The Very First Draft (Put Me in the River)
I might’ve mentioned before that I’m currently working on a memoir project: Put Me in the River.
I’m typing up my hand-written draft. It’s a bit of a slow process, but fairly satisfying once I’m done with a chapter. Chapter four is done so far, Platform Number Four. Please feel free to read my very drafty and sketchy notes on it. (My apologies in advance for the typos and many grammar mistakes)
The bus finally arrived to the platform. For some unknown reason, I’d assumed that it would arrive at platform number four. I had to make sure about it, I asked the lady at the ticket office, and then a guy told me which platform it was, but I obviously didn’t understand, we were speaking the language of no-language; he walked to the last platform with me to show me the correct one. It was an old bus, very similar to our school bus in the primary school. I was the first one to hop on board, not that there were so many people queuing. I got to pick where to sit, which, most obviously, it wouldn’t be any other seat than the first seat on the first row. I wanted to have the full view of the road, to see where I was going. I showed the address to the driver to be safe that it was the right bus after all, and to let him know where I needed to get off because I obviously had no idea. He nodded, I read his eyes behind his sunglasses that it was the right bus, and I could take a seat. I put the black bag by the window, and took the aisle seat. The window in front of me was wide open, even thought at that point I could only see the gray walls and metal seats of the coach station, my imagination promised a neat view. The good thing was that from there on, we wouldn’t be passing by the highways anymore. My right arm had a place to rest; the black bag had been such a great support all the way through. I could have all the view that I could ever wish for, and even more, only a few more minutes till we left to be precise on the bus schedule. By that point, I had already stopped worrying about the suitcase, the brown suitcase; it went missing in between the flights, got lost somewhere along the way. To be honest, I was slightly relieved that I didn’t have to carry it with me all the way; it was only the black bag on my shoulders. Who knew where it really was by then?! It was quite a disappointment not to greet it back again around the luggage ring at the final airport. The ring turned and turned, and turned, and nothing came up under my possession; no trace of a small brown suitcase with a blue belt wrapped around it. I took a walk around the ring a few seconds after it stopped circling; I had to be certain that it was actually happening to me before I could laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation, and find a way to fix it. I wasn’t really worried, it was just funny. I had heard stories of the suitcases going missing mysteriously, and never showing up at the final destination, but in the end, they were returned to the travelers safe and sound. In fact, they were delivered at their door in one piece. And according to those stories, I knew that I had to file a report before I left the airport, otherwise nobody would take responsibility in any way. Poor old suitcase!
I found the lost and found department in one of the aisles behind the duty-free shop; it was a wide room, the front wall was all glass. I knocked on the open glass door, and let myself in after a few seconds since no one paid much attention. I was in a hurry, I had two other buses to catch, and I wasn’t looking forward to missing either one of them. The service agent asked me to have a seat as soon as he was done with the previous costumer. We greeted each other in a polite but friendly manner. He offered me a drink, and I asked for some water. He took a tour with me around the luggage delivery ring to investigate the situation better. He wrote down some notes on his notepad, checked a few boxes on the list, turned a couple pages and we returned to his office. He assured the delivery of the suitcase back to my door, and told me there was nothing to worry about. He said that it was rather common, and it happened often. They would bring it to me wherever I was, even if it was the other corner of nowhere. I smiled. My only concern was for the next couple of days, what I was going to wear, or how I was supposed to maintain the work. I took a couple sips of the water in the plastic cup I was holding, and tried to run through the items that I’d manage to squeeze in the suitcase. I couldn’t remember much, I’d packed in such great hurry that it was impossible to think twice before I fit them in the luggage. The winter clothes, the gum boots, some shirts, a couple pairs of trousers, papers, small objects and souvenirs that I appreciated to have in the corner of my table. It was only later that I realized I had everything I could ever need, maybe even more.
