September 13, 2013

Riverside, pt. II

Before I knew it it was time to leave the plateau to go back to the river and our huts. Before the truck arrive to take us back, I enter the woods and leave the children behind me. The sun is high already but the trees cast their shadows onto the moss-covered ground. My feet sink into the moss and the wild flowers as I walk, crunching twigs and pinecones in a loud cracking noise. My hand brushes against the bark and an army of ants comes out in a panic. Everything is quiet. For a few minutes, I am alone in the world, and I relish the feeling. My breath slows, deepens, relaxing every muscle in my sore legs and arms. I think : this is where my roots expand. This is the soil where I grew. This is where I belong. And even if I dont have a home anymore, this sense of belonging brings me peace. 

I look at my reflection in the rearview mirror as we drive down the mountain. My clothes,  face and hands are smeared with the red soil of the plateau, my skin in tanned by the sun. The kids have embroidered the braids in my hair with twigs and jay feathers. My legs are covered in small scratches and shallow cuts ; the oldest ones starting to shift from brown to pale lines. I have always been like this in the summer, and my skin is covered in those tiny patches of scar tissues, that are not really skin but softer, smoother, and white as the snow. The kids are as dusty and muddy as I am. When we reach the camp, we send them directly to take a shower and we hear them scream with pleasure under the scalding water. We dont have time to do the same, so we choose cold over warmth and jump into the river, washing away the scarlet dust.

In the afternoon, we take the kids back to the huts and we adjust the final details. They created a small village where every hut has its function : one is serving food, the other drinks ; another offers games built out of leaves, acorns, and shells. I quickly build a ladder and add some light beams to a roof to secure it. We pick herbs from the garden to brew syrups and herbal teas, and we boil the nettles leaves to make a pesto. Time flies and the last night has arrived. We walk along the river to see the circus show prepared by another group of children. They sit in front of a wooden platform under the trees and the show unfold, leaving them mesmerized. For our last night together, they choose to sleep in their huts and I set up my sleeping bag in the middle of our small village. Early in the morning, the rain begins to fall, but so soflty the kids do not even wake up. Eyes still closed, I hear Tom approaching, kneeling beside me and saying gently, as if apologizing from interrupting my sleep : Wake up, J, they are leaving today. The suitcases are filled and closed again. The children take their parents by the hand to show them the huts, and for a while the village is filled with people. Watching families reunited warms my heart, but I am still a little sad to see them go, piercing the membrane of this bubble of time we all lived in for a week, life only rhythmed by the river. Soon the camp is empty and only adults remain. We pile up in Toms car and we head for the nearest town to celebrate in a restaurant. Tom drives fast into the night and we yell songs as we go. I let the wind slap my face by the passenger window.

When we come back to the camp, the musicians have already begun to play. People clap and cheer. I unlace my sandals and start to dance barefoot, on tiptoe, closing my eyes, guided only by the accordeon and the flute. I want to whirl and swirl forever. The next morning, I pack my bag and I hug every person I see to say goodbye ; even if we only exchanged a few words during my time here, I want to give back as much love as theyve given me. On the way home, I watch the river meander below and I silently say goodbye to this place that soothe and mend me. Everytime I leave, I never know if I will return ; but maybe that is the beauty of leaving, because you always have to remember things in the most intense, brisk way, as if you were seeing them for the last time. 

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