The following story is by guest contributor Maryam Fatta. If you enjoy Maryam’s work, you can find her on twitter at @maryam_fatta. This story was submitted as part of our May Theme week on the topic of memory.
Like many people I remember a place that is still vivid in my memory. I visited a village two weeks ago, that I had grown up in. I was a child again, cycling round its triangular road network, taking dogs for walks near our cottage, and doing handstands against the school wall; the village where most of my childhood was spent. I wanted some photographs of the village for a novel. My husband asks me one sunny day “where do you want to go today?” at about lunchtime.
“Littleborough” I answered reflectively, the years spent in that beautiful small village having stayed the same in my memory all my life.
We drove guided by my childhood memories, towards my old home, a new roundabout system, causing us to lose direction. Locating the street I had lived on years ago, we ascend its hill, driving past the memory provoking childhood cottage, to park up a nearby side street across the road. Sobbing, I recall mum’s weird personality of the “Jekyll and Hyde” type. So named by family due to her being generous, gentle spoken, honest, helpful and open for a few days or a week, then alternating to a loud mouth, vicious, malicitious, manipulative tongued woman when at home; but nice to all outsiders we met. Those who saw through her façade of good manners knew never to trust her, and stood up for me when I related to them hidden frightening events of home that I longed to tell. Most people remember parents with joy, but a lot suffering without help, are now in their forties, this going unnoticed until recent days. The two sides of mum’s character alternating regularly, we monitored her behaviour and words daily, watching out for the warning changes in her moods, in preparation for her onslaughts. Dad taught me when I was small, the telltale signs. Dad seeing mum beating me unmercifully for something so trivial that only a comment would have corrected, was then attacked until he could hold her down on the sofa, waiting for her to stop lashing out at everyone, physically and verbally. People forget parents care given in raising them to adulthood. I still think “Does my mum really have two personalities? “Can anyone have more than two personalities?” I picture separate personalities in individual bodies of different colours, invisible one minute, and the next seen while they walked with my mum. Her emails currently depict the same characteristics of a multi personality; spiteful, abusive tongued words in one email, the next email written in lovingly formatted manipulative words; the emails contents alternating according to mum’s changes in moods while typed. “The Incredible Hulk” programme watched as a child, still screened today, reminds me of her. It’s amazing how much people recall when watching TV. So many people put on a front, hiding their real selves. People forget we all have the same longing to be accepted by others; and the only way to do this is to be genuine.
Soothed by an ever understanding husband, I let him know I am going to take photos near where parked. The first photo is of the bright red fire-station, situated a few yards up from terraced cottages that encompass my old home. I see myself as a child in my mind, circling the fire-station’s broad depth of a driveway entrance on a cycle, by time unchanged. Many people remember their favourite childhood toys, but can they remember them all?
Spying the bordering tree covered ginnel next to the fire station; that I used to walk through on my way to and from primary school. It has so many memories I click that too on my mobile phone. That too, unchanged by the ravages of time, was one place that passing through it, I felt different every time according to how my day had affected my mood. Some days of my childhood I felt its tree enclosed path as spooky, while walking through on dark evenings, the way lit by a single dim, old styled, yellow light, amid bare trees; the light’s rays interrupted by branches shadows encircling the walkway. Imaginary coloured gremlins reach out to me with their bubble like hands from behind its wired fences. In the lighter evenings on my way from school, I saw the intensity of its colours, fragrant blooms enthralling my senses while I imagined blooming gardens behind its fences.
Coming out from its darkness, my eyes hurt. Viewing from a distance the shops on the street, I remember my husband waiting in the car. Knowing the road just seen joined my old street; I return to our car and tell this to an always attentive ear. He told me he had talked with his friends and family abroad and passed on their loving greetings, making me long to be with them again. He then obligingly drove, up to the crossroads I told of, 100 yards past the dismal winter ginnel, then turning right to descend the road that contained the village park, local shops, and the street that my primary school was on. Memories of playing in the park during high school break time, away from the bullies; fill my mind; then I recall I had become “Cock of the School” in my final 6 months of primary. Parking up near the park, we stroll its hidden depths to see what had changed while away. “Still the same” I think at first, with its library and Bowling Green unchanged. Only a skateboard course was added to the play area I once knew. Clicking memorious scenes, I then reminisce with local residents before continuing our journey. Walking back the way we came, children’s voices echo from some bushes I remembered hiding some peaceful walk ways I had walked reflectively. Curiously I track the source of the sounds. Shockingly some of the grassy walkways had been made into a second play park. The peaceful reflections shattered by alterations over time; we emerge from the park onto the street. “How many more changes will I see?” I reflect, driven through streets once more, approaching shops, holding little meaning in my memories, with only the newsagent where dad bought his newspaper and I bought my penny sweets. We turned into the street that contains my primary school, parking next to it. What a sight beheld my eyes.
Memories of playing in the plain grey playground, I’m shocked to find it now filled with garden ornaments and flowerbeds, with seated garden tables of wood surrounded by pots of flowers. What an original playground. How many schools will follow this idea of decorating their playgrounds? The deep entrance I used to stand in, now a new patio styled porch front, put in place a year before my visit according to the new decent caretaker; enclosing a cosy sitting corner in the place I and other children used to shelter in cruel weather. My teachers retired or passed on, are replaced by unknown staff. Places stay the same in memories, until you meet them again in current times. What will my village look like in ten years? Is there anything that will permanently stay the same?