The agent handed me a few forms to fill in, and couple papers to sign. They were about my identity and my suitcase’s, who I was, what the suitcase looked like, what type of luggage it was, or if it was a backpack. A duffel bag, similar to what RJ had chosen as his vessel. RJ was a friend that I met a later in the afternoon in the village. His life was surprisingly similar to mine, only, he’d picked a duffel bag, and I’d decided to take the brown suitcase with. It was a wheeled carry-on, but it could magically hold the whole world, I’m not even exaggerating. I identified what type of suitcase it was on the list, hard-case, plastic, or metal. Mine was coated with fabric, and the color was brown, with a warm and earthy tone. I was quite confident with all my answers, and I went through all the questions pretty quickly. I knew the bag too well; it had been with me for ten years already by then. My mother had bought it for me before I left our home-country. However, my brain froze when I had to write down the name of the brand, the small title sewed on the top left corner of the front pocket. I couldn’t recall the name, and that was shocking. Names are hard work, and I have difficulties remembering them, but it was unbelievable how I couldn’t tell that one. I knew it, of course I did! At that moment, I doubted myself if I ever even read the name, or just gave it an empty look, and went through the letters. I certainly knew the name. In fact, it was a relatively known brand amongst suitcases and bags, I just couldn’t recall it. I raised my head off the papers in front of me, looked at the agent with a wide smile on my face because it was so stupidly funny. Different combination of letters and random words were crossing the back of my eyes, some names were landing on the tip of my tongue to speak it out loud, but not quite; not quite. Poor old suitcase, I mean, it’s been with me for over ten years, it most certainly deserved better than that. It had bravely carried my stuff in every move, from one flat to another, one apartment to the next, which happened quite often. It never left me alone during the trips and travels, and I simply couldn’t remember the name. The agent was such a wonderful person, he smiled kindly, and said that it’s not really a big deal. He said that it was okay, and that they’d track it down anyway, but he could obviously see how and why it was all funny. I mentioned that there was a blue belt wrapped around the suitcase. That should make it one of a kind, not that it wasn’t already, but at least its uniqueness would help me feel a bit less guilty about not remembering its beautiful name.
The engine of the bus started to run, and the driver was getting ready to leave the platform in a couple of minutes. There weren’t so many people on the bus, and the very few people who were on board were old people. It was a sunny afternoon, very hot considering that it was the middle of autumn. I was expecting fairly warm weather for that region, but not sweating hot. I could’ve had a decent tan if I took a nap under the sunlight for thirty minutes. The heat was a sweet reminder of the summer, just as light, perhaps even lighter now that the suitcase was gone. The long hours of traveling, and not sleeping throughout the night had left me nothing but enormous fatigue all over my body. Although, I had taken quite a lot of naps on the way, basically whenever an opportunity rose, I shut my eyes, and drowned in a short nap right away. Technically, I’ve had a good amount of sleep, but the only thing that could freshen me up, and make me human again was a good night sleep; not even a thousands of naps could ever take the place of that.
The bus toured around the town, stopped at few bus stops to pick up other passengers. We kept riding on the road by the river, and left the town behind. The road was beautiful. Thankfully, it wasn’t highway anymore, although, I have to admit that highways and main roads can hold so many magnificent views and interesting attractions, especially if you’re passing by for the first time, or the second, perhaps not as jaw dropping as the side roads. The river was running on the right side of the road through the hills and cliffs covered in trees. It was a serpentine road, full of twists and turns. The bus followed the path through the forests, up the hill, down the hill, right, left, up, and down again. I saw villages here and there, houses detached from the villages that seemed to be leading their own lives amongst the woods. I saw the vineyards, olive trees which I couldn’t tell if they were black or green from the distance, ropes that held the wet clothes to soon to be dry. With a sun that intense, they’d dry out in a couple of hours, I would say. Even during the winter, as long as it was nice and sunny, it wouldn’t take so long for the clothes to be back in the closet. The sun was even more intense further down in the south where I got to live for a few months during the winter. Even though there was only a couple hundred kilometers in between the two villages, the weather shifted massively as I moved back up north in the middle of the winter. From dry-cold, all of a sudden it was wet-cold. Rainy winter was quite something new; I’ve never had a snowless winter in my life before. The following year, as I heard from Roham, was apparently quite nice and warm. A rather springy-winter, I may say. My timing took me to its wettest coldest months ever, just like the blizzard incident, and the forest fire which I’ll be telling to you about in a moment. You see, that’s somehow the only reason I couldn’t complain about