‘ “You don’t have to leave, you know. It’s all down to you, a choice you make, and I flat-out tell you it’s wrong. I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s my side of the story.”
He was putting on his jeans as he said that. In typical British manner, he tried to sound neutral, objective and calm, but his features were all tense, and his mouth was hard. The soft lips turned into stone, and the eyes emitted a coolness so unlike him.
“I hear you. But I have to. He’s sick. He might die tomorrow and I’ll be a bad daughter and who will be there to help mum out?”
She tried to match his cool tone but her voice was breaking. A clash between people, a clash between cultures; his neutral tone vs her Greek melodrama and over-vulnerability.
Despite the grimness of her situation, she refused to cry. London turned the loudness of her emotions into a hushed, almost mute melody that hovered around her but never quite reached the ears of her friends or colleagues. It was there, but never quite there. She was breaking, but never fully in pieces. She picked herself up and let her eyes become hard, her expression neutral, and kept working, typing, communicating, all the while trying to keep the melody unobtrusive.
She flew back home the following day, with some of her belongings, hoping it’d be temporary, but half-hoping it wouldn’t be. Her life in London was a puzzle, complete yet always at risk of losing its beauty if one piece got lost. Her world would crumble if a friend confronted her, her boyfriend left her or her workplace decided to replace her. It was a constant walk on a thread. Her vulnerability came to the surface sometimes, and she hated it.
“Which language do you think in?”
She smiled as she remembered this question. She was in a taxi, riding back home to surprise the parents. When she first set foot on British soil, even the easiest of interactions terrified her, scared she might say the wrong thing, uneasy at the thought of her accent being incomprehensible, despite spending so many years learning English back in Greece. Gradually, English replaced Greek in her thought; the brain adapted. It went from the painstaking process of translating everything back into Greek from just throwing in the right words for her to speak straight away. There’s something sad in that, yet the benefits are obvious. She loved her language, and she hoped her brain would preserve it, as something sacred, the way she always deemed it to be. She was wrong. Her brain aided her integration. She should be thankful but she wasn’t.
She tried to speak her language as she conversed with the chatty Greek taxi driver, but sometimes words would fail her, and she would pick her brain uneasily trying to dig the words out of her full Greek education and upbringing. She wondered, did only my language get eroded or my culture too?
She stepped into her childhood bedroom, the one which she didn’t have to pay rent for. All the comfort, all the coziness, but missing the warmth of his body as he lay next to her, caressing her hair, drawing her body close to his. It was a different kind of warmth, one associated with England, one she couldn’t find in Greece. The thought pained her; her British self felt exhausted, impatient, wondering why she had to come back.
She’d have to cut him off, unplug him, set him free. She couldn’t expect him to wait for her, because she might have had to stay in Greece for the rest of her life. Yet some part of her was still with him, in that bed, in the feeling of his flesh against hers.
He’d smile at her mistakes in English, and he’d marvel at her bravery, and he’d proclaim that it was her accent he fell in love with. Even though she had to hush her emotions, her accent gave it away; she wasn’t British. One more feature to hush; her accent. Then she’d fully integrate. One more hoop to jump through.
Now her thoughts were tangled, half in Greek, half in British. The faces of her friends, her family, telling her they missed her, these were Greek. The smell of food brought back memories that could only sound right in Greek. But when she lay in her bed at night, and she let her hair free from the rubber band that held her hair in a ponytail, she could only think in English. The emails she had to reply to; him saying Goodnight to her and holding her hand as they fell asleep; the drunken voices outside her window, as Brits staggered home after a messy bank holiday evening. The smell of beer when she entered the pub, the barman asking her for ID although she was nearly 30 years old.
The Babel in her brain kept her up at night. The two worlds coming together, melting into one. She was a mess. She was forever tied to the memories of a world she might never be able to return to.’
[TO BE CONTINUED]