Summer; it’s here. Finally. The hot days with endless blue skies, sun, and torrential downpours that come when I need them the most. At five in the morning, at five in the afternoon. I move and the universe moves with me. Quiet afternoon sessions at Wine Food Market; just me and an espresso. I carry a couple of books and a notebook in my tote bag because it seems that I need to be reminded of my roots more often than not.
My old life is creeping up on me again. I recognize the habits; the coffee drinking, the feeling of elation, and being surrounded by people who don’t know me at all but might as well know me the most. The line is too thin. Sometimes, it feels like I am just floating around. No real purpose.
Except on days when I sleep through the entire night without waking up once. When instead of an alarm clock, the big spoon wakes me softly. On days, when I am surrounded by people who could not be more different than I am and yet we match. Still, somehow. When I listen to old songs, and I feel nothing. There’s none of that weight on my shoulders anymore. The phantom pain was replaced by an actual one. I can only blame last month’s trip to Bosnia for this. And I hate the way I call the country by its name instead of “last month’s trip home”. Because it’s everything but and a certain feeling of worthlessness ambushed me. Out of nowhere. There was no time to readjust. I just had to accept it. And now I have to work my way up out of the rabbit hole unless I want to bring everyone else down with me.
Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?
You’re probably wondering, “What is a place like me doing in a girl like this?” “Yeah, something like that.”*
The problem with writing is that once the people in it disappear you don’t know what to do with your own words. I’ve been quiet; as quiet as one can possibly be with the words brimming somewhere in the depths of my insides. I am scared to write it all down. Because later I could find myself at this point again; the point where I don’t know what to do with my own words. But I must do the thing — I must do what scares me the most.
Things change so fast. I’ve barely had the time to unpack my suitcase, settle down into my life of quiet mornings, and coffee, and counting the sunshine days. I fail terribly at staying still. I had to go again. To Brussels, to Banja Luka, to Barrandov. I’d finished the 1300+ word piece on my little European adventure; four countries in four days with a stranger. In the meantime, I’ve collected more books and more miles. And other things: heartache, sleepless nights, painkillers three times the recommended dosage, additional weight around my hips, designer eyebags.
By the time I sat down to edit, it was all irrelevant. Now it sits there, in the draft folder, all 1325 words of it and it’s rotting to shit. And I was surprised. Even though, I didn’t have the right to be surprised; I am not entitled to anything. It suddenly scared and angered me (at the same time) that the substance of relationships in my life boils down to nothing. They come, they go. I’m left unbothered by the unsaved numbers. Can’t even do that fucking much. Because why should I? Who are these people? Except.
All it takes is one moment, one look. It was still April and everything unraveled on its own. Before everything else. That’s the crucial bit. It felt like watching my own movie. I left work one evening later than I normally would and took the metro back into town; something I don’t do often. Before running into him on the platform, I’d only seen him once and I stood there for a few seconds in front of him, not really certain that’s him because I didn’t know him and because it had been seven full years since the first and last encounter. I took a deep breath andI stepped forward. Is that really you? His demeanor released my tension in three train stops. Then he got off.
A few weeks later, we agreed on a coffee date that ended up being everything but. Londýnská; my favorite street in all of Prague if I had to pick one. It was one of those first summer evenings, warm enough to sit outside through the whole night. Wine and words flowed; and all the pleasant things that happen when two people shoot out sparks. And oh, the laughter. If freedom had a taste, it would taste like that night.
With my inhibitions gone, with my heart warmed by red wine and the glow of his eyes, with the evening closer to morning more than anything else; I let a compliment slip from my lips, released softly like a new butterfly. You’re better than most books, I said to him because that’s what we’d been talking about for the past two hours and that coming from me, the voracious reader, had to carry some weight. He looked at me differently after that, and I knew the line was crossed. It was a sweet feeling, to be looked at like that by someone like him, and a different emotion settled in my gut. Something firm and unknown but wonderful.
I don’t know what to do with my writing when the people in it disappear but the hope is that I won’t have to do anything at all because he’ll still be here; that instead, we’ll grow together with time. The hope for this year was to stop at nothing, to not settle for less. I think I can say that I lived up to my own words.
