26 November 2013

Succeeding in failing

Princesses

I've been telling this story backwards for a year, my story of coming to Malaysia has always been a story of leaving Malaysia. I did not intend this, but I'm always lying about my intentions. Look back and see all the stories: they all are about leaving, one way or another.

Last Monday, at 8:00 and then at 9:45 I had a presentation and interview with a small Catholic University in Birmingham, Newman University, for a permanent post in Stylistics. The interview went well, I thought, but as J and I sat out on the terrace after it was over — looking out in the palm plantation, the feral dogs sleeping somewhere beyond the darkness — I talked about how empty these feelings are, how meaningless. I have felt good about interviews I failed, and jobs I've gotten, I've felt poorly about the interviews. Feelings lie, of course.

I went home: drove up Jalan Semenyih still alive and humming like it always is. I missed my turn off and went the long way home: it didn't matter anyway. I came into Taman Sri Minang, the orange light in front of the house, the gate locked, the children and Yoko sleeping upstairs. I sat at the computer in the heat, waiting for an e-mail to come, and feeling like I could wait, like I would not be disappointed. 

I'm leaving, I said again and again for this last week, and everyone has been happy for us, understanding. All the pressure that has built up over the year, pressure looking for a stopgap to come that never came, dissipated into the night and wine I had saved since September for this moment. I savoured it. The invoice for Naomi's schooling came, but it sits undisturbed on the desk. There was nothing to worry about: it was done, wasn't it. We went out to dinner and suddenly worried less about everything. Now to just pack it in. How much cheaper life is in Malaysia when you think in pounds. 

The flights back home to the UK will take us into the cold, away from the palm oil trees emanating heat and all our Aunites and Uncles caring for us. Chinese Uncle, Uncle three houses down sees me on the ground blowing into the fire, and says, Still wet, ah, cannot burn. Yes, yes, I know, but it is burning, I am making it burn. Birmingham has no palm trees: it's raining and snowing and the sun has already gone down, but I know the way home from Terminal 5 at Heathrow. We will get the rental car. Someone may meet us at the airport even. That big roundabout, and the M25 and then the M40. How much easier everything will be.

Birmingham, the small university, permanent work in my area. There are so many good things to celebrate. A kind of future that will make everything else fade away, all thoughts of the heat and the stress, letting only good memories percolate through. Naomi and I in the car this morning, laughing. Mia waiting naked at the gate of the house. Mei holding a millipede.  

So the Pihlajas are moving again. I'm not sure the kids understand, but they don't need to at this point. Up and leaving is something our family does: it's normal for them. For me? I thought I would be angrier than I am about how much of a failure Malaysia has been for us. It hasn't, of course; to say it's a failure is to lie. It's been something else. Something I can't put my finger on. Maybe I will be able to articulate it someday, when things settle down.  
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