Back upstairs, I automatically spray my hands with sanitiser. I watch the motions of my fingers woven together, sliding along my palms and over my wrists. I am unable to understand how I feel. C.’s words finally reach my brain. So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to have a redundancy of one.
Adrift for a week, I am slowly emerging back into my routine, reminding myself to work on my projects instead of wasting too much time killing time, avoiding work, avoiding too much scrutiny into myself. This scrutiny though is different than the one from the early days of lockdown. Back then, my entire being was raw. Everything was different, scary, and unknown. It was easy to keep track of my emotions and actions because they were loud. Three months later, they are not.
Walking through residential streets leading to the nature reserve, I am glad to be chatting in person with G. again. There is a familiarity to our chats, the complaints we have always had about work still there but I cannot fully take part in the discussion. I haven’t lived in that world for too long, my interest and daily life busy with other concerns.
I grab some paper from the bookcase, refill my fountain pen, and begin to write. First I write to my nephew, his letter sprawled on the desk by my side. The blue ink, so familiar from my own school days, is sprawling across the pages. Each letter is well defined with just a hint of change, my nephew finding his own hand away from calligraphic letters he was taught to use a couple of years ago.
On the right side of my face, from my eye to my lower jaw I can feel the warm dull ache brought on by my hormones. I imagine a nerve running through my cheek, connecting the top and bottom part of my face. It throbs gently, continually. It feels warms even though the temperature on either side of my head is the same to the touch.
We retreat back into the arboretum, following the less trodden paths. We read labels pinned to bark in the hope to learn more about trees, but I know I will forget most of them by the time we get home. I am too overwhelmed to concentrate and learn. Here, in the arboretum, I feel alive in a way I do not at home. I can breathe freely, my mind expanding with each steps taken, thoughts drifting, forming, slipping, gathering. Not much else matter than the fact that I am here, alive, and steady, secure around these trees both old and young.
Dinner finished, I head back upstairs to the study to focus on my pinhole camera. I have time to relax and stay on the sofa with my partner but there is an urgency that pushes me to keep working. Soon I will have to go back to work and time will be reduced to dedicated chunks at either side of the day.
A headache is growing on the left side of my face as I pour chemicals and invert the developing tank. It has nothing to do with what I’m doing. I know this headache, it comes every month. First it creeps behind my left eye before descending to my jaw, settling there in a dull constant ache.
My chest tightened and tears welled in my eyes in the following days every time I thought about Brexit. I felt empty and lost, rejected by a country I so fiercely love. I had fought to come here, I had fought to stay here. I came crawling and wounded to London ten years before and had risen to become the person I am today. And all of that meant nothing at all because I was foreign now, not of here, other.
I close my eyes and rest letting my thought drift away from me. It has been a long week filled with turmoils and doubts, unaided by my body getting ready for my period. I think of all that has happened, of racism and Brexit, of the trip to Berrow sands and the tears I cried, of the stress on my shoulders and the restlessness of my mind, of the walk in Westonbirt Arboretum and the release I found, of Queer Out Here and the voices of people in the outdoors, of…
The shutter closed I stare at the paths, my feet glued to the spot and yet itching to go, to walk on, follow the arrows through the countryside until it is time to get back to work. It doesn’t matter that I have no gear with me, that no pubs are open for a rest, and that I am wearing slightly too big sandals on my feet. I want to go, to walk, to disappear into this English landscape I have come to love.
I am angry at the world. I am angry at the government that is making a farce of this pandemic. I am angry at myself for not being happy to be here, for feeling scared, for wanting to flee. This right here is a space where I should feel safe. This right here is a space where I should feel free. Instead I am paralysed and the realisation of my loss makes me cry.
A couple or blackbirds perched on our fence scream at us. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘The tent will go soon. I promise.’ They beat their wings angrily and fly away. I check my phone. It is nearly 8 o’clock, right on time for the blackbirds usual dinner time in our garden. I had not thought of them when I had erected my tent a couple of hours earlier in the middle of their feeding ground.
My hand grabs one of my work polo shirts resting on top of my chest of drawer. They never go in or hang above with the shirts and trousers. Instead, they rest in a messy pile between the bottom of my shirts and the top of the chest of drawer. In ordinary time, I go through them too fast to bother tidying them properly.
I get off the chair and stretch, looking out of the window into the neighbours garden. The pool is empty. One of the boys, I can never tell who is R. and who is K., is lying next to the baby under a makeshift umbrella. He is making faces at little J. who wriggles his body in delight. They are both naked save for a pair of underwear. I watch them play for a while before returning to my laptop.
I think again of my journey in 2016. Contours, receding, vanishing, lines… words we used with my partner to describe the texts in a failed attempt at finding a title. Receding, vanishing. Now that I think of it, I have written those words, or variations of, often the last few weeks. I am losing, changing.