I wake up, knowing I have school, but only wanting to do one thing. Go back and see Mum. I drag myself out of bed every day, waiting for the weekend. I don’t want to mess up at school, and miss out on the scholarship. I would be so tired if I went to see my Mum during the week. I would still have to walk the distance, and I don’t even know what way to go. Dad said wait until Saturday and then he will show me where their village is. We will be walking around the wall to the City.
Finally the week comes to an end and I wake up, jumping out of bed. I can’t believe it’s finally Saturday. This has been the longest week of my life. Every second just pining over the upcoming weekend. And now it’s finally here. I get dressed and head downstairs. Dad is already waiting in the shop, tinkering with something or other.
“Ah finally awake. Ready to go?” he asks.
“Yes, just let me get something to eat.”
“I thought we could get some eggs from the cafe. It’s on the way.”
“Okay, yeah that sounds nice. Haven’t been there for a while.”
Everyone eats at the cafe. It’s really cheap, and not very nice. Most people don’t want to eat there but it’s the best way of eating simple food, especially for breakfast. We walk in and I sit down while Dad goes and orders. We sit in silence, as do most people in the room, while waiting for the fried egg and accompanying bread to arrive. It won’t be cooked properly, the bread will be at best slightly stale. But it’s better than anything we have at home. That’s why everyone’s here. The room is teething in silent bodies. The food arrives with a clank on the table. We start eating, filling the table with the noise of scraping cutlery. I’m guessing it’s a long walk to the other village, if we’re eating here it has to be. Dad avoids this place at all costs. He can afford his own meats and bread. But this is easier for breakfast. For most people it’s just cheaper, because it’s the worst, and usually out of date, food in the village. I scrap up everything that’s on the plate, and shovel it into my mouth, spit flying everywhere. It’s easier just to get it done.
“That was something,” my dad starts once we get outside.
“Yes it was,” I state.
“Come on, we’ve got a long walk ahead of us. I’m sure the food will settle before we get there.”
I don’t reply, knowing it probably won’t. We walk to the outskirts of the village, but instead of walking towards the gate we head to the left and follow the wall. The barren waste land around us growing more desolate with every step. As the village slowly seeps into the background behind us, the wall and the dried and cracked mud is the only thing we can look at. Nothing grows here. Someone told me from school that the government did this. That the grass inside the wall used to stretch outside and beyond this. Flowing green waves in the wind that would continue to the other cities and every village in between. But they only wanted certain areas growing food, so they poisoned the land outside the farms. I don’t go to the farm very often, but there is grass inside their fences. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I hope not.
I don’t speak at all during the whole journey. I just try and focus on what’s about to happen. Or how little I know is going to happen. I’m going to see my Mum, as a young girl. I’m going to see my grand parents. Are they still alive now? I know I should ask, but I really don’t want to. Instead I just focus on the path ahead of me, or lack of one. I’m one step behind my Dad, and that’s fine with me. I’m sure he won’t lead me the wrong way.
At least he can’t moan at me this time. But next time I go anywhere without telling him, I need to make sure I take the watch. I can make the trip last no more than a couple of hours then, and no one will be able to bother me on my way. I could even just reverse time until about half an hour before I leave. But for some reason it makes me very nervous to live out of sync with my actual time. But that feeling will go away, I’m sure. I’ve probably already messed it up, so there really isn’t anything to worry about.
The village isn’t visible from behind, and only the wall stretches out ahead.
“How far away is the village?”
“I don’t quite remember, but we will reach it eventually, or loop back home. One of the two.”
“We’ll get there. Don’t worry. There are four villages just outside the City, all near one of the four entrances. Your Mum lived in the one this way, the closest one to us. So we will hit it eventually. I used to do this walk quite often, it may seem like an eternity, but we will get there in the end. That’s the only thing that matters. We will get there in the end.”
I don’t say anything else, not knowing really what to say. We will get there I suppose, even it if takes forever. It will be worth it. Forever, it’s just been me and my Dad. That’s all about to change. I’m about to have access to the rest of my family, for the first time ever I’m going to be able to tell other people things that happen, I’m going to be able to get new opinions on my problems. I’m going to learn about where I come from, where my Mum comes from. The missing hole inside me is about to be filled.
Something starts to form in the distance, a cluster of dark colours, building upwards, near the slowly curving wall. My dad lifts a hand and points.
“There it is, see not to bad.”
I don’t say anything, my heart racing. We haven’t even gotten there yet. We still have to find the house.
“Where do they live?”
“Towards the middle. I’m sure I’ll find it. It’ll all come back to me.”
They’re still alive, unless news hadn’t reached my Uncle. He seemed to believe they are still alive. I’m just worrying now. Freaking out and panicking as we start to waltz between the buildings, my legs blindly following my Dad, because if they stopped I would just collapse. Why is this so important to me.
“Here it is,” Dad states.
“This is where they live?”
“Yeah. I’ll knock.”
The longest moments of my life. The door slowly creaks open, revealing the face of a fragile old man. He looks at my Dad for a while, instantly recognising him as fmailiar.
“Hello?” he says with a shaky voice.
“Hello. It’s me Jikwin, I know it’s been a while.”
Dad’s voice seems just as broken. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to drag up the past.
“Is it really you? It’s been so long. Come in.”
The old man hobbles back into the house, leaning with one hand on the wall as he walks. He leads us through a short corridor and into a room on the right. There are two chairs in here, and a table with a couple of worn books on them. I’ve read both of them. I wonder if they like them.
