I’m writing this letter in the back of our last month’s electricity bill –the one I have yet to pay –on the arm seat of a train to Oran, and by the time it reaches you, there will be many borders, many languages, an ocean and a sky separating me from you.
I’ll be a life away from you but right now, I’m still on the M-O12 train, still a few stations away from the place we both called home, holding nothing but my old black leather purse and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous to keep me company. It’s what actually sparked in me the urge to write to you, this book.
Because you’re gone and I’m here still.
Because there’s something strangely liberating about writing a letter you know will never be read.
Here on this train everything is exactly the way you left it.
On a Sunday morning, everyone is heading north for work. The carriages seem to only breathe people in and not out, not yet, not until we reach Oran, the city of all possibilities.
I remember how much you hated trains. That one time –the only time –together to your mother’s house you couldn’t stop your hands from twitching, disgust and discomfort pouring out of your eyes for having to sit still through what you later referred to as “the three hours in hell”. You really hated it, all of it. But I didn't.
The raised voices of strangers on the phone, the incessant crying of kids when they realize they’re trapped with hardly any space to move, the deafening upbeat music everyone insists on listening to these days, the stray unfinished sentences the wind carries at the opening of doors at each stop, the myriad of smells, the odd mixture of fragrances… For me, who spent half of her existence indoors, me who's only view of the world was through a window with a frozen, static scenery on constant display, it was magic. It was beautiful, it was LIFE and I loved it.
And there’s so much more to life than what you showed me A., so much more.
Away from our stifling apartment and the balcony that overlooks that ghosted playground you used to stare at every night, away from our dead street and the neighbors with hushed voices and hollow eyes, away from our city where the only variable thing is the weather, away from you, there are colors and flowers I have never seen and thus can’t name, there are fields and playgrounds that are not empty or deserted, there are people who laugh out loud, people with families and homes they can leave whenever they want, people who smile at a stranger in a train seat by the window…there’s a life I never thought existed.
I know you did though, see this life I mean, because now I remember the way you looked each time you came back from your work trips and I understand. You had that pained look of an animal being dragged back to its cage after having a taste of freedom, except that, you were the one dragging yourself back and that makes it worse. I was trapped in our cage but you weren’t, so why did you comeback every time A?
Still, in the kitchen cooking your favorite meal, in the living room folding your cloths, like a piece of furniture, I would always wait, relieved when I hear the distinct clinking of keys indicating that you’re back. There was no good past our front door, only cold nights and dark cruel alleys -the ones you saved me from when you married me, you'd always repeat until I believed you. Because I had no one else, because I had nowhere else to go I believed you. The way pets surrender to their owners, I was yours and I would wait.
I guess it’s why I came to love the kind of covers this book have, where everything seems forever stuck in a colorless life, waiting.
Because they remind me of you, of us.
The first time I went out of the house without your company was a month after you left, and it was only because I had to. I’ll tell you about the other times in other letters but that one time, I got lost. You never told me that the nearest grocery shop was miles away from us and you never taught me how to drive a car. You never told me that bills don’t pay themselves and that if you don’t do that in time, you wake up one night with no lights to turn on and no water to use; that money is so hard to get and so fast to run out and that there’s only so much the neighbors can help you with.
I dreamt of sandcastles when I was a child and the one you built me in the middle of nowhere was all I knew for so long, but it collapsed the moment you died. And I’d like to think the only reason you left me without a map is because you didn’t think you’d one day leave so suddenly, so soon.
I didn’t know that after ones death; ones family can come claiming for a share in what little he left behind. I didn’t get anything when mine died long ago.
Everything’s gone A, your favorite couch by the window, our black and white TV, the paintings in the hall…all that’s left are the walls, standing so tall, watchful, empty and cold as if they never contained a human soul. Well, there are also the broken promises and sour memories, but those are left for me to take care of as they don’t deal in money, only in feelings, only in pain.
I can tell you about the job I had to take to earn my living and how I worked so hard to prevent our apartment from being a reflection of the ghosted playground through our window’s glass. I can tell you about the nights and days I spent taking care of myself and the one night I thought of ending it all. I can tell you about everything you missed, everything that lead me here but that’s all in the past and only the present deserves this letter and owns it.
I’m here A.
I’m writing to you now from inside a dream, because that’s what it feels like, a dream that I know wouldn’t have come true if you didn’t leave, despite your promises.
Can you guess where I am?
I don’t know where souls go to after they leave a body but I don’t believe they can see the living.
I don’t believe that you can see me now A. Would you believe I’ve come this far if you could?
I took a cab here from the train station.
The cab driver, an old man with laughing eyes, was so nice he felt like home. You never expect to feel home this far away from it.
He told me about the first time he came to this city and how things has changed for him ever since, how welcoming and warm everyone is, how they took him in like one of their own.
“There’s magic in this city,” he said in an old nostalgic voice, “it’s so nice to strangers, so generous.” I believed him.
He told me about a war he lost his father to, and a daughter that loves reading books. He spoke about politics, economy and justice while I stared at the buzzing life outside the window. The warm people with welcoming arms.
The drive was long and I was so lost in thought when I heard it.
The majestic sound of the crashing waves and the squawking of the gulls; a steady rhythmic song telling ancient stories for those who listen closely. I closed my eyes and listened.
We reached our destination after a few endless minutes.
“Les Andalous” the sign read. The Andalusians.
I stepped out of the car and crossed the distance to the beach with shaking legs and a heart I could hear beating inside of me. I was alive. I am alive.
I stood before the glorious vastness of the sea, stretching so far you would think water is everything the world is made of. I was crying, laughing, lost and then found. I was breathing, and for once in my life, I was breathing an air so pure and fresh I could feel it cleansing my rusty lungs.
I don't know how long I stood there before I dared to reach the shore. I felt the solid doused brown sand first then came the waves, gently crawling to my toes and promising more in their slow retreat back to where they’re from, to their greatest form, tempting, calling me to get closer, deeper. So I did.
We’re made of water A, all of us.
There's so much I want to say, so much you won't read but not now. Right now, I feel so peaceful, so empty that staring out into this endless blue, I can almost forgive you.
I wanted for this letter to float its way to you, wherever you are. I wanted to watch the water drench the lines, swallow my words and drown them to the bottom where no one has ever been. But then I built a sandcastle where these waters don't reach and I made of it a home from my letter.
Dear A, I read once that the lover's fatal identity is being the one who waits.
I'm writing you this because out of the two of us, I was the only one waiting, always, just not anymore.
The one you left behind,