Twenty-seventeen. I returned to Prague on January 2. It’s a tradition now to welcome the new year in Split. My second trip back home since September with two more to follow. I’ve been incredibly lucky that way. Winter seemed to be particularly bad this year or maybe it was just my feeling. It was snowing, it was cold, dreadful. Passed all my exams, closed the winter semester. Spring semester is well underway now, and I am almost done, too. I finished The Goldfinch, which knocked me off my feet. Writing like that gives me life. I read fifty-two books last year and set another goal for this year. The craving for written word, for the feel of paper, for the discovery of new worlds has returned. I read Murakami for a while — A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore (couldn’t get past the second chapter), and of course, Norwegian Wood; my favorite. Murakami has published many books since 1987 and I need to catch up. Starting with this one. On my way back up north, I started Sylvia Plath’s Journals, which I am still reading; it’s a long read and I am unable to stay with it longer than a dozen pages at a time. I am struggling to get drawn in. Several short sentences about writing helped me with my own, at least for a while. When I stopped writing again I turned to Sherlock Holmes and Jo Nesbo.
In February, I met someone and began researching the Latin American revolutions, stumbled upon Che Guevara’s diary from his days in Prague, discovered Liubliana, but I am yet to buy the book in a language I can read it in. Shortly after, I returned home again. Three times I found myself in Zagreb in a span of ten days. Drinking coffee and eating bureks on the go. I spent time by the sea but only reading Czech constitutional law and detailed accounts of atrocities committed during the Vietnam War. Among others. A weekend spent in Maribor interrupted my reading flow for a while. I rode my bike around the half-island instead, drank rakijas on the terrace with my parents. I was grateful for every single day. The sun was out most days turning my hair into gold. I was happy. I returned to Prague again. After a whole-day trip back through Amsterdam. I vowed never to do that again.
That second return to Prague was short. Barely three weeks in the city before I was off again. By then it was March already. Time flew and I flew with it. Back at the airport in Split, the first direct flight of the season. That first glimpse of the sea that makes my heart skip a beat. I brought the second Harry Hole with me; reading in Slovakian. But then we sailed off to Hvar and I haven’t returned to it since. Five days on the beautiful island of Hvar. Of all the places I know in Dalmatia, it could easily be my favorite. I spent three days at home with Susan Sontag. I wrote in my own journal, drank smoothies in the morning, and slept. But I wouldn’t be still for too long.
I went back to places in April: back to Zagreb, back to Slovenia, back to Austria, back to Italy. Four countries, four days; I turned twenty-six on a beautiful Saturday. Lake Ossiach before me and Buena Vista Social Club in the background. The meaning of it all changed. There’s none of that emotional baggage anymore; only beautiful feelings, memories, and being happy. Feeling grateful and content. It was in a friend’s garage that I noticed a pile of books and unable to resist, I walked over to see a dog-eared, beaten up copy of Siddhartha in Italian. My mind went blank and then I let out a gasp. I’d forgotten about this book. It was my favorite back in Hong Kong, back in the other life, back when I needed the words to pick me up, keep my head above the surface of life. I picked it up, leafed through it, and even in Italian, which I am definitely not fluent in, I recognized my favorite passages. I couldn’t stop thinking about the book for days after. Until I caved in and ordered a brand new copy for myself. After my birthday, I returned to Prague again.
Finished Anna Karenina once and for all; it took me seven months to read. Maggie Gyllenhaal helped enormously. And now halfway through May, The God of Small Things blew me away. Someone I’d only met once, a year ago, recommended this book to me. I searched for it online, only to realize that I already have a copy. Inherited in one of the three boxes of my mother’s old books. I started reading immediately that evening. And could not stop. Suddenly, I wasn’t in Prague anymore. I was halfway across the world. Nothing but the book existed for me. No borders, only words, and all the miles I’d traveled, and everything that has ever happened. I felt connected to the characters in a way I am not able to connect to people around me. Then I thought perhaps there is a god. There must be. And it’s in all the small beautiful things around us.