01 May 2014

The momentum of settling


Part of the momentum of settling — a strange oxymoron of my life now — is the accumulation of things that tie you to a place. For now, Birmingham feels like home for me. As we came back from the South several weeks ago, Yoko commented on it too — the ramp off the M6 onto the A38, down into a trench that leads to the city. You come through a series of tunnels under the city, and up towards Edgbaston, where the University of Birmingham is. Bristol Road has a grassy median lined with trees, something I remember from my first time in Birmingham in 2009 when I gave a talk at Westmere House. Now, the car guides itself up towards Harborne, the terrace house on Victoria Rd which, with each furniture adjustment and evening spent in the garden, feels like home.

Pets were, of course, always next on the list and although I managed to keep kicking that decision down the path — much easier in Malaysia and Milton Keynes when there was a expiry date to our time — there was nothing holding us back anymore. We have no plans to leave and no reason to not give the kids what Yoko and I had growing up, menageries full of all sorts of small animals and rodents. Although I am allergic in an awful way to cats and dogs, Yoko had made up her mind that we would get guinea pigs. I joked that it was like when we decided to have Mia — the choice had been made before the conversation began and I found myself relegated to participant observer. I watched it all happen at a distance, hearing myself say the words I knew I was supposed to say.

The guinea pigs came through Gumtree: two in need of a home because 'Kasia', the seller, was moving abroad. I felt good about these pigs, more so than the ones at the pet shop, because I imagined the Kasia was Polish and I have only had good experiences with Polish people. I also, however, imagined that we would go to pick them up and would be surrounded by beautiful, blonde Polish children who would be giving up their beloved pets, a scene ending in heartbreak and sobbing, something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

Instead, we found the house on the north of the city to Handsworth, the guinea pigs actually the property of a teenage girl and her mother, who were indeed going back to Poland. Naomi had the chicken pox, but they didn't care — Mei and Naomi both held a pig a piece, while Yoko waited in the car with Mia who was sleeping. As the girls cuddled the two of them, I waved Yoko in and knew that this was it, the next piece of the puzzle. It was £37, they had posted — 'Here's forty,' I said to the teenage girl, 'You can keep the change' and she said, 'That's very generous.' For some reason the word 'generous' stuck in my mind. I am not generous. I am the least generous person I know, I wanted to say. I'm vain actually, I don't want to look petty asking you for three one pound coins.

It was clearly hard for the girl to give them up, Bogdan and Philip, but I said we would take good care of them '...isn't that right Naomi?' and Naomi said, earnestly, 'That's right, we'll try not to kill them with knives.' I was shocked:  'No, no, of course not,' I said, 'Don't say that. It will be fine, they will be fine.'

Bogdan and Philip have been renamed several times, and I'm still not sure what their names are, but the girls have been taking care of them every morning with Yoko's help, of course, and taking them out in the garden after they come home from school. Yesterday, it was perfect. Bogdan and Philip sitting in their cage outside, watching as Mei and Naomi performed Disney songs and danced. Mia had the trowel and was helping me, she said, her old dad who was smoking his pipe and drinking a £1.25 Stella Artois from a tall can and cutting brush. Let it go, let it go, the girls sang, with overly dramatic dances and waves of arms, Bogdan and Philip looking on. Won't hold me back anymore. Yes, I thought, pausing, looking up at them all, yes, that's right.

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