05 July 2014

Re-reading the past

The news reported that we had a record high this last week: 27.2, sweltering heat for the West Midlands and England in general. The whole nation is encouraged to run outside with Pimms and sit in garden chairs, soaking it in while listening to Wimbledon on the radio in the background. Andy Murray is out now; the English team was pathetic in the World Cup this year. Still, before the rain comes in again, we should enjoy the good weather while we can. It's bound to go sour sooner rather than later. The weather, the attention to the weather, is so British.

The girls and I walk to school every morning, up Tennal Rd, from Harborne to the edge of Quinton where Woodhouse school is. The walk is a nuisance when you are doing it — getting the kids all ready to go and out the door before eight twenty — but is actually the substance of their childhood and the thing you will remember in your fifties when you think back about the children as children. Remember walking to school everyday; remember holding daddy's hand. We chat about everything in their lives: their plans for school or the missing cat posters stapled to telephone poles or what Valerie, the troubled girl at school, did yesterday. At the gate of the school, I insist that they kiss and hug me, however reluctantly.

While life in Malaysia had dramatic moments which served as perfect depictions of life in the developing world, our English life is markedly less dramatic. Yesterday, I packed my bag — the Jack Wolfskin backpack I bought myself for my birthday — and set off to run home. It began raining as I came up Woodgate Rd. I stopped, after crossing into the path by the creek, and put on the rain cover and then ran on. Nothing happened; no one stopped me. I came in the back door, peeled of my wet clothes and took a shower. The rain is the complicating event in that story.

The rain could also be a complicating event in a story in Malaysia, like when I found myself caught in a deluge, the whole left lane of Jalan Semenyih covered in a foot of water, probably more. That day I was riding my bike in that rain and almost killed myself. I was soaked all the way through — I stood in a strip mall outside a Chinese grocer shop and wondered if the rain would let up enough to get home that night. Cockroaches coming up out of the sewers.

The past is a rag that we wring out. I sit down to write and wonder if there is still more to come out, if it is dry now. No, I have not exhausted it, there is still more to say. You can re-read it again and again — the Jack Wolfskin bag, a kind of embodied writing prompt. I sinch up the shoulder straps and remember riding on the bus back to Kajang in the heat of some afternoon, thinking about a future that I am now living.