Waves and Paths
Edited by Andrei Andronic
Summer is nothing but a day
In loving memory, I dally
On this day, a year ago
On this day, know that I reached for
The night sky, and shadows in hidden alleys.
I forgo the mundane, so that sweet summer
Comes for us again. Still it’s winter, submerged
in the past, thin thread between life and death.
Summer of Healing (17th of June, 2018)
That late night on Dante’s field, I almost accepted the existence of a divine force. The sun was slowly being swallowed by the distant green fields of Rugeley. Golden yellow dispersing into the emerald green, my eyes watered up, I watched every minute of it, for extraordinary things rarely happened in a town coddled in their routines. There was not much to do here, in the village of Abbots Bromley, but to lay on the neatly cut grass, and watch the sun set. Caught up in revision for A level exams, I forgot about today. My mind, boggled with Tudor facts and French Revolution timelines, entirely forgot - his birthday. It would have been his sixty-first. As the sky slowly turned plum blue, I shook my head in surprise. No more the well-known dance of- “ I want nothing for my birthday”, followed with a child-like curiosity, “So what am I getting for my birthday?” My heart sank a bit. Just a year ago, he was here. For every year to come, he won’t be here again. What is a year, but a split second of eternity.
That night, on his birthday, was the first time I made peace with grief. It usually came unexpectedly, a violent wave crashing my sense of being pulled-together. Maybe the warm wind calmed me, or maybe it was a distant song of a nightingale, but I now smiled at the thought of my father. Suddenly, my very own converse fell into my lap. “ Get up, get up,” my friend sang, gently jumping around my back, “ Love Island is on in a minute, and if everyone is already in the common room, we will get stuck with the shitty seats.” We raced down the road back to the boarding house, breathless, ecstatic. Joy can easily creep in, as quietly and unexpectedly as saddness can. We got the shitty seats in the end. “ Dani should ditch Jack”, the girls discussed, eyes glued to the TV. I looked over each of them, wrapped up in their dressing gowns and pjs, and I shook my head in disbelief. Being an only child, I never expected to feel a great sense of comfort and safety from fifteen girls, fifteen strangers. The quiet, swift acts of care - a cup of tea and some buttered toast that awaited me, a tight hug, the early morning jokes and teasing - mended me. I am forever grateful for our little gang of five. An unusual bunch, they were my first true friends. “ Shall we go to the boys’ tomorrow for the World Cup?'' one of them asked, slowly lifting her head from the Vogue in front of her. I scrolled through my phone, zooming onto the Glastonbury line-up. “Can we catch a train to someplace instead?” I asked. In those last two weeks, everyone was itching to leave the village. Yet I wondered if it would still be okay when we leave, when they are gone. The night was filled with questions and proposals, mostly met with indifferent grunts; “oh yeah”, “will see.”
The night only fell around eleven o’clock in the English summer. My room was too hot again, so I stuck my arms out of the window, hoping to cool off. The walls were so thin, when I was humming George Ezra’s Shotgun, my next door neighbour joined in. We did not sleep much those days. I felt bad, considering how many nights the little bandits that were my friends barged in, and cheerfully took ownership of my study chair, desk, and the remaining free parts of the bed. I paid a ransom in Montenegrin snacks. The chatting probably sounded like a song- loud, various harmonies of voices entangled, until it finally wavered. Until the morning sun finally came. I adored the five o’clock sun, as it demanded that the empty, sleepy village arise. Another day comes.
Summer of Selfhood - 17th of June, 2020
The tower clock in the Square of Arms chimed three times – end of the working day. My newly acquired desk was no longer visible – documents awaiting signature, post-it notes with CALL THEM written in red around unfamiliar numbers, and a sad coffee that went cold a few hours ago. One more email draft, and maybe another coffee.The tower clock chimed four times, but neither me or my colleague were moving. I scratched my head, wondering how to pull off another year of the Festival activities, without half of the team. Some were trying to find a way to cross into Montenegro despite travel restrictions, some were quarantining. So many new words entered our protocols, our vocabulary : social distance, lockdown, tiers of restriction, R-rates, etc. Montenegro was the first country in Europe to allegedly have zero cases again, and we eased back into a sense of normalcy. It felt like any other summer. I became accustomed to being back in the stuffy office at the last floor of the Cultural Centre. Being back in familiar spaces brings back the same attitudes. Attitude of ease, of carefreeness. The first half of the year now felt like a thing of nightmares, a dreadful dream before you awake. Yet, the change was visible, and undeniable.
The old town, usually swamped by slow-moving tourists, a town filled with clamour and incandescent shouting, regressed to the town of my childhood. Kotor felt calmer, and more spacious. Most souvenir shops closed up their doors. Not a single cruiser came in since March. There was a certain heaviness in the air, like the air before a summer shower. Turns out it was the mix of unhappiness for lost business, and a fear of threatened survival. The world was heavy in June. I sat on the floor of my flat, and I could not look away from the media montage of Black Lives Matter protests that were occuring in the U.S., and soon followed in the UK. I still can visualise the fire breaking, people crying and screaming in the face of rubber bullets, and hozing. I still see George Floyd clearly. I hear Billy Holliday’s Strange Fruit. My two firmly clasped fists felt tiny, my whole body felt tiny those days. How can so much loss be perpetuated, over and over again? I pulled away, and found my way back to reading. Shuggie Bain. Girl, woman, other. Lots of Audre Lorde. After James Baldwin, my fists finally loosened. My hands found a new purpose, and I ferociously started to type.
