How do we bid farewell to the places that we know 

No one from a past life has called to say the roof hasn’t stopped leaking since I left, the walls have assumed a listless form, everything smells like grey gas. I haven’t called either because I’m ashamed to say I dream about places that cocooned me ephemerally.

My last day at a place is the first time that I pay close attention to it. I notice the shape of the  moon, the shade of light hanging from the sky, the dye of the carpet, and most importantly, the people that shape it into being. 

When I have less than twenty-four hours with a place, I implore myself to remember its details and fine-tune my feelings, directing them into a poem. Ideally, the poem writes itself. However, when too much time has passed, I settle for the prosaic — it is better than absence.

It seems that few people feel like they owe anything to places. They’re off wandering to loftier heights, after all, and the places they leave behind are relegated to formidable eyewitnesses of their revolving character arcs. Their final conversations with these important structures are soon drifting away in the smoke, and they switch so easily between buildings without a spark of shame.

But for me, I feel a sense of duty towards places I have been and the people that lived in it — simply because they took me in. Their service to me seems laudatory, except when I realise it wasn’t service, rather, common courtesy. This seems too cynical somehow… I don’t want to be cynical.

If I’m being earnest, I’m afraid that I’ll remember them wrong. To counter this, it is by describing their unique qualities that I can reveal my love. This is where poetry comes in handy. So, how can I honour places with prose, and why do I care to do this? Why can’t I be indifferent in return?

No one from a past life has called to say the roof hasn’t stopped leaking since I left, the walls have assumed a listless form, everything smells like grey gas. I haven’t called either because I’m ashamed to say I dream about places that cocooned me ephemerally. That I want to spend a few days in eternity with them. That they have shaped my way of thinking. That they have shaped my life, permanently. I’m moved by places I’m hardly connected with. 

A gardener should be writing this, a sage of silent vanishings – someone who reaped not her harvest despite starting a garden from scratch. The reaper is unappreciative, sleeping through winter and letting the delightful lilies wilt.

Who else should be writing this? A refugee, someone who can never return home. Someone who left their family behind, who is from a war-torn country, whose spatial childhood relics are cremated in dust and mire. Who is doing their best at learning English and connecting with foreign people.

Currently I’m on a train. When I depart this train, I won’t feel sad, because its purpose is to provide travel. It doesn’t mean anything to me that the seats are reversible — though I love that passengers can choose to travel backwards or forwards, it’s a neat metaphor. My row of seats by default was aiming forwards, and I didn’t bother to reverse it.

So, why am I sad to leave behind other places that take me from one place to another? Places that were never permanent, that were always a stepping stone for something bigger? Why do I feel like they owe me something, and I them? 

They forget me, they never cared to know me. And I only properly cared to know them during our last twenty-four hours when I stared at them. I didn’t want to look away for even a second, to show my appreciation that they constituted home during an undercut season in my overshadowed existence.

I’ve been on campus for less than two weeks, and I love it. The majesty of the buildings irradiates my dreams, and I am starstruck. On my first day, it rained mythically, and I was laughing so much at how picturesque it was. Four weeks in, I’m less mesmerised by its beauty. This scares me. 

I wonder what I’ll remember when it’s time to go.

I hope it’s the sense of adventure. Being mindful of your youth and the dozens of people you’re going to meet, the faces you’ll remember yet forget the names of, the infinite articles you could write, societies you could join, the infinite faces you can reveal to infinite people. 

The sense of adventure recounting your steps, in every moment, thinking of how you are going to retell this to yourself and your loved ones in future. The mundane moments feel exciting. 

All this pales in comparison to people – the most important thing we remember. But I don’t know how to write odes to people. Which is perhaps why I’m settling on an ode to places and other things. Maybe that’s my way of letting people know I love them and am fascinated by them, and they are the reason why I’m having a difficult time leaving after-the-fact.

But by default, my row of seats on the train was aiming forwards, and I knew I was going to stick with that fate.

In the meantime, I’m in the middle of this journey – it’s not my first day, nor my last. I know when it’s time to go, all the colours will change form, but right now, they’re shades of green and I’m missing the jacaranda leaves of the old spot I frequented just a few weeks ago. I know I will miss this place too. My prayer is to not let my heart ache prematurely.

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