the constant rain, damp feet, and a wet jacket in the evening as you arrive into your cold home. It was only fair for it to have the wettest winter, after all the forest that was burnt during the summer, and the major forest fire that occurred only a couple days after my arrival. The valleys were burnt, the woods that I was passing by at that moment, on the bus with the black bag on my side, going somewhere called the School. Too tired to keep awake, the softest sun of a fall’s afternoon which wasn’t helping me to stay up. All the woods were burnt, gone, in less than one hundred hours, and I somehow managed to fall in for another nap as we passed them by. Would I have done differently if I knew a thing about the future? How was I to know the fire was right around the corner?! It was the road to the village, I must’ve said to myself, and would’ve assumed I’d pass it by for so many more times, I can always see it, even during different seasons in different shapes and colors. How was I to know that they’re going to turn black?! I wouldn’t look away for a split second. I would keep my eyes on them, no blinking, just watching the heavenly scenery out the window. To be fair, my eyelids felt to be very heavy for a long charming road like that, so napping wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
It was actually not a very long nap, perhaps about five minutes or so. I opened my eyes. The hills of forest slowly were showing signs of a small town not so far away. I took off my sunglasses, rubbed the nap off my face, and put them back on; the sun was too bright for the sleepy eyes. The bus took a turn to the right into a small town with very narrow alleys. I was concerned for a second for a potential unfortunate accident, but then I remembered that the driver probably drove that route on a daily basis, so I just watched the town, the small square in front of the church, cafes and shops, and enjoyed it the best. Later I found out about a bar right by that café, and another bar behind one of those alleys, never really learned which. And because it was my first time there, I missed the gas station in the corner, and the supermarket in front of it. I was amazed by the stone houses, and by the sound of the conversation that I couldn’t understand. Regardless of the beauty I was blessed with, I wanted to arrive already. The ride was taking longer than I’d expected. Things were new, the road would certainly feel longer, but other than that, the bus had to make so many stops, turn in different corners of the towns and villages, and I was too tired for that. I didn’t bother checking my map, but by knowing the time of my arrival, I could tell that we were close; I would expect the driver turn to me at one of these stops, to let me know that we were there eventually. We were back on the road again, turning left and right with it, heading to our destination. Pretty soon we arrived to a bigger town. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, knowing that my stop was there for sure. Well, we were close, but not quite there yet. It was our town after all, and the village would be about four kilometers away. The bus rode around the town, and I was watching it with a mad curiosity. I was aware that I was missing many different details, things that I couldn’t know they existed, but I was wide open to absorb the most I can. I couldn’t even locate the river, and where it would be, but I knew it was there somewhere, perhaps I could only hear it. The bus took a long turn around the town which indeed was quite nice and enjoyable. I was tired, however, and slightly impatient to see the village; I’d been waiting for months already. We were now heading out of the town, toward the woods and villages, and I still hadn’t heard from the driver. Disappointing, I thought maybe he’d forgotten me, I was only two steps away from him. We passed by Alvaro’s, and the Pizzeria, and slowly left the town behind. I was resting my chin on my arm on the pole in front of my seat, so I somehow managed to notice those two historical restaurants. Or perhaps it was my selective perception, the fact that I was getting hungry too. I couldn’t remember when the last time was that I ate something. Later on, those two spots became our ultimate go-to, whether for food, or drinks, or casual hangouts after Mr. Pombalino had shut down his café. Alvaro’s, more accurately, he would still keep the doors open for friends and family to drink more wine, watch television, and sometimes listen to some music to have a dance. So if we were to stay out late, Alvaro’s was our possible chance. The Pizzeria was somewhere we would actually go and eat. It was a proper family restaurant. The food was quite good in both of them, let’s be fair, but the menu was slightly broader at the Pizzeria; Alvaro’s was more of a café with not more than four or five dishes to choose. Although, I don’t think I tried anything but the loin salad off the menu of the pizzeria. That was the only food I’d order whenever we went to grab lunch or dinner there. It somehow turned into a reaction, more like a joke among us, another funny joke Luis would make, and I would laugh out loud for a minute since it was very funny. He also realized once that he had ordered the same pizza each time, so the joke became even funnier. Although, I do believe that I ordered another dish one time when Naja and I stopped by for dinner. It was a couple weeks after I was back from the south. We decided to go the bar down the road, a few minutes after the gas station, and grab a sandwich with a glass of wine. The bar was closed, and we were