On the day of my departure, I spotted a corner in her bedroom and thought about what might happen if I stayed there. Lurking, hiding, tugging at the duvet with nimble fingertips… the corner looked so comfortable, so peaceful. Shrouded beneath micro-fibres and cat hairs which always flutter up my nose and make my chest wheeze, I could stay there and not have to go back. The life of an expat isn’t always so rosy when you’re headed for a country you wish you hadn’t ventured to in the first place. And as you feel your body being shoved hard in one direction, you start to dig your heels into the ground and that corner, that tiny, honeycomb crevice of carpet and dead skin suddenly looks so appealing… The same thing happened at Disneyland. I was on my year abroad and hating every second. A moment’s joy came in the form of a weekend break to Disneyland Paris and I found myself staring at another corner (this time in a bathroom) and wondering what would happen if I just stayed there, curled up like a kitten… and never went back to my desk job. Strange, isn’t it? How corners and small spaces seem to offer comfort in dark times, beckoning me in with open arms and clutching me to their simple bosom. Safe spaces are lovely and inviting, but in a similar vein to comfort zones, nothing grows inside them.
I’m trying to remember what I was like at sixteen.
Hair flat, nails worn, a thick shell weighing heavily down on my back,
I fell in love with a rockstar with thick, tousled locks and tight, leather pants.
He was better than any boy I’d gazed at, any boy whom I’d written to on MSN.
That callous green icon flickering.
My students aren’t like sixteen year olds.
Immaculately groomed, nails chiselled, no shell displayed on their backs,
I shudder when I’m with them, hunch when I’m explaining,
Confused gazes litter the air,
And smirks and faces smacking of apathy.
But they are sixteen, that ripe old age,
When Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink should be a staple.
I withered like a flower in front of adults,
I retreated back into my shell in class,
(Don’t. Make. Me. Read)
I self-flagellated any chance I got,
And still do.
Where is my confidence? Am I lacking some crucial brain component?
I’ll soon be turning a quarter of a century.
So why do these sixteen year olds intimidate me?
With oodles of stuff greasing our palms
The charcoal children across the pond look on enviously.
Candle holders, glitter bralets, pasty camera lenses
Stuff pours from the crevices of the West.
I sit at my computer, bug-eyed in front of Primark hauls
Poundland hauls, bikini hauls
This is what I bought, this is how it looks
But all this stuff is made by dirt-ridden, miniature fingers
In dingy factories, sordid and dim-lit.
Half the world is overflowing with stuff
While the other half is dying.
And yet I’ll continue to sit here watching people unwrap packages, boxes, food parcels and useless objects ’til the cows come home. Purchases which make no sense, purchases which are unnecessary and make me wonder why we yearn for SO. MUCH. STUFF. Is it just our generation? Are we just a product of capitalism? The puppets in its sour show? Online shopping makes us green with envy and purple with desire. Wallets wide open, money flaunted and egos stroked. Yet, across the pond there are people dying of starvation, crippled by wars and dictatorships. These are people who struggle to find clean water and a decent meal, who would give anything to be fighting the crowds in Primark instead of fighting to survive, ducking from bombs, dodging injustice, and squirming at the corruption which lies so blatantly within their lands. These are the same people who are responsible for crafting the products we pay through the nose for, and yet barely a penny reaches them. We show the world what we’ve bought and how much we’ve paid, failing to acknowledge how we came to acquire it and who was instructed to make it. It’s disgusting and mind-numbing when you finally realise how messed up everything is.
We went to a place yesterday. Where human whales flopped over beach chairs, sunburnt tourists fanned themselves with Daily Mail up-turned cones and bright beams of light fell from the sky. I so desperately wanted to be the Beach Boys’ surfer girl, tousled dirty blonde hair falling all over a speckled back and shiny shoulder blades, wading into the water’s waves and knocking them sideways with my board. But of course, I didn’t dare rent a board. Oh no, anxiety would not allow it. Think of all those people who will watch and stare as you mount, fall and wrestle with the wind when trying to transport said item from shop to shore. The beady eyes upon you, eyeing up your belly fat, your thigh wobbles, your hunched shoulders and your worried pupils darting from sand to sky from sand to sky in a super-tense flurry. Instead I watched the others paddle with all their might and come crashing down beneath the slippery surf foam, colliding with kiddies occasionally, muffling apologies and eyes turning red from their salty playground. I tried it for about ten minutes, but was knocked off and pulled under the weight of the board. Anxiety crept up and choked me, I wondered who had seen, whether they’d laughed, cracked a smile or simply not cared. I assumed the former, not the latter, and returned the board to the others, too nervous and self-conscious to continue. Unable to practise, do, say or try something new, anxiety’s grip seems to have turned into more of a strangle, and this frightens me more than the cowardly beast herself.
His dad came downstairs in a cowboy hat and candy-coloured pink trousers. Cardigan dangling from his neck without a care, threads meeting in the centre of his chest with a weary shrug, the eyes behind the glasses studied me like the label of a fine wine. Oh, that bulbous brain must be bloated with theories and wisdom. Pierced easily with a toothpick, his thoughts could come tumbling down and spill to the floor like marbles at any moment. How fortunate they are to have a dad so poised, affectionate, generous. In the middle of the night at the darkest hour, I start weeping uncontrollably about how he isn’t mine, I won’t ever be able to share him. Why did I miss out? Never one to admit I’d drawn the short straw, I realised that I had, infact, done exactly that. The grass isn’t always greener, but this time it’s lush and I want it for my own. I want a dad. There, I said it! I want what they have, like a child wants an iPhone or a dog wants a steak. I’m moaning at the table, throwing tantrums in my head and gritting my teeth at pictures of nuclear families. I could steal his dad in the dead of night like a petty criminal and ride the bus to work in the morning with him by my side. Pocket dads are a thing of the future. All the kids are going to want one.