Everyone keeps asking if I’m tired and I should be, definitely, given the one hour flight plus four hour layover plus seven hour flight in the opposite direction of the sun and the morning, then, in Dublin, plus a three hour bus to Ennis and finally a new world—B.’s home in Crusheen, his family, B’s and G.’s friends—and Coole Park and a tree with literary history scratched into it and cool air and rain and back at the house the party that slowly unfolds, a hundred people I’ve never seen filing into B.’s house and eating and drinking and introducing themselves and playing pingpong on the terrace and working themselves up to a roar that erupts after all into a series of toasts shouted with exhaustion and glee across the crowded dining tent, following which I ding (we all ding) like pinballs from conversation to conversation, new face to new face, guiding the night home as one devoted cadre of matrimonial bliss until at two o’clock or thereabouts Uncle J. is leaving, and he’s my ride to Uncle B.’s, where I’ll be sleeping, and even in my drunkenness I know it’s either this or walk to Uncle B.’s, a mile or more in the middle of the night on a road I’ve never seen before in my life, so I go with Uncle J., and he drops me and Aunt E., Uncle B.’s wife, at the red front door of their house and Aunt E. ushers me to an empty room with plush white sheets and adjacent bathroom and windows shuttered against the nearing day and says see you in the morning, and now, yes, I am, I’m tired. I fall asleep like a normal person wakes up from a dream.
In the morning Aunt E. makes me a titanic breakfast and her kids show me the rolling hills of sheep behind their house and the stream beyond, and they teach me how to play hurling, and I’m terrible at it but who isn’t their first time, and I can’t believe I’m here. Ireland is wet and green and full of stones. Everything is new.
Or: A man at the helm of an industrial sweeper wakes me up and tells me I have to move, so I pick up my backpack and suitcase and roll them to the elevator and descend to the second floor and find the last unoccupied booth in Dublin airport’s closed-for-the-night cafeteria and carabiner my backpack to my suitcase, affirm to an approaching traveler that she’s free to use the facing bench, and curl up in the fetal position to sleep again. Things I learn throughout the night: never again will I wait until the day before to reserve a hostel in a big city on a Saturday night; three is exactly the right number of ciders to drink before you sleep in an airport, goal being a balance of relaxation and alertness that’s both safe and sleepable; life could be worse; life could be better; thank God for the airport’s laissez-faire attitude toward those of us sleeping here, whether it be due to some generous official’s understanding of the contingencies of travel or, more likely, the fact that no one cares enough to clear us out night after night.
I wake a few times in the nameless hours with a hip or shoulder ache and roll over onto my other side. Then the morning is here: echoes of steps and voices that haven’t slept much themselves, three-story windows letting the early light in. I’m never more aware of the day’s cycle than when I wake up already surrounded by it. I could stay here and the world would keep going on and on and every night there’d be another person sleeping on the polyester bench across from me and what a life it would be, the world moving by me instead of the other way around. Instead I stand up and drag my luggage to the bathroom and consider brushing my teeth but don’t, then check my bag and walk to my gate, where the world halts (temporarily) again. Tomorrow—no, today: Rome.
Or: In the wide median of a city street, two guys approach me with a Santa Claus suit and ask me to wear it as a part of their street performance, and even though I don’t know them and it’s September I stash my luggage under one of the median’s benches and change into the costume behind a tree and return to the bench, where young children are already lining up for their audience with the brown-haired, brown-bearded Santa Claus who’s come a season too early. It’s all a dream, I know by now, but I take the job seriously and tell the kids no guarantees but I’ll see what I can do. Then kids turn to adults. Still they sit on my lap. One woman asks for a self-help book and I ask her why and she tells me about her life and her problems and I listen munificently before dispensing a few traces of insight and sending her on her way. I start to worry about my bags—I’m always worried about my bags—but I check under the bench and everything is still there, even my computer. I return to the bench. My alarm cracks through the dream. I’m in a single bed in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio, e Molise two hours outside Rome, fifteen minutes outside Sora, dark stained wood-beam ceiling above me, thick white walls around me, and a panoramic framed photo of the Everest Himalayan Range on the shelf opposite the bed. The dogs didn’t bark so much last night. I feel rested. Rested enough. I stand up and slip on flip-flops against the cold tile floors and shuffle downstairs where the fruit is, and the bread. The house is quiet still, none of us chipping cement out from between the limestone, not yet. Peace is a necessarily temporary thing. Otherwise it’s boredom. One apple, one peach, one slice of bread. I don’t say a prayer before I eat because I have no one to pray to, but for the purpose almost want to invent a God.
Now: I follow the white line on the lefthand side of the road the best I can in the star- and moonlight, peering down the valley at Alvito or San Donato or whatever tiny mountain town is giving off the only visible artificial light and thinking of the lupo che ha ammazzato le pecore (the wolf that killed the sheep) yesterday in the hills above the house, which might easily have crossed the road and taken up on the other side of this guardrail, or maybe a wild pig has done the same, or a bear, and a flowering twig rising from the roadside shrubs dabs me in the face and fear flickers through my body for an unconscious instant before I calm. Without fear the scene would be a beautiful thing. Totally silent, the silhouettes of the hills breaking off into blue night, the milky way coming into relief in a strip overhead. But I start to worry that I’ll miss our driveway, or that I’ll step on a sleeping animal in the road, and I start to tell myself I’ve gotten the most out of walking in the dark in the middle of Italy, unseen and unknown and unseeing, that I’ve gotten the most out of being a speck, and finally I give in to my lesser instincts and reach up and flick on my headlamp. It’s a relief and a disappointment at once: suddenly the world is a twenty-foot radius of light before me. The signs portending the driveway glow: a leaping deer, SR (no kidding) 666. In the driveway the dogs’ eyes glow red. But at the end of the driveway, inside the house, is a space I know well, red-tan tiles across the floor, a long dark messy table, a furnace we’ve never had to use.
I can’t imagine waiting like that room waits, same as the airport and the road and billions of beds. Stillness is the result of great patience on the part of inanimate objects. So many ports of call. This house, these mountains—I think I’ve memorized them, but in a week I’ll be in Malta and I’ll believe I was never here.
This is the second in a series in which I live in Malta for a year. Find the rest of the series here.
This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.