Many people remember the special British celebrations like memorial days with poppies, but how many regularly remember the Jubilees? A day in 1977 the Silver Jubilee was being celebrated with blue red and white ribbons around my small primary school, with mini flags given to all pupils. Celebratory memorabilia was sold from a table in the school’s entrance hall. A White mug with Silver Jubilee 1977 around a picture of the queen and partner, printed in royal colours and gold plate on the front was purchased with dad’s money, from the selection of pottery thimbles, bells, plates, dishes and many other collectables. How many Jubilees can people remember in their lifetime? What would the world be like with no government or monarch or even with one monarch ruling the whole world? These questions pass through my head as I stare at the entrance of the school after photographing it, before returning to my husband, seated in the car, playing on his mobile as I opened its door.
At loss as to what to do in the amount of time we had left, we discuss where to go next. We notice a sign never seen in my childhood that advertises the building once privately owned, across from my school, as a visitor centre. Needing refreshment and more village historical information, we enter its doors.
Refreshed and revived, we return to the car with hands full of pamphlets. Having decided to complete the circuitous route I cycled as a child, I tell my husband to turn back onto the main shopping street then turn right at the bottom of it. He obliges, taking me along the main road at the bottom of the hill, where unrecognised shops had been added to its beginning. We bypassed them on our journey, passing the police station as I remembered it, then approached the junction where my home’s street meets the main road, ascended at my request the hill of my home stretch once more. I pictured the field just past the large building on my right, enclosed by three roads, now a factory estate.
This field behind our cottage, a favourite childish retreat away from the torment of home, had a pond and trees surrounded by moorland grass in it. The wildlife, an adult would have ignored, except if a scientist; but to me its bountiful hidden life was part of its beauty. Little things floated in the pond, when looked at closely you saw the colours and intricacies of the algae and organic life. Its wild flowers I knew by their names and types. Even the soil depths held a world teeming with life. Imagining I was a scientist one minute and the next a treasure hunter digging its surface, I was always remembering the creator of it all. I regularly meditated and prayed in the tree top dens I made, knowing mum was afraid of heights and wouldn’t climb up and pull me down. Remembering my young days viewing creation from the tree tops, reflecting on the creator, caused me to recall pretty walks I went on with family at weekends. My favourite was “Bluebell Woods,” beautiful in spring.
This held a hilly walk through trees encircled as far as the eye could see with bluebells, which overwhelmed me. I was there for the first time. I loved playing with plants and animals, learning their structures as well as the habits of animals and their intellectual behaviour towards mankind. I thought to myself no human hand can make colours or scenes as beautiful or in as much detail as this, no matter how hard they try. Watching my granddad every weekend of my childhood painting with oils, soon made me realize this. Grandad’s painting on my wall reminds me of this, which he painted for me before he died.
Coming back to the present my husband looking tired asks me “where to next? “Home” I say, thinking of our long happy marriage. Still reflective while on the way home, I recollect our wedding day. Not the usual type of wedding that people remember, for my big day, as in my wedding arrangements and people there was a cultural mix. One was my wedding dress style, unknown to my culture; and the service unlike any I had known, with men on one side of the hall and the ladies on the other, this something I wasn’t used to. We trusted God’s decision. Through knowledge I had received from God and from my husband’s spiritual master, we were married within 10 days. Having only met four times, and knowing little of each other, we knew it was meant to be. I from a singular culture was taught through my union, diversity, respect for other cultures and religions. Many people today hide away from the growing mixed cultures, wanting to forget the rest of the world exists. How I hope one day the whole world will unite as one society, rather than fighting over possession of land and killing those who do not agree with political or religious views. “In my dreams.” I thought.
Home at last, my tired husband took his seat, while I made us both cups of coffee before commencing dinner. I hear the news through the closed dividing door, about the latest developments in the world. One thing I recollected while cooking, was the shock of hearing on the recent news, the proposed fracking in my own county, which could wreck the local countryside. What other ways can we get energy without destroying the earth’s surface? Many forget about protecting the earth, daily taking sustenance from its surface. Maybe one day all cars and appliances will run by air rather than wrecking the country. Recalling from my studies, old philosophers say the fundamentals of life are earth, fire, water and air. We have tried energy with water wheels running factories, and coal dug from the earth’s surface; now fracking! This world won’t last long, unlike worlds in the next life many forget in their worldly pursuits, but every bit as real; these mentioned in numerous, different religions. I contemplate whether god will destroy all, until there is nothing except His Eternal Self. People forget about God, the past, and friendships; only thinking of what they can gain most from the present and future while alive. People are too involved in g-nomes and DNA to remember their originator. However through looking at creation, a God I will never forget, who is real and takes care of me.
My husband after dinner visits his friend’s house to help him with some form filling. The friend, uneducated in English was heavily dependent on my husband for all legal documentation. While waiting for my life companion to return home, I play on my mobile games, then catch up on latest information through Twitter and Facebook, while having a cup of tea and a cake.
Looking at my mobile phone’s slim style, recalling the bulky 80’s mobile of my dads, I contemplate, drifting off again, pondering on changes made over the years. I realise from memories and things forgotten, all things may never be the same, although I hope one day some would; in this world anyway. I ponder how science is shrinking things. The TV sets have turned from brick block forms, to wide, large, but very thin. Computers, once heavy boxes with green screens, have become small laptops, which one day may become small enough to put in a pocket or bag, folded into quarters, but opening out for use when needed; where word documents and software are better than the best we have now.
Tired of reminiscing I slip back to the present as my husband walks with dripping coat, through the door. I wander to the kitchen to make cups of fresh tea.