By the time I’m on the final flight to Brazil, I’ve been awake for more than 24 hours. I sit next to a beautiful Argentinian boy with golden brown curls hanging down past his shoulders. We don’t exchange a single word, communicating in gestures and shared smiles over the views through the clouds, until we begin the descent and I offer him a chewing gum. He says “agradeço” and I wonder about how it means thank you but also that you appreciate, that you’re grateful.
My cousin and his wife are waiting for me at the airport. Their little one is only 3 and I’ve taken so long to come out that her face is wet with tears of anxiety and anticipation. Her eyes light up when she seems me and she gives me a kiss, squishing her tear-streaked cheek against mine.
For the first few days I wake at 5:30AM. In London I had become accustomed to waking after midday and eating my meals alone in my room. But here I take the time to think in solitude and watch the world outside the window gradually change colour and then eat breakfast with my auntie and uncle, finding joy in sharing food and conversation.
I message a boy who looks like he’s stepped out of the 1970s and we decide to meet early the next morning in a Japanese park in the middle of the city. Just the other side of the slim fence that circles it there are busy double carriage ways and junctions and people hurrying to and fro, but inside it is a tranquil, quiet space with running water and trees. Occasionally an old man or a mama and child wander in briefly, but otherwise we have the park to ourselves. We dress him up in a mix of vintage from both our wardrobes and run around the park barefoot, clambering over rocks and dipping our feet into the cool water.
His name is Carlos, but I come to know him as Carlota, a nickname that seems to somehow contain all of the affection that those who use it have for him. One night we talk all evening long on WhatsApp via voice messages, something I’ve always been too shy to do but which comes more easily with this boy who is so full of life. What starts off as an English lesson soon turns into us sharing the few useless Greek phrases we both know, and listening to the sound of him shrieking with laughter brings me a quiet and deep joy.
One day several plans in a row fall through and I get frustrated and moody. I lay down after lunch and fall asleep, and when I wake later my mood has only worsened. I faff around a bit with some editing and then pull myself together; I didn’t come all this way to stay indoors. I get dressed and go to a vintage store alone, browsing through racks of beautiful clothes from the past, daydreaming about the lives the people who wore these clothes lived. And though my dreams of having a child are further away than ever, when I try on a floral dress from the 70s I can’t help but notice that the way its cut would make it easy to breastfeed with.
I go to the beach with my uncle and my cousin, also a photographer. The drive that years ago used to take an entire day on terrible roads, now only takes 4 hours and the roads and even an entire bridge over a huge lake are new. Restaurants and shops now stand in the places that during my childhood were covered in wilderness. But the house my parents built many years ago remains the same. Only the plants are bigger, and the grass we once laid down piece by piece by hand is thriving to the point of being overgrown.
We realise we’re locked out of the front gate of the house and can’t get the keys for at least another hour. My uncle is in a bad mood and I’m tired of being cooped up in a car for hours so I message Milton, a friend of Carlota’s.
He and his lover Geni pick us up take us to the beach. Their car is old and charming and the music so loud we can barely hear each other. We laugh with glee as Geni speeds down the dirt roads, the bumps and dips bouncing us like children on a knee.
We walk down the long beach, the strong wind making snaking patterns in the sand. They climb rocks and run holding hands and kiss each other with fervour and passion and the light is golden and perfect but I leave my camera in my backpack. The camera tends to make me feel removed from a situation, and this time I want to soak it all in, the beauty of these fleeting moments.
Annie Dillard puts it best: “When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut.”
I go back to their place, a sweet small house on a steep hill in front of a lake, to watch the sunset. I lay on their bed with their dog, drifting into the sweet spot on the edge of consciousness, almost asleep, just barely awake, while Milton plays guitar and sings and the world outside slowly fades into black.
I am grateful for the new and deep friendships I have made, for the tribe I have found of ecstatic wanderers and dream-chasers. We all flit easily back and forth between languages within the same conversation or even the same sentence, and Carlota summarises it best; it feels like the barriers between cultures are thinner, or better yet, that they don’t exist.
One day I wake at dawn to watch the sun rise. To my left the sky is blue, to the right a deep magenta and purple and the hills everywhere are green, green, green. In the distance the sea shimmers.
I wrap myself in a bed sheet and sit on the windowsill, the way I did so many times as a child. It’s been raining and the air is fresh and cool. The last time I was here I was a teenager, a recent high school drop out, sitting on this same windowsill looking out at this same view. I think about all the ways in which I’ve grown since then.
Insects buzz and hum and birds fill the air with all their various songs. The wind blowing through the trees sounds like the gentle rush of running water. A flock of birds suddenly start chattering and it seems like the sound envelops me from all around. Somewhere, a rooster crows. Somewhere, a horse neighs.
Now the pink is stretching and spreading and the light becomes more orange. I pull the sheet around me closer. My life is no longer a waking nightmare; it’s a waking, beautiful dream.