already out in the middle of the road, so we thought of going to the pizzeria and treat ourselves with a nice dinner. Something comforting, warm and filling for the stomach. I was about to order my usual salad, but the cold took my eyes off the salad section of the menu, and started to seek for other options. Or perhaps it was Naja who encouraged me to try something other than the boring loin salad. To be fair, it was a boring salad. It was a set of vegetables such as cucumber, red cabbage, tomato, lettuce, and corn which I never really touched, with some slices of cold pork, playing the role of the loin in the salad. And it was all topped with a simple mayo-based dressing. The funny thing about the salad was that it wasn’t even mixed. It was a colorful combination of vegetables put side by side on a wide flat plate, which looked nice and probably was healthy enough to keep me going back to it again and again. It was a big salad, and I would get quite stuffed once I was done. I have the habit of not leaving anything on my plate because I can’t really be bothered with taking my leftover back with, and I strongly disagree with throwing away food, especially when it comes to meat. The salad, however, was almost nothing comparing to the dinner I had with Naja. I don’t exactly remember what I had, but it was something about stuffed pork cutlets, fatty and greasy, with rice and small simple salad on the side. And, obviously, wine, red wine; there was always red wine. We were both quite full by the end of the meal, and a bit concerned about our return to the village. It was cold, perhaps one of the coldest nights of the winter. It wasn’t a short walk either; the School was four kilometers away. The only thing that I could come up with was to hitchhike. We kept walking down the road on the right side, with the plan of raising the left arm up as soon as I’d hear a car approaching. It was only a minute or two after we started walking that a car pulled over a few steps away from us. Happy and excited about our quick success, we walked to it, and realized that it was a police car as we got closer. That was intimidating for a second, I never know where hitchhiking is illegal, the laws work differently in every country. Although, even if it was illegal, the two police officers were considerate and generous enough to give us a lift back on a cold night like that.
The bus passed by the gas station. I didn’t notice it for the extreme boredom, I can now mention it because I know the gas station is there; it was our nearest coffee shop, in a way, the only one. The bar down the road technically belonged to the village next-door. The local sport club by the church was open only during the weekends. The gas station would be the point to meet up, shoot coffee, and take a break from the day. The bus roared up the hill, and took a sharp turn. The road was narrow, surrounded by the old houses of the village. We reached up the hill. There was a wide flat parking space on the right side. The bas stopped under the very old sign of a bus stop. My chin was still resting on my chin on the pole, looking out the wide window in front of me. I wondered why he stopped; there was nobody there, nor anybody on bus. The driver turned around to look at me. He had a neat smile on which could only mean one thing: we were finally there. I almost jumped off my seat for the excitement boiling inside, thanked him a million times, and got off the bus.
There was a valley in front of me, the whole scenery was underneath my footsteps. Impressed by the beauty of it, amazed for a few moments, I found my way to the gate. It was an old metal gate, fences and locks that had rusted pretty effectively. Two sets of stairs welcomed me as I passed it, to the left, to the right. I took the one on the left, held the straps of the black bag, and watched my steps as I went downstairs. The stairs had somehow lost their shapes, you had to watch out not to miss any steps, and roll down. The building itself looked old, and it was tall. The doors were closed, I wasn’t really curious to see inside yet. There was a world going on in the terrace which there were two on both sides of the building, the small yard in the front, and the one downstairs. I walked to the terrace. There was a mural on the wall, a woman washing some clothes, which had almost fully covered the wall. I appreciated it for a few seconds. There was an L-shaped white couch in front of the painting by the wall, both facing the beautiful valley. During the winter, they had to scrape off the mural, for its time had come, and the couch was too ashy that had to be discarded somehow. To be honest, the milky white color was rather gray after the forest fire. I put the bag on the corner of it, stood by the stone railings, and leaned again it. It was so beautiful. Perhaps I didn’t think about anything for a couple seconds. It was the view of the valley, the village in the right corner of the School, the church, the old giant chestnut tree, the hills around covered in trees, and the windmills far away over the horizon. It’s hard not to fall in love with it. I believe I watched the view for a minute before I could explore the right-hand terrace, the yard downstairs. I took my time to appreciate it, and thank the universe to grant me with such beauty in the end, I’d been waiting for so long. It felt like heaven. Heaven in a dead-end. It usually takes me a while to find out what kind of dead-end I’ve landed in. It took me about a month to figure it out when I moved to the south; time works rather differently there. The first couple of days is usually