman holding you has gathered the days of war in her lungs, and where her memories are now smoke signals not even she knows how to decipher, her hands still tell her brain how to hold your little body so you won’t fall, how to shield you from the world she has fought and conquered and forgotten.
By the nursing home kitchen table she’s got no notion that dark coffee will scold her own mouth, but she moves the cup away from you, ”careful so he doesn’t burn himself.”
Suddenly, her language returns, her voice is the voice of the woman who has been hiding in the back of her heart since the turn of the decade.
She has held so many children safe in her arms, cured the scrapes of playground battles and lulled sobbing nightmares to sleep with lullabies she can’t recall ever knowing.
But holding you in hands that have held rationing cards – knitting needles – dried apple slices and one way tickets – the lady in the back of her heart breaks the surface of forgotten memories, takes a big gulp of air and looks at the world with her own eyes once more.
Coffee soaked into the roof of a mouth whilst rain rallies itself outside strawberry fudge melting between teeth fingertips on the back of a neck. The mist outside falls into the bottom of the mug coalescing white smoke condensate heart on a window is this what it is meant to feel like?
The goal among the international students at my uni, was to completely drop our accents – to have our words sound like they’d grown up with ice cream floats and builders tea.
We wanted to be able to go to any bar, to order any coffee, to keep any conversation going for however long a time, only to be able to slip in an “oh, I’m not from England, actually,” and watch people’s surprise.
We worked so hard, to lose our accents, the rolling Rs, the hard Gs, the lilts that gave us away; the sound of what we thought was “not good enough,” “not practiced enough.”
Oh, how wrong we were.
Accents are identity, just as much as names and clothes and the street corners you passed on your way to school. Your accent’s where you’ve come from, it’s the dotted line on an airplane map, it shows the world you dared to try.
Your accent is your family dinners, the lessons of your mum’s lullabies, the laundry songs of your house, the courage it took, to get on that plane.
It’s a road map of the people you care about, those who sat with you while you were learning, who let you spin wonders of the words you didn’t understand, and who offered their pronunciation to try on for size.
My accent grew up with snow in its boots and saltwater in its nose. My mispronounced “shower gel”, My Ds and Ts blurring into each other, is my home away from home.
So instead of dropping our accents, let us celebrate them. For all that we are, and all we’re yet to learn, and every step along the way.
I’m building a home on Tuesday’s laundry and broken light bulbs.
I’ve spent so long balancing on top of the return to sender-confidence that I toppled over and hit my head, but I’ll clean the place up before you come over – I swear.
Do you want to stay the night? I can make a bed for you! Oh, just remember to beat out yesterday’s daydreams, they like to keep people awake, you see.
And if you want a cup of tea, I make an okay ginger and lemon. But please excuse me for a second; ambitions keep dusting up the bottom of my mugs.
If you do come around, I’ll welcome you with a marching band’s drumroll, to my fort of dirty dishes and expired parking tickets. Just don’t expect too much from me, when you arrive with your shirt fresh off the ironing board and your briefcase full of documents and signatures.
I’m still trying to divide my socks from my spoons from my groceries, And I’m doing my best.
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.