January 15, 2016

A Season in Between



Back in Paris, two years on. For a few days I live at my brother's and enjoy the sweet magic my niece brings into our life. We play games and read stories and I sometimes forget that something else is coming, and that I have promises to keep and responsabilities to take on.

I move into my new home. My school is located in the 5th quarter, an old convent two streets away from the Panthéon. My room is tiny, with a big window, a beautiful wooden floor and a mezzanine with very dodgy stairs. I only have time to empty my bag and pin my travel polaroids on the wall, before he arrives.

From London he takes a bus to see me and for three days we are together. As I ride the subway to meet him I realize that I am grinning. I feel like I've been grinning since he walked back into my life. When he leaves real life knocks at my door again, and suddenly I feel terrified. I write in my journal a list of the brave things I have done in the past year, and a reminder of the things I love about being alone. I write : « You're not lost. This is another step of the way. You are loved, you are safe, you are provided for. Be grateful ». I reread it and and feel less scared.

I go to Dublin for a few days. I only lived there for a year but it is still my home, and I can feel it as the plane lands. At the last minute I have no place to stay, but I send out a message and soon twenty friends are answering it and my heart feels so full. I go to Monika's first, and at the end of her street is a beautiful park. I don't do much in Dublin, I use my time to visit my favourites spots – I take a train to the seaside and a bus to the Wicklow lakes. Leaving Monika, I go to Emma and share the loveliest room with her. At night we go to a pub, eat make-your-own pizzas and talk late into the night about men and work and our plans. Lastly, I visit Nadia, who comes back to Dublin on purpose to see me and host me. Her house is right across Phoenix Park, and we take a long walk through it, until the storm chases us. The next day, it's already time to leave – she asks me what I want to do before my plane leaves and I say I want to go back to the park. So we go and lay down under a very old, very beautiful tree. And the sun is there and the wind blows through the meadow, and we can hardly believe we're in the middle of the city – but that's Dublin. I tell her how heavy my heart feels, to be leaving this place again. She's moving abroad soon and I tell her : how lucky are we, to have this place to come back to.

I have been working with refugees since I got back, and it is not easy. I feel bad writing these words as obviously nothing I can experience can compare with what they go through, but it takes its toll on me. One day a family from Ethiopia arrives, with a little girl so thin she looks three instead of six. I search through the bags full of donated clothes to find something that fits her – she's been wearing the same clothes for months and her trousers barely reach her knees. We give her parents clothes too, and food. As they thank us I hand the little girl a chocolate bar and she gives me a bright smile, and I see so much hope in her eyes, like the road she's been on hasn't taken its toll on her childhood. At the end of a day of helping out with food, papers and french classes, I walk home numb and when I sit on my bed I burst into tears, because their stories are too heavy, and I feel like there's nothing I can do. They live in an old abandoned building and I try to go and help often. The afghanis are the ones I know best. They invite us in their room on the last floor of the building. There are mattresses on the floor and graffitis on the wall, but they sit us down and give us tea, and this ritual contains all the dignity they have left. Their customs bring me back to my travels and I love being with them. One night, finally, the government intervenes and the police comes to evacuate the building. We spend all night with our friends, chatting and playing games, trying to reassure them. We tell them that people are coming to help, and they are going to have a place to live now. At 4am buses park in the street and for a few hours a crowd of men exit the building. Everyone is stressed and we're afraid something is going to go wrong. At 9, we watch the last of our friends getting on bus heading to the outskirts of the city. I go home and crash on my bed, and I cry for Abdul, for Sabir, for Naim, for all of these people who have crossed an entire continent fleeing the war, just to hear that they are not welcome here – for all these people still walking the same road they walked, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. For a few days, my room and everything in it feels unbearably luxurious.

Him being there is when I breathe. He drives to my house in the middle of the night and I meet him as he climbs down from a white van, having crossed half of Europe in two days. He stands there in the street at 2am, with his dark blue coat and white scarf, and I take his hand and lead him home. We don't have much time together but even through these short stays I learn him. I learn the frown between his eyebrows when he's thinking, the noise he makes when I bite his lips, the softness in his eyes when he wakes up and looks at me. One night I take him dancing on a boat and as we dance everything else fades. It's just his hand on my waist and his cheek against mine and the words from the song I whisper as we twirl. At dawn we walk in silence through a sleeping city, and when he gets on the bus to go home I don't wait for it to leave.

He is gone but my mind is still being consumed. Out of nowhere shadows come and fall over me. It starts with the light slowly going away, like a cloud against the sun, but then it grows and grows and the light doesn't come back. It hits me as I wake up or as I walk down the street. It feels so dark, so twisted, and I wonder how I can grow such an ugly feeling inside me when there is so much beauty in my life. It's like a sense of doom. I don't know what I'm afraid of, I just know I am. Then one day the darkness is gone, just like breath on a mirror, and I don't understand the thoughts I was having. I know it will be back, but for now I can breathe normally again.

In my journal I write : « Maybe darkness comes in my life because this is the season of darkness. Maybe it comes because I need to put some things to sleep, so that others can be awakened. Maybe it's okay not to be able to find the ground. I'll hold the edge instead. »

I try to write everyday and it helps. Sometimes, when I don't know what to say, I'll write a letter to him that I won't send. « No matter where we are, being with you feels like home ; but it's a home that's about to burn to the ground. »


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