The Moment by Margaret Atwood
It is my last day here. I don’t know where and how I’ll find myself in a few hours. Probably trying not to cry as I try to pack my luggage for what seemed to be the fifth try, wondering how I can fit everything in. Knowing that everything I bought is merely a souvenir of what this place means to me, and not nearly enough to encompass all of what I’ve felt and learned and discovered. It’s funny how so much of a tourist I still am, but sad, too, because it means saying goodbye is inevitable.
It took me twenty-two years to leave the last time. And then another eight for this particular journey. How much longer for the next one, I wonder.
I am thinking of the man sat on the low bench yesterday, a pot of tea before him, the attention of strangers. He was smoothing out a tiny piece of silver foil with the tips of his fingers. I felt like I owned this moment, this few precious minutes. I have captured him at work and now it is mine—to share to people I know, to shape into a story or a poem.
I watched him as he turned the foil into a shape of a leaf. His hands were steady, his breath slow. All of his being focused on his art. We didn’t matter. This is when I realised, horrified but also with a sense of rude awakening: he has captivated me. I am there now, under the pad of his fingers, he is pressing my heart very gently onto the wood. This part of myself is in a painting inside a temple, from which I will never leave.
How does one fall in love with a city? I am thinking, exactly like this.
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
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