(Comes from Dusk)
“I did visit it some months ago. I hadn’t been there for years. It’s not the nostalgia that makes me sad,” she replied, looking past him, “but the confusing feelings I had when I was there.”
Alberto leaned forward. As a journalist, and a friend of Mariana’s, he was very interested to hear this aspect of her story. ”Tell me about it”. Both hands brought his mug of coffee to his face, where he absorbed its aroma. He settled into his chair and gazed at her.
Mariana inhaled, paused, and began. “I arrived, and immediately upon leaving the plane, I could smell the scent of my country, my city, again as if for the first time. Of course, pollution was the dominant tone in the mixture, but that was certainly not its essence. You know how evocative the sense of smell can be. I had dreamed of that immediacy. As I walked to the carousels, I enjoyed listening to mundane Spanish phrases coming through the public address system. I studied those faces around me, whose ancient features were embedded permanently in my memory. “I am here. I am home”, I told myself. “I am at home”. Like a line from a child’s song, it just kept repeating continuously in my mind. For the first time in seven years I felt neither separated nor different. But, I was mistaken.
Mariana bit her upper lip, all the time gazing over Alberto’s shoulder. She shifted in her chair, and for moment, Alberto thought she might start to cry. But her features regained their composure.
“I was breathing deeply as I walked toward the exit door. I wanted to prepare myself for the emotions I guessed might be coming. I knew that the transition could be difficult. Actually, I was afraid that the coming string of sensations would overwhelm me, and my heart might explode. Even so, I kept walking, and across the foyer, I saw my cousin Alba waiting for me. I thought that she would rush over to greet me with tears in her eyes, but our encounter was more difficult than I expected. So much time had passed without talking. Our greetings were genuine, but we no longer had much common experience we could just rattle off. We got in her car, and took the old streets to the neighbourhood I had not seen for so long - Alba’s home turf as well. She invited me immediately to wander with her through the area and get my bearings.
We walked along the streets and went deeper and deeper into the territory of my past. We were out only twenty minutes, when I was gripped with a fainting feeling.”
“My God!” Mariana took a sip of her tea and stared into the cup. Alberto remained silent, added more sugar to his cold coffee, and began a meditative stirring of the liquid.
“I was exactly where I was before I left, as if I had never departed. But when I looked around the environment of my youth, I didn’t recognize anything. I reached out to the fence beside me, but I held my tongue. Alba wouldn’t have understood me, anyway. I wanted to cry although I thought my years of absence had made me stronger. There were more houses here, more shopping centres there, and some landmarks had disappeared entirely. Alba explained that many of my old neighbours were gone, while others had new addresses she could provide. Sadly, I realized that the place in which I had become a person in my own country had gone as well.”
Alberto sighed. Something similar had happened to him upon visiting his country after many years of absence.
“The first days were the most difficult.”, Mariana continued. “My memory kept finding it hard to recognize places I had seen a thousand times. I would turn a corner only to find that the scene I expected to see had been replaced by another. My own true memories had been rendered false in my absence. Alba thought that I was pretending. She thought that I had pretensions to play the Canadian turista, to renounce the culture of my blood, that my forgetting the names of streets, the colors and the odours of my past was pretense. She even laughed because I had lost my Mexican accent.
I couldn’t feel the same love I had for my country before I left. In an attempt to revive this feeling, I travelled alone to the enormous house where I lived during my childhood. Looking up at it, I peered across its face in search of some detail that would strike me and bring this crumbling world back into sharp focus. But this old castle’s decaying façade appeared distorted to me now. So different did my childhood home appear, that it loomed over me with a vague strangeness, especially when one of its new inhabitants filled a window and asked if he could help me. I lowered my eyes to the ground, and walked off just like that. It was a minor epiphany then that friends and acquaintances lived for themselves, without me, and they had forgotten me, as I had forgotten them. I discovered with some shock that my memories of Mexico had been reduced to mere snapshots – they simply had never faded. My memories had become idealizations over time. I was terrified of losing them - memories, ideals, whatever they were - but everything had stopped being what it was.
I realized then that it had been the daily contact, the being there no matter what, that had made possible my love for my country. Now, it had all turned into something strange. I didn’t know if I was contemplating a loss, or a segue into some kind of new beginning. But it was clear that my memories would never be the same”.
Mariana and Alberto were silent for a moment. Shortly, he asked her if he could write an article on her experience for his paper. The girl’s face lightened perceptibly. “Why not? It may help other immigrants”. She smiled. This young woman was an innate visionary who was sensing the Earth’s evolution into a world of foreigners. She knew that her experience was a commonplace for the émigré, regardless of origin, or adopted homeland, the language spoken, or the customs cherished.
Mariana and her friend remained talking for another hour, comfortable at the café’s little table. Alberto spoke again of things close to him: his emigration, his career as a commentator, his esteem for his enemies, and his distrust of his friends. The stories were repetitions, but she was delighted to hear them again. There was something in Alberto’s tales that connected her with herself such that her attention drifted, she dreamed of Mexico, and a soft warmth rose up within her.
After awhile, they said good-bye and shook hands as good comrades might. Indeed, they had been comrades in their struggle to adapt to a country that was not their own. She felt sorry when she saw him disappearing into the avenue’s crowds.
Dusk was upon her. She turned back and walked toward the restaurant where Williams was surely waiting for her. In the distance, she distinguished his tall silhouette, unobstructed among so many people teeming in the street. The sun emerged from a wisp of cloud behind her, illuminating her beloved in the warm light of a perfect spring evening. Her hair waved with the wind of joy, and she started to run toward him.
Find the first part in Dusk