Thursday, June 8, 2017

Belonged Home, by Adam Gabriel

Belonged Home

There is one particular story that reaches from up the human heart Down Under, telling of one young man’s love to Brno, love born in the farthest corner of the southern hemisphere’s Australia.


It is in Australia where the native inhabitants send their adolescent boys into the outback to learn of their land, its secrets, of values and survival. The boys are meant to go alone and they return as grown men. These people, with as many tales as stars in the night sky, legends as vivid but translucent and bewitching as the rainbow, and love toward story-telling as deep-seated as one’s blinking reflex, they are Aborigines.
The testing journey has a name all too well-depicting yet simple: the Walkabout.
Far from Down Under, in the middle of Europe, there is a city of Brno which has been the set for an innumerable amount of stories of so many generations of its people. There is one particular story that bridges a great distance between two cities upon two hemispheres, and even greater one between a young man’s heart and his home. Some boys do not need to set off to Walkabout the Aboriginal style to mature.
Some do.
A boy just arrived by plane in a tropical city.
Three days earlier, he left Brno with his parents and younger sister by car. They went along to see him good-bye to the airport. As the boy was leaving his home town, he hoped to never have to come back. He meant it. Although he was fond of his sister and did get along well with his parents, there had always been barriers once put up for protection against further hurt that made it difficult for him to fully appreciate companionship of his own folks and trapped him inside a feeling of loathing toward Brnoers.  “Brno swarms with reasons for me to glee at the prospect of leaving here for good”, he steadied himself. He felt his body give great shivers.
Apart from the general sweetness of exotic vegetation fused with high humidity, the place smelled alluringly of fresh beginnings and promised adventure. He remembered Brno’s greyish city winters and suffocatingly hot city summers.

As it happens, his three-day journey from Brno to Australia did not come through without slight complications, which resulted in timing being disrupted and his arrival to be delayed of one whole day. The boy’s school pick-up crew was supposed to meet him at the small local airport precisely one day before.
Although lost, he still felt untroubled. His naive joy kept him untouched by the reality’s keen sting, which would soon, the boy had had no idea yet, become his omni-present companion to be learnt from.
Sitting in the wild radiance of tropical sun on a bench just outside the deserted aiport’s entrance, contemplating his options, he spotted a passer-by.
Soon the boy learnt that she had come from Papua New Guinea and that she was not an angel sent down in his aid. They laughed. It was a rather pleasant encounter, given the circumstances.
With her help, he managed to get in touch wih the family he was to stay with. Later that day, safely at his host family’s place, he thought about whether a stranger would ever help him like this back in Brno, and remembered, as if deliberately, all the most sorrowful moments his encounters with Brnoers ever brought him. He did not bother to search his memory for any good ones. Satisfied with his reasonings that he truly was in the right place, and still over-joyous to be as far from Brnoers and his hometown as possible for him, he started unpacking.
In the days to follow, the boy met an overwhelming number of new people with whom he was to share his new life; as a foreign student, it was necessary to deal with whole another group of strangers in order to settle in officially, and despite the fact that he had convinced himself these people be a delight to co-live by, he felt oddly cut off as if all he could do was to harbour angry comparisons between here and back home, and strangely frustrated as though he meant to aim for and grasp something that was not within his reach. “Had I fled and looked for justification to? Did I choose the easy over the good?”. But it was too soon for him to look back and be glad of what he saw.
A couple of weeks into his stay, he first dared himself and admitted that Brnoers at least spoke the same language he did and, maybe, on off chance, were not as bad as he made them all be in his mind.
More and more, during his second month in tropical Australia, the boy could hardly restrain from thinking about his family and friends back in Brno. Still, he had found himself a few friends amongst his classmates and the teachers were being very nice to him too.

It was his host family the reality check had been delivered by. He never brought along his own laptop thinking he did not need to. The internet room in school had often been so crowded that no computer was left unoccupied and the access in the late afternoon hours was restricted. It was then the boy had gotten in an urgent need of a temp job to earn some extra money. He could barely keep paying his rent and all he could afford to eat was spaghetti with canned tuna and bananas if on sale. He was going to turn out peniless and alone in Australia unless he found himself a job soon. As in response, he vividly remembered his mum’s home cooking, and felt as if he betrayed himself not having appreciated it properly when he could.
The trouble was that the host family did not like the idea of their laptop being at the boy’s disposal. It was then when it first crossed the boy’s mind: he was going to have to learn how to survive; he was going to have to set off –

to Walkabout.

