You ignore that naïve dream of being a writer. A dancer - that’s not even a foetus of a dream. It would be like choosing to be deformed. You’ve got to make something of yourself. So you enrol in law. Move halfway across the country to experience the independence of university. Become the towering intellect you’re destined to be. That’s what you’re going to tell everyone. In reality you’re following a boy you met on the internet.
You get there and realise he wants a pretty little girl who’ll be his pretty little wife. You start hanging out with his friend’s friend who’s in the army and likes the outdoors. He takes you on a ‘romantic’ camping trip and forces himself on you. That night you dream you have a baby girl who turns into an apple and you eat her.
You move into a flat that’s only $80 a week because the walls are decorated in charcoal tissue paper and the bathroom has a pink neon light that looks like the sort of place where people do heroin. None of your neighbours speak English and your new ex-boyfriend won’t stop bashing on the door.
You dress like a hippy bum but secretly you are getting high distinctions. You start a letter writing group for political prisoners. Another law student carries your books. There are no butterflies but being with him is like standing on a mountain and looking out. His well-to-do family thinks you’re a phase. Your sacrifice is worth it. You let him have you.
He pushes you to go backpacking solo like he did. You’ve never thought about it but you keep going. You can’t stop.
You start in Peru, hopping between islands of white people. The only memory from home is a mix tape from your boyfriend that you listen to on balmy nights from your acomodación para una. With time, you explore the cobble paths that lead to hut homes and two table restaurants serving guinea pig broth. You ride in buses that cling to mountain tops and trek though highlands laced with grenades and one-limbed men. You accept a massage from a Guatemalan masseur with a round belly and hairy back. He pummels you, releases you like handfuls of ash.
Whole seasons pass. You don’t plan ahead. You continue to shed. You give away your mixed tape and forget to ring your boyfriend. You arrive in Istanbul, and become engulfed by the ecstasy of eating. A Kurdish man looks at you like you are rosewater rice pudding. He mouths you with unspent passion and time perishes while you kiss in cafes, on mountain tops, amongst Roman ruins. He says ‘your cheeks are like apples’ and confides in you about the time he fell in love with a Belgian woman. They planned to marry but one day she went home for a holiday and never came back.
For the first time you feel the charge of your blood. One night, you stamp a Buleria on a rooftop, your torso undulating like flumes of smoke. Your hands swirl and pour with the power of mountains.
Your Kurdish lover sends you to the underground city of Cappadocia where you see valleys of phalluses and pink rock, famous for their fertility inducing powers. Your Cappadocia tour guide offers to take you on a private tour the next day and shows you his secret marijuana plantation and other sites of historical importance. You sit on a shrubby hill and he lays his head in your lap because he would like to do more but all his powers are gone. He takes you to his home carved out of a rocky mountain. His candlelit room contains an old mattress and books. You lie there with him talking about your families, studies – and in hushed voices, your views on ruling political parties. Your conversation devours the night, until you are both mesmerised by your fingers that dance like clouds.
You return to Istanbul and walk through the night markets with your Kurdish lover by the Golden Horn, eating mussels from steaming barrels. He declares his feelings for you and the world’s proportions start to skew under the pressure of this romance, this insurrection.
Not long after, you are on a plane to Vietnam, planning what you will say to your boyfriend. You see his grin busting through a fist of flowers. He bounces everywhere. Your insides turn to lead.
You arrive at a serviced apartment. ‘This is it!’ he says. He gives you a collection of music you used to like, all pirated copies from downtown. He gushes about your life together. What you will eat. Where you will shop. He doesn’t stop. He doesn’t notice how spacious you are now inside, how every cell of your body has changed. He keeps talking and talking until you interrupt him with about five words that slice open his heart.
For your final days in Hanoi, you sleep together. Make hate together.
You return to the only place that will have you – your mother’s nest.
She drives you everywhere and you sit in the passenger seat and say nothing.
Your friends are busy climbing ladders. The evening news is about nothing.
Your mother’s neighbours drop in to look at you. It doesn’t matter who is there. You are trudging in grassy, glorious mud, guided only by laughing, pointing children, and the sun in your hair.
At night, you open your hands and they stare back at you as if cradling some incorrigible truth. It will be years before you understand.
Somewhere, in another universe, they are dancing.
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