A Tree, Somewhere

In Creation Camp by Milca Bantembela

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
-Alphonse Karr

* * *

Somewhere is where dreamers are destined to end up, no matter how hard they try, once everything crumbles around them and they lose every single bit of hope they had left. Those dreamers are like Shawn Hastings from my grade nine math class, they’re like Emerson Irving, the old actress, they’re like me or at least like I once was, always let down and somehow overly optimistic, until they wake up one day and face a reality they ignored for too long.

A long time ago, I didn’t live in Somewhere. I didn’t spend most of my days looking at my life through a mirror, like a helpless passenger on a sinking boat. I used to be one, whole, physically and spiritually. I missed that, I wanted that back, but the space I left behind had been filled.

A long time ago, I wasn’t an English teacher struggling to finish writing the same script I’d been working on for years. I used to have big hopes and dreams that I would do anything to achieve. I missed seeing that liberty in how I spoke, thought and wrote, but the new life I had ensured I had very little time for those small moments.

A long time ago, I didn’t live in Somewhere, I lived in a steal of an apartment in Kittridge, my favourite out of all of Stirling’s boroughs. I remember tearing up when I moved out to move in with Kamal in our bigger one in Kafflin that has a balcony that overlooks Stirling’s stunning skyline. It was one of the small things that brought back the old me.

“Are we still going to Belwood?” Kamal asked again just like he did every year.

“Yeah, it’s been five years so my parents are having some type of wake.”— I stretched, got out of bed and headed to the balcony knowing he would follow. I looked up at the gray cloudy sky and knew it was going to rain later— “A bunch of people are supposed to be there, some of his close friends, a few of his old teammates, extended family.” I paused trying to get a feel for what he was thinking. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, you don’t have to come if you aren’t ready for that.”

“I’m not not gonna go visit your brother’s grave with you because I’m scared of a few introductions, I’ll deal.”

“Good, because I already told my mom and she probably told my grandma, who definitely told aunt Selina who told uncle Quincy”— Kamal pressed a short soft kiss on my lips to tell me to calm down— “and so on.”

“Don’t you have to get ready for work?”

“Don’t remind me,” I groaned and went back to our room, “I’m already so tired of Frankenstein and Slaughterhouse-Five, and the teacher’s lounge reeks of coffee.”

“At least you have your own classroom this year.” Kamal was like how I used to be, how I want to be. He was all pros and I was all cons.

“Kamal Farid, you really are too good for me,” I declared before going to shower. “Have a good day at the studio!” It was an insignificant afterthought since Kamal always had a reason to have a good day at work. His logic being that doing what he loves, no matter how hard, is a good day.

“By the way, Adrian and Idriya are coming for a brainstorming session tonight instead.”

“Okay, I wanted takeout anyway.” I heard the front door close after Kamal murmured a few words in agreement.

* * *

As soon as I got out of the train, I saw a few drenched people waiting. I hastily got my umbrella out of my bag as I walked up the stairs thanking whichever god plotted for me to get a job at the Irving Fine Arts & Technical Education Institute. Its proximity to my stop was one of the only things I was grateful for at that moment.

I walked into the modern building, it stood out next to the typical Gregorian ones that filled Lower Siegfried’s streets. Students rushed past me to get to their next classes and to return the equipment they borrowed before they would start getting a myriad of warnings from Mrs. Kanevsky. A few stopped and said hello to me, mostly my students that I wouldn’t be teaching anymore. It still felt weird to be addressed as Miss Graham; I tried the whole first name thing too, but most of them ended up calling me that out of habit so it was useless.

“Jasmine!” I turned around to see who was calling after me, rolling my eyes when I saw who it was. It was the one and only Fiona Kanevsky. I stopped walking since the traffic slowed down. “First, are you still going to do that short film project?” We began walking together once she reached me.

“Yeah, but after last year it’ll be in bigger groups.”

“Great, way easier,” she sighed. “Second, how’d it go with Kamal?”

“Good, he’s still coming so yeah.” I looked at her and smiled as I pushed my door open. “It’s a huge step, I know we’ve been dating for a while now but my family isn’t that big on big family events, you know?”

“You’ve already met his, right?”

“Uh huh, he brings me to every mehmooni, hellish but fun.” I shrugged and began unpacking my stuff.

Fiona nodded. “Do you think he’s gonna…” She began flashing her silver wedding ring, the pearl standing out subtly, much like Fiona.