busy with exploring the village, or the town, where to do the shopping, where to get a drink. Then comes the discovering the paths, the main street, the back alleys, short-cuts or long-cuts, and which one I enjoy walking the best. Then you’d figure that physically it’s going to be as far as it would get. The path doesn’t go far beyond. The view is always nice in the countryside, the air is fresh, and you have the privilege to wake up to the sound of the ship and cow, and the bells around their neck, the roosters, the chain saw of the neighbors’. The world inside is endless. New friends, and new stories about their everyday life, how they greet each other, what they eat for lunch, how they keep warm in the winter, or how they cool down during the summer. I’d get to ask them about the town, how come so many people had left, why the population is reduced in half. It’s true that you have plenty more time there, no traffic, not much of a distraction. You should come up with different sources of entertainment to fill up the time, perhaps it’s then that the creativity blooms, out of boredom with a touch of loneliness. Local festivals, small cultural events, picking fruits off the trees, collecting beautiful rocks along the path in the forest would become so entertaining that you start wondering how you could be missing such treasures all your life. After a certain amount of time, you’d learn how to laugh at the jokes of the very locals, an obscure sense of humor. Some of the villages are so remote that cannot stop fascinating you on a day-to-day basis, the seclusion, the isolation, emptiness, and its loneliness, in a way that make you wonder how they keep living there more than the reason why. I got to meet very ordinary people paying the price of bigger decisions. They had to be concerned about their dry lands, lack of job, dusty roads, very little cultural developments, limited down to zero number of buses to take you out, just so you know you could go to places, lack of education in public health, decayed teeth and a mouth full of cavity. It was sad sometimes to see the children there, the enormous energy and talent slowly going to waste. Our village, anywhere that I had the privilege to call home even if it was for a very short while. Villagers would be villagers, almost everywhere, the ones who are concerned about their annual harvest, their houses that had been washed away with the flood, or burnt down by the fire; they need to worry if a worse one is going to hit the following year. A dead-end looks different from one village to another one. It can sometimes mean nothing, not even a bar to gather and meet with others. All they’ve got is a grocery shop or a small market with limited number of vegetables. A car becomes a key to this type of living. Might be a few months till you realize where everybody has gone, not much to stay for. Makes me wonder, once again, about the ones who stayed.
And I do have a suitcase, I remembered as I was talking with Johanna and Liudvika who came back to the School a few minutes after I arrived, most probably back from the coffee break at the gas station. I saw them walking down the stairs. Liudvika had a kind smile on her face, but Johanna seemed a bit nervous, perhaps because I was supposed to arrive more than two months before, and only a couple days ago, I sent them a message to tell them that I was on my way there. I could understand why, but there was nothing to be concerned about. I was going to explain them everything, so we sat on the white couch. First, she asked me if I would like anything to drink; I was thirsty for water. She told me all about the School, and how things were working there. And I told them about the missing suitcase, and wondered if there were any shops in town that I could get some clothes. They suggested some shops. I couldn’t understand myself why I’d asked that question. I wouldn’t really buy new clothes, I already had about enough in my suitcase. What was I going to do with the new clothes, then, once the suitcase was back; there was no empty space in the suitcase. Was I supposed to throw them in the yellow clothes bin, so that someone would buy it from the second-hand shop?! Or would they be recycled and reused as raw material, which seemed very unlikely to happen?! Should I give them away? To someone who might need them, maybe to friends who already have enough clothes. However, there are always people who are in need of them, people who had lost their home. It was the case of forest fire in our town; it might be the storm or the flood elsewhere. It was around the springtime, when I felt like I needed some other shoes other than my winter hiking boots, that Luis told me about a charity in the town where you could both donate, or take clothes based on your need. I hadn’t lost anything during the fire, but I pretty much appreciated lighter footwear which I would return back to the charity before I left. We never really went there anyway; the hiking boots weren’t so bad after all. Buying new clothes was out of the frame. In the end, it was going to be another piece of clothes that someone else was going to throw away instead of me. I’m not even sure if I listened to her as she gave me the directions to the shop. It was best if I washed my shirt in the evening before I went to bed, and put it back on in the morning once it was nice and dry. The air was warm, perhaps a bit chilly and damp at night, but even a few hours of the morning sunlight would be the perfect drier, the perfect condition to wash my black t-shirt which had started to smell like a dead animal already.
