Blackout

In Edinburgh daylight is slow to come. I stumble around my flat, my body avoiding door frames and shelves, my fingers instinctively finding light switches in the dark. I can hear mice scurrying behind the skirting boards, in those still, wakeful hours stolen by jetlag. It’s almost comforting.

I have been back from Asia for three days. On Wednesday I crashed, literally, at a dreary airport hotel in Heathrow, wrecked with fatigue, exasperation at having missed my connecting flight, the sorrow of goodbyes. A mirror image of my trip out a year and a half ago. It is like being made to spin on yourself for several hours, then being shoved forward and asked to run in a straight line. The world, this new world of cold and grey, of strange acrid and smoky smells, is this my world? Everything is surprising and slightly off. I open the tap and ice cold water flows out. I cast around for somewhere to hide my food, then remember there are no ants to eat it. My skin is dry and stinging. There are no bottles of distilled water in the room, because tap water is good enough to drink. In the morning I wander to the nearest cash point, the cold biting at my skin through the inadequate layers of clothing. I marvel at the thick fog, because I had completely forgotten that fog existed.

For a few days now I have been reeling from the shock of this transplantation. I’ve caught myself longing for the days of slow travel, wishing I’d had weeks to acclimatise myself to the thought of going home, to soothe my mind and body with the slow progress of clouds on endless waves. Everything here is similar and yet changed, familiar but foreign, same same but different. The city, my beloved, sparkly, blustering Edinburgh, is greyer and dirtier than I remember. Dark corners and old men smell of urine and despair. The high street seems broken by the endless, aborted tramworks and the spectre of the recession. Everyone looks so pale, so sickly, bundled up as they are in shapeless, colourless coats and grim expressions. After a year and a half my feet trace the map of the city centre on their own; old routines and habits resurface slowly.

I miss the Siem Reap of ten days ago, the sweet salty taste of caramel cashew nut ice cream, the semi-darkness of the airport during the afternoon’s blackouts, the quiet, the warmth. I miss, viscerally, the Singapore I couldn’t stand to live in, the ridiculous glowy glowering mass of the Merlion over the bay, fatty porky lechon on the Esplanade, cold fresh coconut juice, falling asleep in the flickering lights by the pool as the city whispers and thrums around me.

I am, clearly, a miserable moaning git. I whine, relentlessly, about my trunk full of diamond shoes. I have the freedom and means to live and work in at least 28 countries, a passport filled with memories and possibilities, friends and family who envelop me in their warmth and shelter.  In a few days I start a writing course at Curtis Brown, and the thought fills me with pride and lightness and joy. There is no time for sadness, or regret, no room for self indulgence. At night, in the dark, I let the fatigue sink into my limbs, weighing me deep into the blankets, anchoring me from what is pulling at me this way and that, here and there.

Comments
2 Responses to “Blackout”
  1. Ammo says:

    I’m sorry to hear the return is so tough on you, bon courage! Knowing you, you’ll soon be off somewhere new anyway :)

  2. alison cross says:

    Oh you’re BACK!!!! Is it just a fleeting visit back to the grey misery that is Scotland at the arse-end of winter or is that you back here for the foreseeable?

    And you are doing a writing course – how wonderful! But I don’t think you really need a writing course. I luff reading your stuff.

    Write more about your time in Singapore! Even the spiders!!

    Ali x

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