“Oh no.”Admittedly, I sounded way more disgusted by the idea than I meant to, especially since I didn’t mean to at all. “We’ve already decided that we’d do that next year, together.”

“Bo-ring” —she looked at the time on her watch— “gotta go, class starts in, shit, I’m gonna be late. I hate stupid new delayed timetables,” she mumbled her last sentence while smiling brightly at the few students that had entered before looking back at me and leaving.

* * *

The amount of rain was maddening. Though, it was good to see that the loss of my sanity in exchange for two greasy pizzas was appreciated by the others. I had witnessed their brainstorming process before at a party. It was completely unintentional, making it impressive. Now, seeing them do it on purpose just gave off this weird robotic feel.

Adrian took a bite of his third slice not waiting to finish it before speaking, “We should do like a duology type thing, like soft and harsh.”

“We did that with Venus, but,” Idriya remarked knowing that one of them would finish her sentence.

Kamal continued, “Maybe if we put it in the middle…”

“It would be a bridge between love and hate,” Adrian finished.

They all looked at each other and Idriya wrote it down before they had the chance to forget it. As I said before, weirdly robotic.

As soon as I finished eating, I retreated to my bedroom before they could completely freak me out. I yearned to sit on the balcony, but the rain wasn’t stopping anytime soon, so I packed instead. I flopped down on my bed once I was done and braced myself for the day to come.

* * *

I’ve never been one to think “It’s what they would’ve wanted” on days of mourning. I was even against this get-together at the beginning, but hearing the slight sorrow that always lingered in my parents’ voices these past years was enough for me to push my opinion aside.

I prefer to spend today silently. This was something Kamal learned quickly, he didn’t try to converse with me, instead, he sat by my side while I occupied myself making sure I knew he’s there for me. We stayed quiet for four hours, I attempted to write and he read.

My parents came to pick us up at the station and the difference between us was severely clear. They insisted that I speak. It didn’t matter if it was about the weather or Martin Bergström’s new movie.

“We haven’t had the chance to see it ourselves yet,” Kamal answered for me. “Though we have only heard good things about it, what did you think of it?”

I could feel them looking at me trying to find a way to include me in the conversation, my mother sighed and my father turned his head back to the road. “It was good,” my father answered.

I excused myself once we reached the house and went to my room under the guise of being tired. I sat at my old desk and swirled around a bit in the chair before I looked at the few books left in my old tattered bookcase, picked a few and began reading.

I read from twelve to four switching between books. I didn’t stop until someone knocked on my door. “May I come in?” I hadn’t expected it to be my father, I wouldn’t have expected my mother either.

“What for?”

“To talk.”

“I’m not really in the mood to do so.”

He let out a long breath. “Come downstairs, at least.” I remained silent and he seemed to have understood that I wasn’t going to come out. “I know how you feel, your mother too.”

The sorrow that flowed in his voice got to me. “Wait, dad, I’m coming.”

“I’ll be in the backyard,” I could hear the slight smile in his voice.

I changed out of my sweatpants and sweatshirt, and into a dress after putting on some tights. I looked at myself in my mirror and took a deep breath. I prepared myself for the arrival of my extended family members. “Inhale, exhale,” I reminded myself. I made to leave before going back in and grabbing my sweatshirt.

I looked at the pictures that lined the walls, a visual timeline of our life as a family.

The more I walked down the stairs and into the hallway, the more time passed, the more Devin and I became present.

I remembered the dreams we naively shared.

One, to be able to touch a star.

Devin and me on the old tire swing, Devin and me with our old dog, Lucky, Devin and me at our high school graduation.

Two, to read 100 000 000 books.

All of us in Ireland with aunt Selina, Devin and I during a walk, my parents and me two years ago.

Three, to live in a tree.

“Inhale, exhale,” I reminded myself again audibly this time.

* * *

4 years ago…
It was a nice day, a bit cloudy, but I didn’t mind. I walked around hanging missing dog posters and searching for Clover. My mom was right, it was stupid to get a rescue two weeks after moving, but Clover was perfect. He was exactly like Lucky, he wasn’t as well behaved, but with a bit of training he could be the perfect dog, sadly Devin got all the dog whisperer genes.

“Maybe I should try cats?”

I looked for him until I had to go to work. I hopped on the purple one, or the third line, I think. I got out and walked all the way to Ben’s Books & Café’s small structure. It only took around thirty-five minutes to get from Kittridge to Kafflin and there wasn’t much of a difference between both boroughs. They were both filled with light-coloured buildings, they both housed a big artistic population, and they both once housed the great Emerson Irving actress extraordinaire.

