Inside my chest there are a thousand tiny fish. Inside my heart cavity there is the sound of wind. Deep within me floats a hundred minuscule balloons.
The Germans have a word for it – heimweh. It’s in a book I read. I liked it the minute I read it. It kind of means homesickness, but doesn’t really. It actually means a longing for a place you know, a place you’ve forgotten but you need a gentle nudge to be reminded. I’ve often wondered about the fact that the Europeans can have single words for things that we can’t explain with one. Take for example, schadenfreude. It sort of means taking pleasure in other’s misfortunes, but that description doesn’t really cut it. I take it to mean that there are a lot of other colours in that word instead of just the black and just the white.
Right now though I’ve got a dose of the heimweh. I’m sitting here and playing with the sound in my mouth. Tossing it about, licking it.
It started round about the same time I started to to notice that my mother is stumbling over her English words. It’s as if she’s struggling to remember the plain Jane she was taught when she arrived in this country. She finds herself filling the gap with her original rolling European sounds, the ones that fit so delightedly in my ear.
I can see the flicker of disgust and frustration on her face as she wrestles with her language beast, grappling to grip the slippery surface. I know it must be tough for her, but I am looking forward more and more to the blocky sounding word that finally falls from her lips. It’s the one that sums up everything she’s been trying to say.
After it happened a couple of times, I did ask her to explain herself, but that just made her more agitated.
I stopped asking.
My mother and I take our cups of tea out on to the verandah and she frowns against the light as it bounces up off the plastic cover she’s put down to protect the old table from the bird shit.
She’s been talking to me about the old country, a dose of her own longing. I pretended not to notice when it started to happen because this is the sign I’m told you’re meant to look for. It means they are getting old, losing a grip. But it strikes me that my mother is hanging on more forcibly than before. There’s nothing fey about her. And I kind of like it when she tells me about the old country, her heimweh. Her cheekbones get more pronounced as she speaks, I’m sure of it.
I don’t hold her hand. That makes her nervous.
We drink tea from chipped mugs made from a weird brown glass material. I don’t question this. She’s had them as long as I can remember. She scratches at the bird shit on the plastic cover. We sit companionably.
The old country falls from her mouth in fits and starts. I don’t ask any questions, I just collect the words as she sprinkles them out. I know I’m waiting for the next moment when she blocks, struggles, stumbles with her new language, but then spits out her word in the old.
Out falls a perfect description. A lump of coal where a lump of coal should be. A word that fits the circumstance and the place. It comes from far away and long ago, but it is comfortable with the cups and the bent chairs, perfectly at home amongst eucalypts and harsh sunlight.
I am joyous. I am reminded of something I forgot, nudged towards something I thought I knew. Fish swim, wind blows and balloons rise.
My mother wipes her mouth and frowns.
Returning the world of words, I remind myself of their beauty and their flexibility. This piece comes courtesy of music by Ola Gjeilo and my joy at the ability to taste the flavours of certain sounds.
This is what I technically call a ‘blurt’ – written at high speed with limited focus on what I’m writing. i find it better that way sometimes.