The rules and restrictions applied everywhere, but on the beach. The drive to the open sea now only took fifteen minutes, and I reveled in the sheer space available. The cheerful screams of children became rare, and occasional laughter broke the symphony of parched crickets from the nearby woodlands. I spent hours in the water, my entire skin swirled up like a prune; there was nowhere to run towards, and I could not focus on what lay ahead. There was only today. After years of working towards next week, next month, next year, I let it all go. I moved my arms to the rhythm of the waves, my submerged body belonging entirely to the untelling depths of the deep blue. The sea washed away my expectations, and for the first time in my life, I was grateful to simply be here, alive and well. The roots of my hair tingled from the salty water, and my nostrils gently burned from too much diving. My body still could feel things. Gratefulness usually comes from a look into your own fragility, and vulnerability. I was left to my own devices - who am I now, when I am not expected to be a daughter, a History undergrad, a friend? Covid brought sadness into the world, hardship, and loss we will spend years grasping. But it brought me closer to myself. I could finally identify my likes and dislikes, my wants, and needs. In the deep blue of the Adriatic sea, I became patient with myself again.
The summer wind made my salty skin crawl as I reached the shore. Friends that I knew since I was a toddler were gathered around the table, playing UNO and brishkule, almost mechanically and without a thought. A sequence of moves, so well-rehearsed, that transcended time. It could have been any other summer. All that matters is we paused. We drank our aperol and munched on pistachios. “ Remember that time when we jumped from that rock over there, and you got that deep cut in your foot?” one of them pointed to an island-like rock nearby. We laughed, and I blushed for the clumsiness of my past self. Summer was for reminiscence. Another round of UNO, and another round of aperol. Someone miraculously saved our rumbling stomachs with Pronto’s cheesy pizza. The salt of my lips mixing with the melted cheese tasted like childhood. We sat by the beach until the sun began to set behind the marble mountains. My friends pulled out their phones, but capturing sunsets is always a futile effort. Pink clouds sunk into the dark blue of the sea, kindly reminding us nothing can ever be completely preserved. Life is not a neatly categorised herbarium. We are simply lucky to witness a couple of mundane occurrences, which we can’t pluck out.
Summer of Anticipation, 17th of June, 2021
There is seldom a worse feeling than the imminence of saying good-bye. I spent the last week meeting up individually with my friends, spending some final moments together roaming around London. The flat white in front of me untouched, I looked over to the overhead at Camden Road, white and blue sign I got to associate with home. I love the junction, since it is always swarmed with commuters, lost tourists, and Camden locals. This was going to be my third coffee, and I hoped for a caffeine shock to invigorate my sleep-deprived head. Last night's images flashed in front of me - the sea of heads bopping to Dua Lipa under the flickering lights; the applause that followed our exit, as the bouncer yelled “They just graduated!!”. I closed my eyes to see the baby blue sky and the lazy sun emerging across the Thames this morning, as we journeyed home. Before we reached Waterloo station, we stood at the bridge for a while, unable to move from tiredness, and the beauty that the peach sunrise imbued. “What’s that English phrase for sunsets and sunrises?” I blinked lazily. "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning" chimed in a friend of mine. A strange sensation, to see a day come to close, and another one emerge; the night is a brief interlude, to responsibilities and routines that impatiently await for me.
The sight of my friends’ newly bleached hair interrupted my thoughts, and I waved at her frantically. As she crossed the street, I hoped a mental picture would suffice for the future, when I miss her wise words and calming presence. We planned to do our usual walking tour- around Kentish Town Road, down to the canal, back around Camden Market, and off to home. As soon as she sat down, already scouring for her phone and card, which she had a rather extraordinary talent of losing, the sky turned dark grey. “ I don’t have an umbrella, do you?”, I wondered. “ Anja, come on, I don’t own an umbrella.” The rain caught off guard so many like us, the summer shower so unusual to London’s timid rain that barely gets acknowledged. I was amused by the unexpected smiles on strangers’ faces, similar to the delirious joys kids have when the first snow falls. The summer shower made it easier to breathe, and to talk.
In those three years, my London friends became like family to me. The pit in my stomach grew more painful with knowledge that the countless dinners we hosted, our library sessions, walks through Islington and Camden, slowly came to an end. I found it ominous that I had to say goodbye on the same exact day, like the one three years ago. Again, I had the itch to leave. It was time to shed skin again, to grow anew. I hate anticipation, that sense of floating in-between before a change finally comes. A sensation similar to the moment before the roller-coaster finally storms down the rails. “ When is your train again?” I asked, since I knew there was a high-chance she could be late for it. “ Oh it’s in three hours, we got time”. she says cheerfully. We did not talk about plans to see each other, as if that can somehow jinx both of our moves away from London. We did not talk about the future, for that would require a sense of certainty and self- assurance in our choices. We also avoided talking about all that we’ve done in the last three years, for she would certainly make sure to miss the train. So we talked about the weather, and the joyful strangers caught in the unexpected summer rain. The present had to be embraced, before the future swallows me whole.
Between the beginning and the end, there was a summer
Saying summer of 2022 does not exactly roll off the tongue. It indicates that a lot of summers have gone by, some more memorable, or more life-altering than others. For what they are worth, summers are usually what people so patiently await. There is a sense of urgency to make a summer count more than any other season, whether it's a planned holiday, a brand new internship, a new language learned, or potential romance. I pieced together stories and thoughts from three summers, maybe entirely unique to me- but I hope that you, dear reader, have found pieces of your past and current self in them, too. A summer is a break from the ordinary, when sunsets and sunrises are a bit more saturated. Summer can be an endless night, since we all need to pretend for a bit that life is something else than what we were dealt with- and nights bring their own set of rules. Summer is nothing but a day, simultaneously familiar and unpredictable, like the wave that hits the shore, that washes your cold feet, again and again.