I worked at the cash registers alongside Gina. She was a Stirling native and an engineering major at Pendleton University. She was friends with Felix, he always worked the floor. Devin would’ve told me off for people-watching and eavesdropping.

“Maybe I should talk to her?” She checked out a customer and turned to me. “Say something,” I thought.

“Where’d you get your hair done?” She beat me to it.

I stroked my braids, “I, uh… I did them myself.”

Her eyes widened, “Really? They look so killer!”

We —mostly her— talked in between customers. Mainly about hair but we would occasionally venture into other topics like Skylights’ newest song which brought her to talk about going out with Felix and some of her other friends later tonight.

“You should come, it’ll be super fun.”

I frowned slightly at the invitation. “I can’t tonight, maybe next time?”

“No worries, I’ll manage to have fun without you around,” she joked. “But, if your plans fall through,” —she took a piece of paper and wrote on it— “give me a call.” I eyed the number and what I assumed to be the name of the bar they would be at. “I’m going on break, see you later.”

I slid it in my pocket, making a mental note to put it in my bag later.

* * *

As soon as I was done with work, I hurried to take the train back home. My outfit wasn’t bad and this wasn’t a big deal, but I hadn’t seen Shawn in a few years and the last I saw him I was wearing a raggedy shirt and old sweatpants, granted it was at a corner store and I was sick.

I changed out of my thick jeans and t-shirt and I put on an old flower printed dress. I eyed myself in the mirror and grabbed my thick zip-up jacket before practically sprinting to the train once again.

This time I was headed to Lower Siegfried, I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings but the sound of construction caught it. It was jarring to see the white and lavender modern structure surrounded by traditional ones. I wondered what stood in its place before and what it was going to be now.

Once I finally found the restaurant —which was accurately called Bliss Bistro— I looked at my watch realizing I was seven minutes late. Hopefully, he hadn’t left because he thought I was standing him up. The hostess showed me to the table, the empty table.

“He is still in school, maybe he was studying and is heading here now.”

Thirteen minutes passed.

“Maybe the train is down.”

Twenty-two minutes passed. I texted him, no answer.

Thirty, then thirty-four, and thirty-nine.

“Miss, would you like to order?”

I looked up from my phone— still no answer —I guess I’m the one getting stood up. “Very funny Universe,” I thought.

I ate feeling more alone than ever surrounded by friends, couples, and families. “Even my dog ran away.” My dad was right, I should’ve just stayed at home like I planned to. But no, I just had to run after a stupid dream. I stalked back to the train digging through my bag for my card when I grabbed a piece of paper with “Gina” written on it.

“Maybe I could have friends after all.”

I looked up the bar they were going to, luckily it was in Kittridge and I just had to get down at the stop after mine. I wasn’t quite dressed for it, but who cares. I texted Gina to tell her I was coming and she responded with multiple smiley faces.

I walked around Kittridge’s streets waiting to see the bright red neon letters when I heard whimpers. The devil on my left shoulder told me to ignore and keep on walking; the angel on my right urged me to help whoever or whatever was whimpering. The angel won, it always did.

“Hello?” I walked down the dark alley, fumbling until I opened my phone’s flashlight and finally saw the victim. “Buddy, oh no, you’re hurt huh.” I crouched down and attempted to calm it. I ordered a car and texted Gina that I was bailing— a common decency Shawn didn’t have time for. “Let’s see if we can get you some help.” I searched for a collar and squinted as I read it. “Clo- Clover, no, no.” Tears filled my eyes and I let them fall, I smiled through them as I talked to him, “Let’s get you to a vet.” I wrapped my hoodie around his small body and picked him up. I tried to ignore the blood seeping through it since the car was coming soon.

“He’s a fighter, maybe he’ll live.”

By eleven, Clover was dead, and I was alone, completely and utterly alone.

* * *

I wept all night into the day. I only stopped around six to sleep, woke up at nine and started packing. I took the train with bloodshot eyes. I didn’t call my old friends, nor did I call my parents to pick me up or to warn them that I was coming.

I took a taxi all the way to Juniper park, I walked to his grave and laid some flowers down alongside the others before sitting down. I cried again, and again, and again. I was tired of maybes, of being happy, of hoping. I was tired of being me.

So I left, and now I live in A Tree, Somewhere.