I live where I live now because the foreign company I worked with decided that lying was the better part of valour, and when termination came it was faster than a zap in the eye from a lightning bolt and the smell of burnt arse wasn’t quite so savoury.
All right, perhaps that’s not strictly accurate. But it was the beginning of a two-year chain reaction which eventually dropped me into Southeast Asia.
Dropped me. I should say ‘dropped me back’, really. I was born and raised there for almost twenty years before striking out for foreign shores and spending a decade away. Returning wasn’t a choice – it was a non-negotiable option due to legalities and visa issues. Eventually I found a job, and that job required a move from my hometown to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
So here I am.
Funny how ‘home’ is defined as where you’re most comfortable. This small, stuffy room in a low-cost flat I share with a housemate is, and isn’t. It’s where I come back to after work to relax, to guard my privacy from the demands of a tremendously stressful job. It is not where my heart is, much of the time. In my dreams I’m still in a small apartment in Virginia Beach with russet shutters and a window with a broken latch. I climbed in through the holly bushes planted in front of it enough to still feel the rough texture of the sill beneath my fingers, gritty granules of dust sifting up into the air. The carpet still feels stiff where 20 gallons of water poured through the ceiling one cold autumn day and flooded the dining room and half my room. My mind has never quite left; sometimes I think that my soul hasn’t, either.
Here, in my room now, the moon can be a firefly darting outside the window leaving glowstick-trails of light. The concrete block of flats opposite offers only fodder for the imagination –a saxophone in a corner phone booth, an imaginary cityscape of lights with the secret lives of its tenants enacted out in lurid yellow and noir. There is no grass beyond a perfunctory patch down below in some strip of courtyard. Whoever coined the term ‘concrete jungle’ knew the vista from these windows only too well.
Sometimes I’m not sure if I live in an apartment or a pocketful of lost dreams spun from a web of days-now-past. It would help, I suppose, if the kitchen were more functional – I learned to love the therapy of cooking in my decade of prodigal-daughter-wanderings. But the stove occasionally explodes in a fury of gas when it’s switched on, and the water pipes have been fixed three times in the recent year, and nothing can be done about them because they’re old, and apartment management wouldn’t replace the entire building’s plumbing system anyway. So, rather than tempt fate, my housemate and I, we do not cook. Not often, and nothing elaborate – one-pot noodles, something simple. There is no inspiration for cooking creativity in a kitchen both poky and bleak.
Simply put: I live where I live because I have no choice. There are few cheaper places around. Public transportation is an abomination, and I do not have a car. Here, the bus stop is accessible and this is an important point. My housemate and landlady is an old friend; we rub along tolerably well, and we are forgiving of each other's foibles. It is not bad, living here. It is just not what I remember, and memory of places loved can be a tyrannical mistress when I can't take solace in baking because we do not have an oven.
But life happens. There are no easy solutions when city living is so expensive and one is not rich, when one must be close to one’s job. Sometimes, however, being here mines a vein of thoughts to be written, to be drawn. They’re often melancholy in nature, but a time or two, the golden colour-drenched sunset filtering through chinks of wire window mesh has made my heart sing. And when my heart sings, I must write it or lose the song forever.
I’m writing now, just before bed. Just before the stars in memory blot out the cheap surroundings and poverty, just before the boy I love finds me from over the sea.
Just before, where landscapes dream and I’m once more in a small Virginia apartment, dancing like a joyous, red-coated lunatic in the new-falling snow at 3am in the morning.