I was gradually introduced to the friends who lived in the School; we were going to share the space together. RJ told me about a huge fire that had happened a couple days ago, and that the air had started to clear out only that morning. He talked about a huge brown cloud in the sky, and ashes falling from the sky like snow. It was a catastrophe, a very scary disaster, but it sounded quite intriguing to me, more like an adventure you would like to dive in deeper, but I had no idea what I was thinking about. I should’ve been more careful with what I wished for, as they always say, I obviously wasn’t. We woke up to the same brown cloud a couple days later; it was the morning after the party by the river. Perhaps a bigger one since the fire was closer to us this time. In fact, we were surrounded by the fire from three different directions. In other words, the whole valley was burning, the houses, birds, animals, sheep in the cheese factory, insects, and humans. It is a scary thing to imagine that you’d lose all your life in just a few hours. Betty and John, a couple that we met in the village around the spring, told us how their house was burned down; all they had left was the clothes they were wearing during the accident, and anything they had in the car with them. It’s more devastating when you hear that there were lots of other people just like them. It’s hard to comprehend what you might be going through at that moment, when you’re losing everything, and the only thing that you should really be saving is yourself and your loved ones, which is a challenge on its own when the giant flames of fire attack you from everywhere. John was looking for the right word for a few moments to describe peoples’ over all state of being. Panicked, in the end he found it, they were fully panicked, running around, not knowing what to do. They made a chaos which made it harder to figure out a way to escape, the road would get blocked, and the chances of surviving would drop down to none if there were any chances at all. I would believe that it’s true. I mean, we were panicked, even though we were still relatively far away from the flames. Fortunately, our only concern at the moment was the big brown cloud above us. We kept considering our options if the fire surrounded us; it’s hard to imagine what you’d do. Some of us believed that we needed to join the rest of the people of the town at the gym. It didn’t make any sense to us, RJ and I, there were already loads of people there, people with real problems, who have lost lives, something far more real than smoky air and the brown cloud. We believed that we needed to stay where we were. RJ had been going for a long run almost every afternoon, he’d been exploring the area for as far as he could. He said that the fire was still very far away to reach us. All the hills surrounding us needed to burn up before the School would drown in flames. Unlike RJ, my argument was not based on any evidence whatsoever; it was just the naïve optimist in me who couldn’t stop believing that things were going to be alright, we wouldn’t be harmed, and nothing bad would happen in the end. The safest place that came to my mind, if we ever had to leave the School, was to shelter by the river; the running water should keep us safe. RJ reminded me that the smoke is the cause of the death for most of the cases, not the fire itself. The naïve optimist in my couldn’t stop checking the weather forecast, looking for the rain, but not even a single cloud was predicted for the next few days. The only cloud was the brown on top of our head, getting bigger and darker every hour, preparing us for a tragic death.
Julie was concerned the most about the whole situation, mainly because she was exposed to so many fires back in her home-country. She was Naja and Liudvika’s neighbor at the Kinta down in the village. When she first came to us, she simply warned us about the potential threats that we might not know about. She suggested that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if we stayed at Naja’s for the night; it would be much safer to stick together. They had cars, we could’ve hopped on, driven away, and escaped the deadly fire as soon as we felt it breathing down our neck. She couldn’t possibly stress more how serious the situation was, bless her soul, which we understood, but had not much of an idea what to do about. The School, or the houses down the village didn’t seem to be that different if the fire ever reached us. In fact, the School was a lot safer than their house which was about one hundred steps away the gas station. But, she was very persuasive. We packed our bags, and finally agreed to stay at Naja’s for the night. I put the brown suitcase next to my friends’ bags in the small safe tunnel in the basement, which was delivered to me by the department of lost and found, tapped on it twice for good luck, and left the School with the black backpack on my shoulders. It wasn’t only my things that I was worried about, it was the suitcase itself that I couldn’t afford losing. I had already lost it once, I couldn’t leave it behind. Naja greeted us nicely, and welcomed us with some drinks, can’t tell what, perhaps some tea it was. Luidvika had gone away for a few days, including her room in the game, there were enough room for all of us. I picked the couch, RJ decided to sleep on the floor by the balcony door. We hoped that things would look better in the morning, and fell into a very shallow sleep. The optimist in me believed that it would soon rain, and the weather forecast was just wrong. I couldn’t stop thinking about the suitcase this whole time, that somebody would knock on the door any moment, and we’d have to run away without it, drive away, and fade into the wobbly image of the heat and the smoke and the loud barking of the dogs. I promised myself that the first thing I’d do would be to declutter once again, and keep it as light as a feather, in a way that in an emergency like that, I could just grab a bag and run off; I never really did that.