Growing up in Brno, the boy was resourceful and enthusiastic. Once, when he couldn’t soak in enough of the city’s streetcars, he went and bought himself a half-day ticket and cross-travelled Brno and back, enjoying the view of Sunday’s streets from the streetcar’s window, champing away on his favourite treats bought for the money his grandma gave him the day before.
On account of his host family’s astounding reluctance to be any helpful, the bad Brnoers had started appearing in a lot less angry images, he even recalled a few funny moments with his fellow citizens back in Brno, pleasant encounters and brief chats with bartenders, cashiers, shopkeepers and cleaning ladies, and he was most surprised to realize he missed Brno a small bit, after all.
His predicament continuing, unable to find any job, he resolved the best decision would be to break his own pride and ask his parents for help. Life with his family in Brno had been a happy one on the whole, but in seeking a great adventure and way to prove himself, he vowed he would not give in when problems came up and would certainly not ask for anybody’s help. Having phoned with his parents nonetheless, he felt dizzy, and it occured to him a new angle was in order – starting immediately. He began going for a run daily, exercised a lot, sold his bike, walked everywhere on foot, stuck to a tight new schedule, and as a result, he soon started seeing things in an entirely different light: much less proud and angry, lot more open-minded (“And I thought I happened to be the most open-minded person in Brno”, he smiled to himself while he ran along the coast once) and eager to re-connect; how, he did not know yet.
One day, early morning, having just shaved, showered, combed and dressed up for school, he looked absent-mindedly out of the kitchen window, holding his cup of lukewarm tea and breathing in the morning air not so laden with wetness yet. Not particularly aware of anything, his eyes gazing but not observing, thoughts flowing freely through his mind, they left Australia and drifted back to Brno: he remembered walks his mum took with him and his younger sister along the Svratka river from Jundrov to Komin, two of a number of the city’s most enchanting districts Brno has, life of both resembling most closely life of secluded villages.
One memory magnetically followed another and the boy had momentarily forgotten all about having to go to Australian school to learn English, and simply kept submerged in recollections of his Moravian childhood in Jundrov, the public transport he adored, the excitement he once felt when his dad modeled a toy streetcar control panel for him, smiling sadly remembering that certain Brno city parks had this intrigue about themselves owing to his grandma’s tales about the risks of entering those.
The legendary kiosk at Ceska and its mouthwatering pizza, long bike trips around the Brno lake with his family, the sight of Palava’s vineards in late summer, he grieved for all of it there in the window of a house on a street with a perfectly foreign name, surrounded by a lush tropical garden not unlike the inside of the tallest greenhouse in Brno’s botanical garden he used to visit with his grandma.
“Can we truly appreciate moments while we are having them?”, he started an inner dialogue:
“Managing the art to look back.”

“Mo’nin’”, a house mate from Taiwan came in the kitchen, apparently just risen from bed. Startled, the boy murmured his greeting, grabbed a school bag, and made his exit as quickly as possible, rushing his feet more to numb emotional ache than to make it to school on time, feeling uncommonly desperate at where his teenage head had brought him, having slowed his pace after a while, he cried with his head bowed, tropical paradise regardless.

Throughout such stimulating and purifying occasions, the boy was alone, Walkingabout, better still, “Runningabout”, but it was precisely on behalf of these that he started feeling a very specific need. One crazy afternoon when sunlight and downpour kept taking turns as if on purpose, and the tropical city’s humidity as well as underground water levels had patently been breaking records  as even the locals had felt the urge to comment on the weather, the boy started a common chitchat with a lady enjoying herself on a beach lookout, whom he thought had apparently also been jogging or else taking a fit walk. Could be the freshly procurred endorphins, could be the outstandingly tropical day, could be a change in his relationship to home, either way, he opened up, shared his thoughts, he said it all: how sincerely he thought he loathed everything to do with his home town and its people, how everything he could see and remember at first were the bad things that happened to him there, how harbouring his own biterness did it, addying earnestly “the point is everyone sometimes has it in for others, I now know I do, sometimes”, and “you don’t go and hate your folks or your home just for happening to have been on the receiver’s end a couple of times”.
She listened and seemed actually interested, asking questions about Brnoers, the city itself, the capital city too, what he reckoned the main unlikenesses between the two cities were; the common nature of the Czech nation appeared to be her favourite topic as they lingered on it until it started to rain in buckets again. Hence, they set out for a little bit of light food shopping to a local supermarket, still deep in conversation between the aisles, she now explaining her adoration for Australia and Aboriginal people and he finding himself half-amazed half-ashamed at her loving mindset.
That evening, he knew he made a friend, and that was exactly what his need was – finding someone who would show him a genuine interest in what he yearned to say about his home, but primarily, about change of his heart. He needed someone next to him in person. Somebody who would express love toward their own homeland thus inspire his own.
Time came that snowflakes challenged sunrays.
Brno had always had a way to decorate shop windows and entangle main city squares in resplendent light chains for the Christmas season. The tropical city did let know it was Christmas coming too, but the atmosphere was a tad too summer-ish. Enchanted by the festive mood at the Christmas markets, Brnoers exasperated over gift-shopping in a nonchalant way.
The boy missed it all terribly, his family and friends the most. He knew he would, but he would have never believed the idea it gave it to him when it did. A single afternoon in the local library had proven to be the thing: it was going to be through books he would be able to re-connect with Brno; tourist guides, travel books and magazines, all containing maps, countless pictures, and explicit coverage on both history and today as far as almost any topic was concerned. With his index finger, he followed marked tracks of streets he used to frequent, and kept recollecting what he did or whom he met there, he even planned where he was going to go once he returned. Feeling slightly maddened by his new hobby, he laughed at it with his friend.
A day before Christmas was the library opened for the last time that year. Namesti Svobody hosting most popular Christmas markets in Brno had already closed. It was the time zone difference. Several both foreign and Australian friends invited him over for the winter holidays. Beside himself with gratitude, the boy was. It had turned out to be the perfect end of his journey.
Leaving for Brno was remarkably bittersweet. Walkingabout, he now belonged to where he came from.
He was no longer remorseful for old perceptions’ sake, he made peace with them, letting them teach him how to  look back, which they did.

People are given the ultimate right to choose between what is easy and what is good. Hatred is easy enough. Less so is finding one’s peace within their own mind through meeting their fears and accepting them as guides in recognising one’s own limitations.

Although the boy was going home, he knew, taking a last glance in the direction of the tropical city before entering the airport hall, that this is where his Walkabout had taken him to grow into a man, which he would tell in a story one day.

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