By Aalia Jagwani
Image source: Eglin Air Force Base
It was 4:17 and sunlight still filled the room, pouring in through the plants on my windowsill.
It was getting dimmer by then—an unobstructed blaze turning into a softer winter afternoon glow, hindered by shadows that made the light far more conspicuous. I had been reading, but the shadows falling on the pages distracted me. The words in the book became two-dimensional as the world they had created blurred out of focus, replaced by this ordinary one—with an empty room and some pages in my hand, covered in shadows that I can’t see through or look away from. I stared at them for a long time before I finally closed the book.
But I found the same shadows on the walls, only not as dark and not as close.
The stillness in the room overwhelmed me even as I tried to soak it in. It was the same room I spent every day of my life in, but in that particular moment it felt like I was seeing it all for the first time—the wooden birds hanging near my window, the smiling crescent moon surrounding the frame of my round mirror, the empty polaroid frames stuck on my wall. The music box on my desk, the one that plays The Beatles’ song. The Santa Hat I wear every day of December.
To me, the space between these individual objects is the most familiar version of home.
And yet, in that moment, all these small insignificant familiarities seemed strange and significant, and large. It was unsettling how involuntarily and totally I was focusing on the things I usually saw only from the corners of my eyes. Like my brain was taking close-up photos to be looked at later. That is what’s happening, I realised suddenly. I’m looking at it all like it’s going away—like it’s gone already. Like these are memories. I pushed the nearest wooden bird hard to remind myself that it’s real. I watched it fly, and I smiled. There were three empty cages in that corner, surrounded by the three wooden birds hanging freely around them. It was intended to be a metaphor, conceived right after I read Jane Eyre for the first time and fell in love with it.
“I am no bird, and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will.”
It was not quite as clever as I had once imagined, but it was exactly the kind of thing I did very deliberately. I was a fan of poetry for poetry’s sake. And my room was a perfect reflection of myself. I had always looked at it and seen a mystical blue, but just then I saw yellow-brown—Sepia tones, for nostalgia and warmth.
I hugged my sweater close to me, wanting more of that warmth. I thought about the previous day then, knowing exactly what brought on this burst of nostalgia.
(Although ‘burst’ is probably the wrong word, far too severe to describe this delicate, comforting pain. The kind of pain that washes over you and leaves you wanting more.
Nostalgia doesn’t come in bursts,
then; it comes in steady waves).
It had already been getting dark by the time we started taking out the tree, and it was eleven by the time we finished decorating the house. In any other year, the sound of carollers from the neighbouring college would interrupt our work. But not this year—this year the same six Christmas pop songs played uninterrupted, on repeat for four hours. It was a small change, all things considered, but it felt like a loss anyway. We called it our annual Christmas miracle, the fact that the carollers always happened to come on the same day we decided to put up our tree. This year robbed us of that small miracle, but it gave us another, bigger one: the fact that nothing else changed. The sheer consistency and ordinariness of hanging the same, ten-year-old, one-eyed snowman ornament as I did every single year when I decorated the tree with my mother. That was the miracle, and it made me realise more than anything else that there are some things that even a global pandemic can’t touch. December will always, always have red-golden-green days, and that was one of them.
It was precisely the rush of red-golden-green on that previous day that made way for the subdued yellows that still afternoon. Even my sweater was a dullish-red-brown that day, as opposed to the sequined or reindeer-print sweaters I wore the rest of the month. That was winter for me, I realised: wearing warm sweaters and fuzzy Christmas socks, even though Bombay’s 24 Degree weather makes it more inconvenient than anything else. Decorating the Christmas tree with my mother, an attempt to make our house reflect the colours inside of us. Celebrating throughout the month, simply because we like celebrating things. Watching every Hallmark Christmas movie there is, and then watching them again.
My winter is warm. It always has been, and a part of me thought it always would be—somehow, even as I got ready to leave for college in New England, USA, dreaming about a white Christmas and snowflakes that sparkle and a perfect Hallmark happily-ever-after, the cold didn’t register.
As I fell in love with this idea of winter, I forgot that winter is cold in the real world. I forgot that the wonderland my mother created in my home combined Christmas with warmth, and that that was the real magic. I forgot that I was trading in the yellows I loved for a torrent of greys I had never known before.
Until now, I hadn’t realised that going there meant leaving here.
(Does every new beginning have to come from some other beginning’s end?)
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