07 February 2014

Running fast


The first month in the UK ticked by without any celebration or notice. The visa application went in and then we went to have our photos and fingerprints taken. Then, on Thursday, the 30th, the residence permits came: five cards with five photos, each one of us looking grim and serious. Like that, all the nervousness I had felt about the process was gone. Of course, it wouldn't be an issue. Of course, they would accept it. In retrospect, nothing seemed up to chance or fate or luck.

The girls quickly settled into their school and their new friends, Naomi chasing a little girl through the playground yesterday while they both giggled. Mei made a birthday card for her teacher, Mr Oakley, who is 25 — no, 26 now — and Mei blushes when she says his name with a bit of melody. Today was bright clothes day and after a discussion about what could or could not be categorised as 'bright', we all — Naomi, Mei, and I — walked up Tennal Rd to the school, laughing and chatting and talking about the day ahead of us. I will come home in the evening to shouts of 'Daddy, daddy' or no shouts at all, if they are playing upstairs, the house on Victoria Rd taking on a sense of place for us all.

In the midst of the settling, the bits of British life that I had to cast off while in Malaysia are coming back. On Sunday I ran for one hour and forty-five minutes in the early morning, the sort of run where you are fifty minutes into it by the time there is any natural light. You have endless imaginary conversations with the people in your life, your mind working like an old Rolodex, flipping from thought to thought, person to person. By the time the sun came up, I was near the University, on the road coming past the reservoir and I hit my stride as you do around that time, listening to the gulls on the water while the wind blew in my face.

There's been little else to say: my mind doesn't seem to want to reach back yet to Malaysia, to make sense of 2013. I look at pictures and can't remember the heat at all. It was so hot, wasn't it? I can't even remember.

On Wednesday night, I ran home from the University as I do now three days a week. Twenty two minutes, if I am running on pace. I stopped at the roundabout at the bottom of Victoria Rd and went into the fish and chip shop to buy two kebabs for dinner. Doner and mixed on naan, nine quid. I stood outside in the rain after ordering to cool down and look up at Harborne, the terrace houses spindled off the roundabout. When I imagined British life as a 19 year-old reading Virginia Woolf, it looked more like this than anything I have experienced. The streetlamps feel incandescent and warm, not harsh like the light in Taman Sri Minang. I looked up while stuffing my sweatshirt and jacket into my bag and felt for a moment like I wasn't falling anymore, like I had been caught without knowing it. The children are right there, warm and waiting for me to come home. There's nothing else that I have to do.