January 31, 2011
Going to the Shire
On Sundays, Sylvia and I go to the Shire. As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Tolkien’s world will tell you, the Shire is a happy place. It is a place of beginnings, homecomings, nostalgia and merrymaking. I loved the Shire, and I loved going there with Sylvia. There was a train station very close to our boarding school in South Wales, conveniently located for our Shire excursions. Every Sunday at noon we met at the train station to go to the Shire.
Now that I think about it, I met Sylvia because she introduced me to the Shire. At first, I thought it was a stupid euphemism but we grew into it. Gradually, it became a habit. I was new to the boarding school and she was a senior, two years older than me. Sixteen and Eighteen, we were struck with an underdeveloped pessimism unique to growing up. Sylvia was a girl of decadent tastes: cheap white wine, unfiltered cigarettes and fishing. The only times she tried to avoid these topics was when she was in the mood to impress boys with her feminine side but these little efforts were always doomed to fail. She could not stop talking about wine, cigarettes and fishing. How a Catalan girl had developed the habits of a truant Scot, I never found out. She never talked about herself. How I ended up being friends with her was something I knew even less about: something to do with Dostoevsky, the atman, salvia and short hair. It happened in a serenely fast rush like a tide coming in to cover my feet.
One Sunday, I was early. I recognized her coming from a distance. As she approached, she planted a noisy kiss on my cheek and flashed a wide smile. The two of us, foreigners in this vast countryside of Wales, trudged along the empty tracks and made our way to a forgotten bench, around fifteen minutes away from the station, hidden in unkempt bushes and facing the tracks. There she took out the ticket to the Shire from the front pocket of her fur coat. After warming it with her red lighter she sparked the tip and, hypnotized, watched it catch fire. We each took two puffs and kept passing. It wasn’t long before we were smiling stupidly as the cannabis set in. We were in the Shire and it was a very happy place.
It was a pleasantly chilly late afternoon. The sky had a slightly red tone to it and the clouds, timid, melted into strange shapes. It was 18 degrees Celsius. The wind was at 7 miles per hour, and the humidity was 79%. All in all, those were not a bad bunch of statistics for September around here, as Sylvia told me. She was obsessed with weather statistics. In front of us, about to start moving, was the train going to Cardiff, allowing the usual load of suited businessmen and hooded students to cram inside.
We sat there, alone. Like every Sunday. We had walked five miles to get here. To watch the trains rush past. It was a long wait and we knew no one was coming. We liked sitting there. Static, but restless, watching the people come and go. Being a student had deprived us of two valuable experiences: travelling and meeting people who were not our age. So, Sylvia would sit there, on that beige bench, flitting at the edge of these experiences and prying on the lives of those who enjoyed them. We envied them all. We had tried to join them by travelling to London once. But we hated it. Sylvia thought London was big and evil. The perpetual noise of police sirens troubled her. The gray evenings, the overcrowded and deadly silent tubes, the throngs of tourists; all this made her feel that the world was crumbling around her. She talked about communication revolutions and globalizing loneliness and the death of human senses. She talked of fast trains, lost in wildernesses and not caring, pacing towards unknown destinations. She talked of natural disasters, of paranoia.
That particular Sunday, Sylvia started talking about student life. Sylvia hated school. Not in the way that a pre-pubescent stubborn child would but in a restless way that made school stifling for her. She couldn’t fathom the world. She was occupied with all the big things happening outside our small boarding school stuck in the countryside of a place which had more sheep than people. You got caught up in trivialities: fighting, eating, working, sleeping, living. You forgot to think and see and talk. Everyday. That is everyday but Sundays. On Sundays, we went to the Shire. Just Sylvia and I.
We talked for a long time but, eventually, like every other time, the hour came to walk back. We roamed around the streets, trying to find our way back home, or maybe, more importantly, trying to find a home. One concrete stone after another. And the roads never seemed to end. No matter how fast we ran or how steadily we walked. We lost ourselves, trying to find our way back home, when all we really wanted to do, secretly, was to get more and more lost.
That Sunday was the last time I saw Sylvia. The next day she had left school before I woke up. Under their contorted and sombre faces everyone was happy that the lonely stoner had left the place. And I sat on that bench, the very same bench, the beige coloured one, which I thought suspiciously matched her fur coat; the coat that she will wrap around everything, from her dress shirts to her torn tights to the boxers she stole from her father’s cupboard. Confronting me sat, mockingly calm, the empty tracks she would stand on and pronounce her absurdly addictive gibberish which would have more lyrical resonance than many comprehensible poems. Why? Maybe her Catalan accent, the dramatic gesticulations, the stench of cheap tobacco, her weak smiles at my amazement or just her honesty. And she had left. Just like that. Like. That. She was not there to laugh her noisy laughs, to proclaim me stupid, to slap my shoulder, to pull back her light black unkempt hair away from her face.
I was left with nothing but thoughts. Thoughts upon thoughts like crushing waves: sudden memories, giddy breakthroughs, haunting regrets, bleak hopes. They tired me, endlessly. This time, there was no where to run. No country to abandon, no parents to hate, no siblings to forget, no lovers to hurt, no travels to be made. All that was tried and done. And now? Nothing but boredom. And more thoughts: Maybe she could have, at last, taught me how to make okra without making it mushy. Or she could have told me the perfect size of pineapple slice to put in a gin drink. Remember, she showed me the fastest way to roll a joint (you back roll it). And if she was still here, she would lie next to me and whisper history lessons in my ear because she knew they turned me on. We could have been perverted and ordinary together – imperfect, like a home, a shelter, an embrace.
For a long time after that I became horribly stuck. I had her letters, and her conversations. Her laughs and silences. I had her memories. Heaps and heaps of them. They nudged and poked inside my mind and sometimes they floated calmly making little circular waves. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Nobody went, nobody came. I was stuck in life and the excuses to stay happy were running out, one by one, everyday. I was stuck in life. Stuck in happiness. Forced smiles and salutations and acquaintances and passions.
That was when I started fleeing to the Shire everyday. Fleeing to the train station and sitting on that bench to watch them trains go by. One, two, three, four, maybe five, maybe ten but nobody came. They go around in circles, somebody told me. What a fucking joke, I thought. Like I didn’t know that.
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