It was day 8.
Mummy had, once, taken my palm and drew an 8- shape. And she said as she drew the shape, “What comes down, will always come up.” I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but day 8 of my travel was my most happiest.
I was in London to visit my sister and I went for a weekend trip in Antwerp, where my parents stayed for a very long time. By this time, my sister had made sure I have had the cheesiest burgers, pastas, moist cakes, window-shopped endlessly and sighed about how rich it makes us feel like but can’t really afford them, and taken me to local stores and what not. I had tapped my (her) card for the buses and trains that by then, I knew my way to East Croydon.
This wasn’t a vacation as much as I was living in London and Antwerp. I loved it. I was going for swimming, grocery shopping, walking, hiking, cooking and oh, resting.
But day 8 was different.
I was actually en route to London from Antwerp.
Typical of something somewhere always giving you an epiphany in the middle of nowhere. With you and your thoughts in a dark bus, and ten other strangers. I was somewhere in between the two places and my heart felt…full.
No, let me make myself clear. Visceral reactions are certain. I can still recount my physical reaction when I was on a boat for my scuba diving lessons. The rocking of the boat and the heat was making me go quiet. And I felt it. I felt my stomach flip sideways. At that point, I knew. I put my head over the boat.
Visceral reactions…true and blue. When books talked about the “electricity” when a lover brushes his arm against your leg, I didn’t get it. Till I did.
Talk to someone about something they like and notice how their chest expands. The body reflects.
On day 8, I felt happy from my head to toe that even if I could be stretched, it would still cover that dimensions.
Like the infamous line from The Bridges of Madison County goes, “In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once in a lifetime”. That feeling of being completely happy and very much loved.
But this happiness is of a different breed. It was a contradiction, at best.
I felt small and big, all at the same time.
Travel gets you out of the familiarity and the routine. And while the familiar is the warm cozy sweater which we also need, travelling gets you thinking about what else to wear.
When you are in the same city or location for long, it wears you out. When you are eating the same food also, it bores you. But perhaps the most detrimental of them all, you think your world is the whole world.
My parents wanted their daughters to get out of home by 17 and learn to live in a new place by themselves. The word that kept circling back to us was “exposure”. We would get exposed to different cultures, different perspectives, and different people. What is known to us would now be either stretched or questioned. We would live elsewhere and know how to do laundry and take a bus from point A to B.
The world that was ours was not truly the whole world. It is basically a very thin slice of the cake. Tasty slice, yes. Big in its own way, sure. But my perceived world was small. The actual world is overwhelming.
There is a story of two frogs. One frog is content with his surroundings. The other frog is content but still wants to get out of the well. The first frog keeps discouraging him saying that the well is the world. Why bother trying to jump out of the well? The second one keeps trying to get out and finally succeeds. And when autumn comes, the well dries up. Not good news for the first frog.
I want to be the second frog. Content with my home, but trying to push the fences. Seeing and travelling the world, knowing very well that the life that was given to me, the world that is around me is not the whole wide world. Life is much more than I thought it is. And I touched happiness in this moment.
But that happiness became a full, pleasurable orgasm when I knew my life, however small, is made big by the people in it. These moments of deep clarity are rare. That someone will massage my legs when both of us have walked a great deal, that someone will only go back home after making sure that my train leaves with all my suitcases tucked in and buying a packet of chips and water bottle for snacks, that someone will gladly cook no matter how tired they are, that someone is sincerely praying for me, that someone is keeping track of the flight’s location, and a whole lot of “someones” wants to see me smile and laugh.
Some people, and sometimes I too believe happiness is a fleeting moment. But connecting the dots makes room for happiness to stay for some time.
I have been travelling for a few days now, and I don’t know what happiness looks like. But I am damn sure that it is in how Laxmi aunty kept both an array of soaps and colourful shower gels for me to choose from, how Chechi who doesn’t hike hiked for me, how Ettan cooked sausages because I mentioned it, how mummy wanted me to share pics so she can soak it in, and how Aliyan was on the phone till I reached home.
Ever since I can remember, I have always believed that it takes a village. It takes about 15 people to run me. And those 15 people need their own villages each. As much as we are “independent”, we need people. People who care about you. People who will make you feel seen. People who will love you.
Someone once told me, “Love them as who they are and watch them be the best version of themselves.” My village has people watching out for me, always having my best interests at the forefront. When people like that are on the front lines, it seems like you are on a playground. That they allow you to play. Live. Thrive. Love. And be loved. That whatever happens and whatever comes, there is always room for happiness.
I don’t believe happiness is a choice. But I do believe that making room for happiness is a choice. That when it hits, we open all doors and windows, and throw out chairs and sofas if need be. That when it penetrates, we are moaning and panting for more and more out of the deepest pleasure.
My life is good. And when it is not, I hope I am able to remind myself about these dots. And if I can’t do that as well, the people in my life will step up.
I felt small, and yet so big.
I felt like sugar in a cup of hot tea. Dissolved. Dissolved into nothingness, and yet a sweetness.