By A. M. Roble
Chapter 1: The Departure
Journal Entry 1
Something is happening to me and there’s no one I can tell it to. It’s too astonishing to for it be real. I fear I am unraveling, my grip on reality loosening and I am falling into something is too difficult to explain, too hard to define in words. I have to sort out it before I can tell anyone. But who would I tell? And what happens to if I say it out loud and I find that it is all in my head? Does one always know when she is joining the ranks of the corralled, the institutionalized masses who are stripped off their humanity and locked away from life in asylums?
I am going places that I shouldn’t be able to and I am losing time and I am finding time.
The first time I departed was wonderful. My stomach dropped like, when a roller coaster plunges from a great height. And then, I was elsewhere. I could’ve mistaken it for a dream except right before it happened, I was very awake in the middle of the day, finalizing my outfit to Najma’s all white party by putting on a white wrist watch to go with my floor length white dress and white pumps. It was 5:30 PM on Sunday when I separated. The house was quiet. I could occasionally hear shuffling papers from mom’s office and I could see dad out of the window weeding and planting seedlings in the garden. It was the last year of my master’s program, the last semester and two weeks before graduation. It was also to be the last time I lived at home. I was getting married after graduation. I was on the cusp of so many changes that, if I thought about all of it at once I would break into a nervous sweat.
There was only one thing that was out of the norm the days before the departure. One thing that should have been a warning, a prelude to all the wonder, all the horror. I dreamt every night, which is very normal except, I vividly recalled all the details of my dreams. For some people that too is normal, but the one twist to my dreams, was that what I dreamed at night, I saw when I was awake. At first it was so subtle and when I saw things out of my dreams in my waking hours, I was left scratching my head in slight confusion trying to recall, where I have seen what I am looking at. The dreams, for most part, weren’t deeply meaningful, they weren’t premonition-like, I didn’t feel like I was getting important messages from somewhere in order to do one thing or prevent another. The dreams were Deja-vu-like. I would dream of my parents having normal conversations over breakfast in the morning, my mom sipping tea, my dad serving her eggs and fresh blueberries. I dream of him saying to her “Remember, its Thursday, take your Vitamin-D before you leave” Normal dream, right? Except, I would walk into the kitchen on a Thursday morning with hair damp from the shower, hunting for a cup of coffee and this whole scene that I dreamt before plays out in the kitchen in exactly the same order. The same soft light from our east facing kitchen window. Mom taking one sip of tea right before dad plops a Spanish omelet on her plate and scoops couple of spoonful of blueberries from a white bowl. No difference. Normal benign dream that came true the next day. I don’t say anything to anyone about this because, well, who would believe it? It was not like I was seeing anything of urgency. I wasn’t having any premonitions of the Imam at masjid getting shot. I didn’t get a forewarning of an attempt on the life of the president, of the pope or of a mass calamity that was to befall humanity
I stood there that Sunday over the accessories basket on my vanity putting on the watch when I felt this ASMR-like sensation tickling my brain with mini euphoric explosions trickling over my ear and sweeping my neck. Suddenly the vanity I was gripping dissolved in my hand I found myself temporarily deafened and blinded and left unafraid. I was unable to feel with any of my senses. It was as if I didn’t exist. And then, there I was standing on a beach, on a sunny day and my hearing was the last sense to be restored. The sensation of ocean kissing the beach was so astonishing to my ears that I became covered in goosebumps.
I was there on the beach, smelling the ocean, feeling the breeze, hearing surf and laughter. There were questions on mind. What am I doing here? Then I would get distracted by the white foam of the surf. I was mesmerized and I took off my shoes and walked feeling the warm sand between my toes. I make it to the wet sand, its coolness and the ticklish of water washing over my feet, wetting the long hem of the dress. I felt lucky to be there and sad to have no one with me to share it with. Who would I share this with? Kamil, of course. How will he get here? How did I get here? Not important. I get distracted before I could think of how I got to be at beach. The water shimmers and bounces dancing light off my white dress. Thank Allah, I am wearing white. The wind ruffles my hair against my neck. Where is my hijab? I am outside in public, my hair exposed. Slight worry creeps into me and I reach to cover my hair with my hands. I get distracted again. The water throws geometric lights show on my dress. My eyes follow the patterns as they swirl over me and the knots of worry of being outside and with open hair for the first time in six years ease.
Voices and laughter of children come closer and closer until I see a group of kids coming towards the beach. They are walking, talking and laughing as they approach. They surround me as they pass by towards the surf. They are all in white like I am.
Like I said the first time I departed from the present was wonderful. It was polar opposite to the other times. I think about it sometimes. Maybe it was a gentle introduction to what was to be the nature of my existence from that day forward. If that is the case, it was highly misleading, propaganda, a glossy pamphlet of false advertisement. Because ninety percent of the time, the places I go, the things I witness are far removed from the sun drenched beach of that departure.
I have no explanation for why I go and what my purpose is. I can’t make any real changes. My being there, is part of that place. So I can only affect the things that I was meant affect. And I can only bring back the things that I am not planning to bring back. Also, what I take with me from my life to those other places is remain. Let’s say for example, I am with ten year old Muraayad, a little Bedouin girl I often see in Jilable outside of Galkacyo, ( in the newly independent Somalia) in the late 1960’s and I decide I want to take one of those enamel mugs that she drinks milk from. If it is meant to stay in that period, I can’t take it with me. Normally, whatever I intend to do to cause change, doesn’t happen, unless it is part of that narrative. It is generally out of my control. Even so I have managed to take things with me, random things. I took my toothbrush with me one time, when I departed in the middle of brushing. I came back with bruises, scars, and wounds. I even came with a bullet lodged in my upper thigh and bled all over our white tiled kitchen until dad found me nearly unconscious. My worst fear, is not to die while I am departed, what I am most afraid, is to become dismembered and return having lost limbs.
But on that first day, I returned back to my room with seawater dried on my skin and fragrant tuberose flowers braided into my hair by two little girls on the beach. We played in the surf until close to sunset and the kids and I walked into shady trees where we picked fruit and sat down to eat. I sat with the kids feeling so happy about being there and sad about the prospect of leaving this place with kids in white and ocean and fruit trees. I felt serene and at peace in the evening glow, reddish berry juices staining my previously immaculate and expensive white dress. Those flowers are best things I have returned with from my departures. The worst thing I have returned with is full blown post traumatic psychosis after seeing neighbors hacking neighbors to pieces in the Rwandan genocide. A little part of my soul shattered and has yet to mend from that episode.