Sunday mornings smell like freshly burnt toast and overdue library books. They always have. The silent vigil of condensated windows seperates the temperate chill outside with the unattended coolness of relations within, and a sort of hushed mutual understanding that any noise made before 9am is enough to warrant a decrease in the amount of spuds on your plate for the weekly roast later on. Not to mention a series of questions enquiring as to what you could possibly have been up to before the crows, and a shrill reminder to close the door when you burn the toast, we don’t want it getting to the fire alarm. Every movement feels watched.
– I’ll have you know, Mother, that in Asia the cockerels start crowing at 5am, and don’t stop until the din of a million motorbikes playing real-life MarioKart on the next street over by 6am has drowned them out.
As time has passed, the bitter tang of black coffee has also wound it’s way between the thin pages of my tastebuds, each cup drawing me ever-closer to the elusive answers and unmentioned distraction we seek in the pages of novels. Lowering my choice of re-gifted paperback for that particular Sunday morning the day after St. Stephen’s Day, I stepped and then stumbled quickly away from a rogue thumbtack which had fallen from it’s position fastening somewhere in the vicinity of SouthEast Asia to the wall above my bed, on a map of the world I’d been given for my 1st birthday by a grandmother who’d been suffering from a massive nervous breakdown at the time. Or so it was described later on. In the early nineties there were no such thing as nervous breakdowns that were casually thrown into sentences about grandchildren’s birthday parties. It’s just the cold, they said. She’ll be grand when the fine weather comes in. She wasn’t. My birthday is in May.
The map of the world as it existed the year I was born has been unfolded and folded and stored away and studied so many times since then that I’d felt no remorse or guilt whatsoever in puncturing the tiny black dots of places in all the countries I’ve stepped foot in to date with microcosmic lunar flags in the form of coloured thumbtacks. Even if the pastel-coloured and oddly-shaped portions of land seen as square inches on the map no longer identify with the names or states they once existed as, instead governed by other square inches to the far stage-right or left of the blue backdrop, I wedged the pins through the expanses of their capital cities and into the clammy yellow wall behind nonetheless.
In doing so I chose to actively ignore the chippings of wall and paint which spilled out from the holes as I mercilessly forced the pins firstly through the points on the map, and then onwards through years of shoddy redecoration and DIY work, evident from the ease with which the current paint came away and revealed teenage phases and forgotten childhoods that once graced the walls with bold colours and a Batman and Robin patterned wallpaper. Before we start getting emotional here, the wallpaper had never belonged to us, but (I’m assuming) to a now grown-up child who lived and played in the room before my parents moved here and had even considered myself or my sister as potential contributions to the world I now smoothed out evenly against the wall. The irony lay in the fact that somewhere on the wall underneath all those layers, faded colours and half-removed strips of wallpaper remained preserved a decade in which Yugoslavia and the USSR were still in existance, and in which I as a one-year-old baby would have had about as much appreciation for a map of the world as I would have a Kerouac novel and cup of strong black coffee on a Sunday morning.
But that was then.
In a tizzy I was suddenly pulled from my contemplation of Slovakia’s bordering countries and research of potential inter-railing routes by the slow, heavy shuffle-shuffle and subsequent tap-tap-tap which signalled a visit from Dad to my room. This had become such an infrequent occurrence in recent times due in part to my travels, yet also to his worsening arthritis and ability to climb the stairs that for once I didn’t immediately jump to the rude reflex-cry of “Don’t come in!!”, and instead posed a bored and weary question in the hope it would deflect any interest about to be invested in my current occupation away;
‘I just thought I’d tell you, Gay Byrne has had a heart attack”.
“He’s doing well and is hoping to be let home from Vincent’s soon”.
“Um…thanks for that, Brian Dobson…”
“Just thought you’d like to know. Will I put the kettle on?”
Ignoring this blatant cry out for a reaction and refraining from telling him I’d already read about the famed TV presenter’s ill-health on the internet, I also somehow managed to bite back a nasty retort and replied instead with a simple ‘Not for me, thanks”, in the hope that would conclude my audience with Dad for the time being and allow me to return to my travel-planning. No such luck.
“Where are you off to next?”
Oh, I don’t know, anywhere far away from the Winter in Ireland and constant feeling of guilt when I step foot outside the door because I’m leaving two parents behind who’s world has been limited by their own resignation and refusal to see any potential for enjoyment in their remaining years.
“Erm…not sure yet.”
“I always wanted to see Australia”.
“Well…it’s still there you know. You could still go.”
“Me? Nah. Too far. Who’d feed the dog? You can send me pictures when you get there.”
This I didn’t even dignify with an answer.
“Ok so. See you at dinner.”
And I was alone with my map again. I sighed. Talk about reasons to leave. The Christmas turkey hadn’t even been made into a curry yet and I was already itching to move again. Sunday was always a slow day, but this one in particular seemed to be dragging on like an 18-hour layover in the world’s shittest airport ( Phnom Penh, Cambodia) which contains nothing but a single duty free shop and a café serving crab meat and noodles.
Once Christmas is over it’s like a week of Sundays all rolled into one until New Years’, which is not entirely bad I suppose – if you like that sort of thing. I’ve always found Sundays to be slightly too lengthy, especially when they’re spent hungover. I’m pretty sure this was the case the morning I finally decided to make the initial booking for my Asia trip, a coffee balanced precariously beside the trackpad of the laptop and my bank card trembling accordingly beside it, ready to divulge it’s private parts (or in this case, number sequence) to the anonymity of the world wide web, securing a ticket across the surface of the earth which its’ details traversed back and forth in a matter of seconds, but which would take me an entire 48 hours of travel to match, given humans’ inability yet to engage in satellite – transport. Part of me is intensly excited to see what happens to the tourism industry when and if that ever actually occurs, but for now I’ll just sit back and put my life in the hands of strange pilots who don’t speak my language and sit in large tonne-weight metal tubes which I cannot control for hours on end, thanks.
Some thoughts are better off left un-entertained.
I was still struggling to re-adjust to the static lifestyle, after a homecoming overshadowed by the advent of ‘The Christmas’ period proved to be exactly what I’d needed as an excuse to blend hot-topically back into the colourless backdrop and surroundings of Ireland during wintertime, without too much of a fuss being made over the fact that I’d just traversed a large portion of Asia and Indonesia completely alone and for no reason at all really other than the fact that I’d needed to get away for a while. It sounds like an extreme way to come to terms with oneself and space in the world, but I can’t deny it was effective. Even now the internal pillar of strength and individuality is still standing, newly erected in honour of myself and validity amidst the rubble of personality and lost preferences that have slowly been chipped away at to suit the will and humour of others, submitting to ‘what makes everyone happy’ and ‘whatever goes’ as easily as you would the crashing of a rogue wave in the wild strength of the surf in Indonesia. These waves that swiped the sunglasses from my head and caused several days of squinting and discomfort because I was too stingey and proud to spend 3 dollars on a new pair.
Instead of maybe trying out a surf lesson or two in order to better navigate the waters, delving a path of one’s own out on the cappucino-foamed waves that never actually stop even when you think you’ve time for a breather. I finally realised how I’d been standing on the shorelines of my life for far too long, staring out through protected eyes, so close to and aware of the potential which lay before me, but just afraid to take the steps forwards and put myself out there, as they say.
The coffee maybe had something to do with the recklessness of it all, but at the time it made perfect sense to just leave, and for days after booking the buzz was prolonged in a haze of excited and mischievous delight that I’d finally made a move and done something worthwhile to help myself. This was it. I was finally moving forwards.