Tender and slightly worried about my gastrointestinal fortitude, my full nesting instinct kicked in this morning. I was perfectly ok tucked into the couch with a book while the light outside leaned and stretched with time. I was not the traveler I was hoping to be. Tehran was waiting outside and I cut up a mango and peeled through another chapter.
Shirin was out on an errand and for the first time I found myself alone and the walls of the apartment grew thicker, insulating me from the heat, the people, the wayward cars, the cats, the verbal rifts that lay in wait. I was disappointed in myself for being in this shell. It wasn't like other times I'd ventured abroad. Like Singapore, full of tangible curiosity, burgeoning friendships, and youthful leaps into misadventures like rupturing an eardrum while wake boarding in the brown waters on the Malaysian border: or Iceland, when a backlit throng of horses crested a hill and drew a curtain of dust over the sun and myriad waterfalls fell to the valley floor as we gathered the sheep in autumn: or New Zealand when I rented a motorcycle and traced a line up along the Tasman coast and down the Pacific, communing with giant trees and frigid undertows in the cool bright south sea sun.
I'm a different person now and I credit the loss of my father with my invigorated unconscious desire for known comforts to be at an arm's length. But I don't want to stay this way. I'm a toddler now at just over three years since one of the brackets which contained my known universe fell away. I'm a distinctly new person but still convinced I'm the same, still convinced the loss will gradually fade and I will re-emerge as a stronger version of my former self.
In reality I will probably always be a changed man and the key is to embrace the transformation and become something new, someone stronger. I am more empathetic now but the surplus of feeling has left a crack in the door for fear to slide in and get comfortable. So I'm navigating that now and deeply curious about who I will become.
It is a reflection of the blessed circumstances of my life that I find myself loved by Shirin at such a time. Her love is the reason the future has cracked open and options are becoming rich and meaningful and clear.
She coaxed me into the sunlight and dusty breeze of the day and we set off with a plan scribbled on some paper and a distant restaurant as our goal. We walked and caught a taxi, to another taxi using the subtle and efficient system of naming your destination as the cabs drift by. If the driver cares to give you a lift a slight nod and the car drifts to a stop. If your destinations do not match the driver's eyes shift forward and the engine hums dismissively and you cease to exist for a split second, until you turn and speak your dreams through the next window.
We found a small gallery tucked into a hillside and circled the dark stone floor for awhile, escaping back onto the street under the glare of a spray painted yellow wall proclaiming "ART IS DEAD." This had offended someone's sensibilities enough that the entire thing had been roughly blacked out in spray paint but was still legible. The palimpsest was delicious however trite.
Eventually we wound up in an urban park/zoo that promised Ibex and other wondrous creatures. It lay a few stories under the street level in a green, terraced canyon that almost silenced the city above. The displays were a bit dated and the animal enclosures slightly dark, but earnest and bright sculptures of animals adorned the park and redressed the situation. It felt like an example of what happens when the ravages of time meet a utopian vision that could only have held water in decades past. But it was a nice shady oasis in the heat of the day and drew many people into its manicured folds.
We walked on, and on, and managed to get stuck in rush hour before bouncing between three different taxi stands and eventually getting ripped off by a driver who may have heard us speaking ingilisee and decided tourist prices were in order. Ironically he preceded overcharging us by saying "It's on the house," a traditional gesture when asked the cost of something.
With some time to kill we found a shady area and settled onto a bench surrounded by a gang of feral cats. I fell in love with one and dubbed him "koochooloo" as he attacked a cheese puff at our feet. He seemed to have the buoyant curiosity a kitten should have. All his colleagues were jaded street cats, highly skeptical and perched ghostlike at regular intervals in the bushes. Our kitten's ebullience soon found him stick up a tree and mewing for help. "Rescuing" him was a good distraction while we waited for the restaurant to open.
Finally at our destination and surrounded by a richly detailed and warmly lit interior, we ate and talked and reflected about the trip. It seems we are both now emerging from jet lag into our proper selves again.
The cab ride home was a nice counterpoint to getting hustled earlier. He drove in wide circles trying to find our place and was genuinely embarrassed and nice about the whole thing. It was a lovely day out and I feel emboldened and excited at the prospect of more encounters.
I'll never forget what we witnessed earlier, in the lambent light of dusk, a man dancing in the street, a mango in each palm, his frame gilt by the golden halo of the sun setting behind his swaying head. Gold sun, golden fruit, golden moment.