Leaving Islington

 

scent

You are angry irrationally. We had eventually agreed that I would leave, and that you were “stuck,” as you called it. At first you deny what’s going to happen, staying out of the apartment without reason or explanation, eating alone, or not appearing to eat at all, which is very unusual. It is very clear that you feel sorry for yourself and that in your mind, I am abandoning you.

You blame me doubly: for being free to go, and also you not being able to go. Blame? A modern version of ‘blaspheme.’ You seem blind to my goodness, to my innocent role in your pain. You are unable to take responsibility for the faults or wrongs, allowing all your good energy to race down into the vortex of discontent.

“But what is really preventing you from leaving?”

You avert your eyes. Your body chides me for asking such an obvious question, assuming the answer with muted aggression. I get hold of you firmly and force you to turn to look into my eyes; I have learned that when your mind holds its fingers to its ears I must entreat your body to listen.

“What are you afraid of?”

I hold on to your attention with all my might. But now I realise that you do not believe in yourself enough to become absorbed in anything except waiting, worrying, punctuated by obsessive cleansing.

I let go of you and walk into the middle of the wide floorboards of the sitting room, still talking calmly but beginning to feel the uncomfortable prickling of your projected blame, the increasing pressure to take responsibility for you because you yourself are unable to do so for yourself. Of course, I will carry this out of love.

Standing there looking around me, I suddenly have a strong image of a land of fretting intellects which you do not even admit to belonging to and yet are a fully-fledged member of. Words like ‘intelligence’ and ‘intellect’ frighten you, seem to intimidate you, but nevertheless you are dominated by the intellect, never experiencing anything directly but always through reading or media, hearsay always distorting. Sadly you do not even give yourself the chance to enjoy this membership.

The television behind me mutters manic verses of advertising jingles and news bulletins. The media voices babble on relentlessly, spreading their empty messages. You cannot survive without this background flashing and groaning on. I have tried to switch it off so that we can concentrate, but in certain moods you implore me not to, and in others you dare me to. Now, I am immune to this. ‘Immune’ seems heartless, but I am trying to dodge the strangulation of these influences.

Once I went to stand in front of the screen and you acted as if you were a junky, begging me to move. Your ears, despite what is being said to you, keep track of those voices and sounds, so you never truly concentrate. I have tried to understand why you need this. It seems to be the only thing, which animates or motivates you.

In the apartments above and below, even though it is late morning and the sun is shining outside, the spring buds thick and promising, the other televisions chatter through the house. The single mother in the basement screams obscenities at her two children competing with the electronic family, and above the sound of perpetual drilling and hammering punctuates a blaring horse-racing commentary as the young architects renew every item in the small flat they have just purchased.

I focus on geraniums in a trough on the windowsill. They signify peace. They do not intrude or pollute the air with unnecessary noise. Their colour and form is almost entirely beneficial to humans and animals. A large bee is pollinating among the heavy flower heads. It takes exactly what it needs to grow and thrive, and then flies off without causing any damage or disturbing the plants in any discernible way. If only we could learn this respect, this balanced communication, this perfect interaction.

Instead, our eyes fumble for each other, your dark and my light always mingling well, and your mouth refuses to say anything that remotely resembles what your eyes say. It is always the same. Your eyes speak from the heart effortlessly while your lips and tongue are fixed in the place of a neglected and affectionless child, aggressive, lashing out, defending from your deep ingenious barriers.

“You go!”

You command.

“Just get out of this place as quickly as possible, as you always do.”

You speak rapidly with no thought.

“I knew this would happen! That you’d leave me, so I don’t understand why I’m so surprised really.”

The pure emotion of your words is like an agonised groan I feel the strength of, and I am moved to rush towards you to take you in my arms, but as you suffer, your eyes leave mine and flash down to my feet. I am barefoot as usual, always enjoying contact with the earth wherever I am. I implore contact with your eyes again, but you refuse, continuing to stare at my naked and strong feet. My heart is opening to yours, but you have lost focus and allowed the irritated mind you have laid a claim to, a free reign.

“I’ve told you to put some slippers on! These floors are filthy.”

You never fail to wear your slippers with their grey felt protection, even in the heat of summer. You step into them from the bed even to go a little way to the bathroom, refusing to allow contact with the old wooden boards for a second. You refuse to have anything to do with my feet unless I have washed them.

I do not respond at first.

“You’re not listening. My feet are my responsibility not yours. It is important that I am barefoot whenever possible, as you know.”

Eventually after waiting for a few seconds, I walk away to get on with my preparations for departure. I deliberately let go with each step.

One day, my trunk arrives delivered from the luggage shop. It will be sent on ahead of me by sea, taking several months. I begin to fill it with books and papers, shoes and winter clothes not needed as it will be spring when I arrive there.

As I sort through my books I come across a novel I have forgotten about. I touch its well-used corners and creased cover, and recollect that many months ago you had picked it out of a huge selection of second-hand books at the charity shop, and given it to me as a present.

Now as I look at it more closely, I slowly lower myself on to the edge of the silver trunk in bewilderment. I am about to add the book to the collection of other things to be packed in the trunk when something moves me to open the cover and to read the opening paragraph. What my eyes encounter on the dog-eared page not only confirms my strong feelings for you, but causes my forearms to shiver and an electrical charge to flash around the sides of my neck.

The Burmese author of the volume in his forward talks about writing this novel on his journey through Asia to take up a university appointment to teach English in the city of Kyoto in Japan. En route, he stopped off for about two weeks in Burma to see his family, and to visit various pagodas there. This is to be exactly my route, and both my destination and vocation.

I decide to leave my altar behind. I imagine you when I have left sitting there alone at bedtime. You strike the bell with the wooden hammer and become its sound. You light the candles illuminating the cute Buddhas, waiting for their sacredness to fill your beautiful eyes. You light the incense thoughtfully and carefully as I have taught you, then sit back and wait for its fragrance to fill your nostrils.   You sit on and on because you cannot sleep, allowing the energy to soothe you, and being able to commune with yourself in a new way.

Once you had thought of destroying the altar during your angry period. Taking a hatchet to it, smashing the ceramic baby Buddha, hurling the singing bowl across the floorboards, throwing mixed stones and petals up into the air, tearing ornate altar cloths with searing rips, and scattering all the accumulated ash around the room so that it would easily fall down the floorboard cracks.

“What’s so special about Asia love?”

Then you stand up and walk across the room to switch the television off. I recognise that you are genuinely trying to listen with all your being.

“Above all it is a place where the heart is allowed to rule. Death is always close there, not wrapped away in brown paper as here. People know directly how short their lives are.“

I place my hand across your puzzled mouth, then replace it with my lips, closing the city mind.

I kiss you and go to make tea, secretly stealing your slippers. You notice and shout that I should give them back, and I laugh, daring you to come to get them. As the kettle boils and I reach to turn off the gas, I catch sight of you barefoot.

“Let go of the past and your imaginings of the future with each step you take towards me.”

geraniums

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