The Long Way Home

“I’d like to think it’s because I’m still exploring my city first. The little worlds, I call them. The ones tucked into corners of little streets, the ones hiding behind large bustling roads, the ones that are so fleeting- there one moment, and gone the next.” Illustration credits: Lizzy Stewart

Sana Gavarikar’s submission won the Schools category prize at the Prof. Barbra Naidu Memorial Contest for the Personal Essay 2017. The topic was Walking, Like Deciphering. Sana is a Std. XI student at Mallya Aditi International School.
I cannot say I have seen the world. I’ve barely been to more than four cities in all sixteen years of my existence. I’d like to think it’s because I’m still exploring my city first. The little worlds, I call them. The ones tucked into corners of little streets, the ones hiding behind large bustling roads, the ones that are so fleeting- there one moment, and gone the next. That is the answer I give to people when they ask me why I take the thirty minute long walk home instead of just calling a cab. Of course, the scientist in me wants to talk about endorphins, and oxytocin, and all the hormones released when you exercise that give you the feeling of happiness. But oh, the believer in me knows it is something so much deeper than that.

I want to tell them of how the sounds of heels clacking against the grey cobbled stones is so oddly calming. Like a sort of lullaby for the wanderers. It seems that everywhere I go this sound follows. In every little alleyway. I want to tell them about how I can hear the little snippets of conversation here, and see little bursts of colour there. And how it feels like the stars are smiling down upon me as I weave through the streets with breathless excitement. I want to tell them about how the ground beneath my feet has not only borne the weight of my body for so long, but also the weight of my sadness when I was unable to carry it myself. For a girl like me, this was my world. These little streets have watch me grow up, from six to sixteen.

I have slow danced under these flickering street lights. I have skinned my knees praying on this road like it was an altar and prayed for it all the pain to come to an end. I have walked over this street a countless number of times, and still I am not even remotely close to deciphering it’s magic. To decoding the mystery that is this road. Like a critic runs over a line in a poem a million times before understanding it’s meaning, I too will continue to run over this road until I realise it’s significance.

It’s funny because the other day I read that the world is constantly changing, and that the universe is still expanding. I read that we shed our skin every twenty seven days and I didn’t even know what to do with that information. But then when I did manage to wrap my head around the sheer vastness of this world I thought, maybe I love walking on these roads for a reason. Maybe I like the feeling of something constant, something concrete, something that makes the idea of this infinite universe a little less terrifying. In a world where I watch the city change in front of my eyes everyday, one where I can not even control the cells of my body, one where I blink and so much has changed, I guess I need something familiar.

So when life gets so fast my head spins, I stop walking. When everything blurs together, I like to pretend that the world has stopped. It’s childish I know, but it somehow manages to help me calm down and remember everything. I just stand there on the corner of the street and look around. I know how horribly creepy that must sound, but let me just tell you, it’s quite effective. I do feel like a changed person after these five minutes in my little bubble. At the risk of sounding to cliché, I really do believe I discover myself in those moments. I discover the meaning of the small things. I find order, chaos, and sometimes a combination of the two. All I know is that it’s always beautiful.

And it’s not always where you’d expect it, oh no. My mother told me that humans are odd creatures. That we are at our most beautiful when we think no one is looking. I didn’t realise what she meant until I saw it myself. I saw it in the girl with messy hair and papers falling out of her bag running behind a bus like it was brilliance she’s chasing. I see it in the man helping his little boy other cross streets. He looked on both sides, even on a one way street before he crossed. Some might call that pointless or overly cautiously, but I think that it’s love; in it’s purest, most raw form.

I see it in people clustering together to cross the road. I see it that one little green leaf peaking out from under all the black tar, almost as if it’s saying, “hey, the world will try to drown you out. It will rain and it will pour and there will be people who will step over you without looking back even once, but you’ve got to keep your head up.”

I see all this and think to myself, I hope this is what will remain of us years after everyone on this planet has died and the last person has taken their last breath. The memory that we were here, and we had good in us. Even through all the ugly wars and horrific things, I want this to be remembered. The little things. The things that prove that we were still good, or at least that we tried. The things that made us human.

And what about the memories? Oh, I have some of the most beautiful memories here. Even if they’re sad they’re still beautiful, you know?

Like when I was walking home and got the call, when my mother called to tell me he had passed away. To this day I can never really put into words what I felt at that point. An awful wave of sadness, anger and pain washed over me. It felt like I was drowning. My legs gave out from underneath me and I fell to the ground. But that road, oh, it caught me. It saved me from drowning. These roads have saved me by teaching me how to save myself.

The walks, they teach me things. This one time, my friends and I were walking down a road we swore we had been through a thousand times, but we somehow ended up getting lost. It was getting dark and one of my particularly religious friends, cried out for some divine intervention. As an agnostic, I was far too skeptical to ask anyone for anything other than directions to the place we were supposed to be at.

So we walked around for a bit and we had almost given up hope when we walked past a huge neon cross and a sign that read, “for the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”. We had almost given up when we saw a man heading towards us and asked him for directions, he then said that he knew the place and even walked us there. When we asked for his name to thank him he said that his name was Narayan, which literally translates to ‘son of man’ in Sanskrit. To this day, my friend is still convinced it was a higher power and no one can tell her otherwise.

And what about that other time, when we played hopscotch on the road at midnight and sang along to the sound of crickets chirping. Or the other time, when every one came out of their houses that Diwali because the lights went out, and how we watched the sky come alive together. And that other time where my friends and I grabbed a map and just ran through the city like little comets. And that stupid tradition of running down the driveway on our birthdays screaming ‘happy birthday’ at the top of our lungs to no one in particular, while my neighbours cursed us from above.

And what about the time when I fell in love? We sat in the middle of the road in our pajamas and laced our fingers together like ribbon in a little girl’s hair. We handed our glass hearts to each other and hoped we wouldn’t be reckless. I imagine if people had auras, at that instant, mine would’ve been candy apple red. That night there was thunder and lightning, but the air around us was still warm. I remember it like this, this moment. Not the strange and bitter aftermath.

So I beg everyone that before cracking open those fancy travel brochures, pretend you’re a tourist for a day and explore the places closest to you first. Throw your passport into the sea, or not. Definitely don’t do that actually, that’s just over dramatic. What I mean to say is, let the asphalt absorb your sins and try to play tag with the sun. What I mean to say is, run your fingers over the branches and flowers that burst through the sides of the roads in springtime. What I mean to say is, in time the footsteps we leave behind will be erased but it is comforting to think that even if it was just for a brief period of time, we made our mark on the world.

The roads have it all, the rush. The blurs of people. The dust. But it is all just a part of something much bigger. And isn’t that what art is? A bunch of giant seemingly reckless and random brush strokes on the canvas, but when you step back and look at it, you see it as what it really is, a masterpiece. Isn’t it funny? They say the roads lead you home. But what if the road is your home?

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Sana Gavarikar

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