OLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: [post written in New Delhi] The old house is sold. A printout of the email from the lawyer signed, enveloped, stamped and sent by DHL to England, 4000 miles away. A small packet of A4 paper folded once, bearing all the correct documentation, tucked away in a bundle, squeezed into an aircraft for a night and a day. At the other end, registered, signed-for and unlocked, unpacked, seals broken, it’s confirmed by officials, checked, stamped and placed in a folder and delivered by a guy on a motorbike to an office in East Anglia. Smoothened out in the bright white electric light of a cold January morning (by a mature female hand probably, cosmetics, manicured nails and a silver ring), and there’s my signature, exposed for all to see; idiosyncratic squiggle recognised by law as being ‘me’ saying ‘yes’ I agree to the foregoing; I relinquish, renounce, I have read and understood the above-mentioned; box ticked, it’s all yours… sayonara, goodbye little house that sheltered me for 36 years, my small cave, hollow, burrow in the side of a hill. Everything there that was ‘me’ is fading away, even as we speak, already feels like I was never there. It’s like a death… all that remains is a memory of so many comings and goings, arrivals/departures, and in the 36 years I was there I never stayed longer than 3 months. There are only the journals left; words written in old notebooks, hard-to-read writing in ball-point pen etched into the surface of old yellowed paper:
OCTOBER 10, 2012: Today is the last day. Getting ready for the flight to Thailand… that familiar feeling of departures is in the air. This time tomorrow I will not be here. I’ll not be in a room that has split floor boards stacked in a cupboard next to the fireplace in the sharp coldness before the fire is lit. Yes, at least I’ll be away from this stunningly cold house where I have to wear a coat indoors, going around with kindling, paper and matches first thing in the morning, rushing to get the fire lit, the flames going and some heat started up. I notice a certain… vigour in everything that seems to be necessary to keep warm. Words come out in steamy puffs of breath, and a kind of gasping breathlessness: haaaaah! It’s cold.
There’s a fragrance of cleaning products around the house. Yesterday was a day of hoover and broom and the place is clean now, pity I’ll not be here to appreciate it. Everything gets a major clean-up a couple of days before I go. It’s always like this; then, on the last morning, I have breakfast, wash out my coffee cup, place it on the edge of the sink; wash my breakfast plate and leave it to dry in the dish-rack – it’ll have plenty time to dry…. The house is locked up, sealed like a time capsule until I return; into the taxi and I’m gone. The house remains as I left it, exactly like this, for countless days and nights and afternoons and early mornings, sun peeps in the window, nobody at home; all through winter, all through Spring and then one day I come back, open the door, break through the spider webs, trip over the mountain of junk mail and enter into this same moment enclosed here now. Same cup sitting on the edge of the sink, same plate in the dish-rack. And the whole house says: Hello, how’ve you been?
And now I know I’ll never be back there again. Stirring the ashes of a fire gone out, a life I think I wanted but never had – maybe I should have tried harder… maybe it was meant to be the way it is. Maybe I’ll go there one day with my Thai niece M – we’ll drive down that road and I’ll show her the house where Toong-Ting used to live. Slow down and stop, look at the old place for a moment and drive on. It’ll all be ancient history by then …
“The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all…. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.” [Eugène Ionesco]