As was expected, nothing had happened that night; we returned to our bags safely in the morning. We didn’t unpack; it hadn’t rained yet, and the sky was still brown. For some strange reason, things felt to be calmer the next morning, as if the threat was gone, and we didn’t need to worry about anything. Perhaps it was the infamous stillness before the storm that they keep referring to, because things were only getting worse. During the day, the electricity started going on and off, and we lost the online access completely. We heard about Johanna’s house that was party burnt, her olive tree in yard was now gone. Chris and Dave’s shed in the corner of their yard was destroyed too, and if their neighbor hadn’t turned out the fire somehow, their house would be gone too; they weren’t in the town at the time of the fire attack. I visited their house a few months later, their half-burnt yard, trees and plants, leftovers of the shed with their antiques and souvenirs and collection of things. In fact, the whole valley was black, for as long as your eyes could see, the valley beyond our village, the one that I somehow manages to snooze through on the bus. Funny how I missed to see its beauty simply by shutting down my eyelids for a few minutes. Families who had lost their homes had gathered in the local gym or the fire station to seek for help and support. Tons of people were there; they had nowhere else to go. They said over eighty people had died already. Eighty, that’s a very scary number, eighty people! I don’t think my family would be eighty people all together. Or, if I was to organize a party, I don’t think I could’ve invited eighty guests. If I had to write down the name of my friends on a piece of paper, I wouldn’t be able to reach up to eighty. That’s such a big number. The scariest part was that when we found out that this fire wasn’t only specific to that year, it happened every year, like a cultural tradition or some kind. Multiple times a year, I’d better say, not just once or twice.
Losing the connection, and not having a way to communicate with the world outside only meant one thing: we had to keep our eyes on the hills around to spot the fire as soon it reached our view. We were ready to run away any moment. We still had some lousy bicycle in the School, there was a way out. The police also knew about us there, they would protect us either way. We even thought of staying up all night, to keep a night watch in turn until morning, till the sun would come up, and things would be fine again. Well, nice party, but we didn’t really need to do any of those. Julie and Naja came to us later in the evening, asking us to grab our jackets and things, and get in the car; the fire was there. It finally reached us. We could see it coming burning down the hill on our left. There was no need to rush all that bad, the fire still had a long way to come. However, it was fast, and it was red, and very angry, even the sound of the flames roaring with the wind from afar was too aggressive. Julie said that we needed to hurry, there was no time. What about our bags, we thought all together. No time for bags, she said. RJ and I looked at each other. We both heard her, perhaps laughed madly on the inside because it was actually very funny. We thought the same thought: we couldn’t. Our bags were too precious to leave behind if everything was going to burn down to ashes, if it was all going to turn black with a soil still smoky for days to come, if there would be nothing left but a dead valley, losing our bags would’ve been too much to afford. The bags were all we had, it wasn’t the time to leave them behind, it wasn’t the time to take a nap on the bus.
However, in the end, we had enough time to go back and forth between the School and Kinta a few times, to get the bags, save more items. I believe some of us even grabbed a pillow for a comfortable sleep wherever we had to sleep at night. We watched the fire from the small bridge over the stream by the road. It really was fast, and precise, finding its way down the hill. It rained, maybe in less than an hour. Good thing I was wearing my blue raincoat, and had my gum boots on the whole day through. The rain was foreseen, it was just not getting there. Even though we were in the middle of a serious disaster, somehow, in some ways, I cannot comprehend what, or how it all happened. Perhaps we got used to the smoke in the air ever so slowly; it smelled like a tragic barbeque party. We inhaled it constantly, every second more than the one before. It reminded me of a poem that a friend of mine had read to me years ago, Rana, you might recall her from somewhere. I had to think about it for a moment to fully remember the poem; it was indeed a long time ago. But it was about the fishes swimming underwater, asking each other, searching for water; they hadn’t seen anything else all the while. It rained, and we danced over the bridge for two good minutes without music. The sad stories, however, kept coming to us for days after, weeks, months; so many things happened; there will be consequences. The saddest news was that this whole event was becoming rather ordinary. Every summer, by the end of spring, or the beginning of autumn. I was left without words.
We were soaking wet by the time we were back in the School, with our bags and everything else we were dragging around with. What a rain, what a bliss, huh?! I slide the brown suitcase under my bed, didn’t really bother to unpack, soon, there was going to be another bus to catch.