“Sit, sit.” He says
My dad takes one of the chairs, but I leave the other for the old man. I’m not quite ready to call him Grandad yet, I slink down to the floor and sit cross legged next to my Dad. I watch as the man tries to steady himself above the chair, and then falls into place. The chair creaks, almost giving way, but it stays. I cringe while watching, not wanting to see him fall and hurt himself. Surely Maz could bring a walking stick from the City for him. I saw people walking around with them. But maybe he doesn’t want one.
“Jules, come in here,” he shouts, licking his lips between every word.
“Aram, one minute,” a voice from another room. It sounds more confident and youthful.
“So what’s kept you,” he asks my Dad.
“You don’t skirt around it. Life did. I kept on meaning to and then things just get in the way. You know how it is.”
He grunts in response.
“Well you could have come to our village.”
“On these legs?”
“It wasn’t always this bad.”
“Always been easier for you.”
“Let’s not do this. I brought my daughter, your granddaughter to see you. Nymia, this is Aram. Your granddad.”
“Hi,” I say sheepishly.
“You look just like her. It’s like looking at a photograph. I can’t believe how big you’ve gotten. You feeling good.”
Each word is dragged out with effort.
I don’t know what else to say.
“You must be towards the end of school.”
“This year and next left. That’s it.”
“She’s been put forward for the scholarship.”
“So it’s not just the looks you take from Maria. Brains as well. Oh she was a smart one. Jules, come and meet your Granddaughter.”
A hurried body rushes in the room. She looks me up and down, and then looks at my Dad. Instant recognition.
“Jik? Is it really you?”
She looks so much younger than Aram.
“Yes, I’m sorry it’s been so long.”
“So you apologise to her.”
“Shut up Aram, he’s here isn’t he.”
He grumbles as a response.
“And you are?”
“Nymia, but people call me Ny.”
“Nymia, such a lovely name. You look just like your Mother.”
“I told her that,” Aram adds with a grunt.
“What are you doing here?” Jules asks. “Did you want a drink or anything?”
“Water would be nice,” dad says.
“Please.” I add, trying to be polite.
My heart hurts it’s beating so fast. I take my time breathing, slowly. Focused, long, breaths.
“So,” Aram starts the second Jules isn’t in the room. “What have you been upto for the last however many years? You still got that shop?”
“Yes, still going strong. Everything seems to be going fine, I can’t believe how much time has gone to be honest.”
“I know what you mean. I can’t believe it’s been so long since she was taken from us. And look at you, little Nymia. I can’t believe we never got to meet you. It’s difficult, with work and the horrendous amount of walking we have to do. This village is a mining village. That’s what did this to me. An accident to my legs, and just the years of crap to my throat and lungs.”
Jules walks back into the room and hands both of us a glass of water. It takes great restraint not to gulp down every drop. I can feel the cool water flooding my throat cooling me down. I stop just after I’ve drank half of the glass, and hold it in my hands. I try to hide how much I’ve drank from the others.
“So how have you been? I can’t believe how long it’s been. And our Granddaughter. She’s so beautiful,” Jules asked.
“It’s been alright. Shop still going strong. Nymia here, she’s nearly finished school. Just over a year and half to go, and she’s been put forward for the scholarship. Hopefully she gets it.”
“Really? Just like her Mother. I can’t believe you’re really here. It’s been so long. We’ve missed so much. I still can’t believe she isn’t here.”
“Come on, Jules. No point getting upset,” Aram says.
“I’m not getting upset. It just needed to be said. You know you think of her every day. So does he, you can see it on his face. She barely knew her. I’m not getting upset. I’m just saying it, because it needs to be said. It’s been so long, and look at us. We don’t know our Granddaughter. I think about her, but I didn’t know her name until now. And why because of a long walk, that we all made excuses not to make.”
We all sit in silence for a while. I feel bad, even though I know I have no control over it. But at the very least it tells me they don’t know about the pocket watch, and I don’t really see them when I go back. Maybe they don’t recognise me.
“I’m sorry.” My dad says. “I know it’s been a long time, that you would have liked to have seen your granddaughter grow up, but it wasn’t that easy.”
“I know Jikwin, I know. I just needed to say it. I shouldn’t have, but at the same time can I just keep it sitting there, waiting to explode. I don’t blame you anyway, we could have come to your village, we know where it is. We haven’t seen you since the funeral, and it’s been hard for all of us. It was no age to die.”
Silence takes over again, but this isn’t as tense. I don’t think I’m ever going to have a normal relationship with my grandparents, sadly. They are so set in their ways, that I think it will always be awkward. I don’t regret coming here, I just wish I’d seen it sooner. Sometimes it just seems like there is no making up for lost time.
“Look,” Aram says. “None of that matters now. We can’t control the past, but we can decide the future. Let’s just look forward and enjoy it. No point dwelling on could ofs, and should ofs.”
“You’re right,” Jules says. “So, Nymia, what is it you want to study on the scholarship.”
“I haven’t decided yet. I would like to live in the City and see the difference from out here, but I don’t know what I’d study. I was thinking History, because that’s what Mum studied, but that doesn’t feel like me.”
“Well you have plenty of time to think about it, don’t worry. When the time comes, you’ll know. She did.”
“Thanks, I can’t believe they’ve put me forward for it.”
“Well you are Maria’s daughter, she was definitely smart, and you have to take some of her traits.”
The conversation carries on quite relaxed after this point. The anger in the room has settled and left through the open window. The air is cool, and I finally feel like I’m getting to know my family.
To be continued…
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