Around the heart in eleven years
In the beginning, my plan was simple and straightforward: to publish the book of travel features I had written for newspapers and magazines. I had worked as a journalist for over ten years and gathered quite a large catalogue of articles about different places around the world where I had been. All these pieces were just gathering dust in the library archives, and I felt that they deserved a fate better than that.
There were a lot of these articles. They weren’t “the whole truth about me”, but it was still a truth, bits and pieces brought together from exotic lands. My employers back then were either not really interested in the confusing stories about how I happened to end up in one country or another, or they were too polite to ask and just gossiped about it behind my back. As far as I know, they just thought I was someone who went on strange trips every now and then, but at least I always came back and was tremendously productive afterwards in writing new articles.
So I had enough material for a whole book, descriptions of cities, countries and people: moderately exciting, not too uncomfortable, just the way travel stories are supposed to be – and it would have taken me about two days to put it all together. A neat and convenient solution.
But sitting there in the library and reading those published articles…
It tore it all wide open again and I decided to physically and literally stare my past in the face. Already flying back to one of those places I started to understand that the only way to make peace with this book and maybe my life as a whole was to be honest and tell the stories behind the articles. Why and how did I go on those trips? Maybe in the course of writing I could succeed in finding answers to the questions from my past that had remained unresolved? That was the hope.
I was already set to put the last finishing touches on the book, when life added another unexpected (yet long awaited, twenty years to be exact) act and another flight back to the past. So this book became not only the story of a young woman, passionate about travelling, gaining life experiences along the way, but also the story of a son whom one man lost somewhere in this great big world.
I have to apologise because my story is about to start jumping back and forth, here and there, east and west, but isn’t it the same way in life? Stories melt and combine with an absolute disregard for time and all too soon ten years can feel like ten hours. What we left undone yesterday can remind us of its existence again tomorrow. In any case, it seems to me that there’s a common thread that runs through these stories and fates, and that thread has nothing to do with time.
All the events described here are real, at least the way I remember them and as I wrote them. But the names? Even though the characters gave me permission to use their real names, in the end I felt it was better to choose new names for most people (and their families), because the stories about them can sometimes be painful.
Real names have been preserved for those closest to me: Justin, Marta and Anna, whom I would like to thank so much for being so good to me while this book was being finished.
a writer from Estonia (a little country between Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Russia, in case you did not know).
How I lost an old friend
That house. I’ve seen it in my dreams. Sitting there in the bus, I wasn’t sure I could find my way back, but as soon as the bus closed its doors behind us and I got a good look at the street winding down the mountainside, it all came back to me.
Supermercado – the sign can be seen from far away. It doesn’t look like much has changed around here.
Stepping inside the store tosses me back in time. That old corner market is almost exactly the same as it was ten years ago, when I hopped in here with a goatee-sporting, Jesus Christ lookalike. Harri and I made an exotic-looking couple while we were travelling around and selling goods in the markets. Wait, a couple? The two of us were never a couple! I even lied to people and told them that Harri was my uncle, so that no one would suspect that there was anything sexual between us.
I stare at a man with bushy eyebrows who stands behind the counter. Ten years doesn’t really change a middle-aged person that much. It’s Jorge from Cuba, the same one who worked here a decade ago.
“Jorge, do you remember me? Epa! La periodista del Estonia, the journalist from Estonia?”
A puzzled shadow passes over his face before his mouth stretches into a wide smile. “Epa! How many years have passed?”
I’ve probably changed more than he has; the twenty-something slight girl has become a voluptuous thirty-something woman.
“Yes, I know, time flies! How… how is Marco doing?”
“Not bad! But he missed you; he was waiting for you to come back for years!” After all, Marco wasn’t just Jorge’s boss, but a friend as well.
“When is he coming?” I ask. “Is he coming today? We just arrived on the island yesterday and the first thing we did this morning was come here.”
I don’t want to allow any pauses in the conversation, let the air be filled with words instead. My two daughters are running around behind me, while their father, my husband Justin is watching over them. A week ago I sat him down and told him that it was time to jump on a last-minute offer to Gran Canaria, because I had been planning and postponing this return trip. Now we’re here, ready to face the careless world traveller Epp from ten years ago. Ready to face my past. And somewhere here, in the possession of the shop- and hotelkeeper Marco, a bag is waiting with my clothes, books and travel journals documenting the most confusing time of my life.
“Marco isn’t coming today; he’s at the doctor’s. His heart is not good, los problemas1, Epa…”
Jorge doesn’t ask me, “How come you never called?” I remember that Jorge was always very tactful. My travel companion Harri, the wild Christ-lookalike, liked to classify people, and he judged Jorge to be a specimen of high intelligence and alertness. Marco, on the other hand, was greedy and stupid, according to Harri. I’m sure that his opinion did count for me at the point when I had to choose whether to stay on the island or not, whether to return later or not… And Djellah, my best friend at this same hotel, she also kept telling me the same thing: “For Marco, you are just a girl passing through.”
I spoke of many things with Djellah back then. It was right here in the hotel above the store, or on the beach in front of it where we spent time together and discovered each other. Twenty-four years older than me, born on the same date, she had grown up with the same itch in her soul, a fever burning under her skin – to move, to travel, to experience the new, to melt into it, take it along and move on. I filled up five cassette tapes with interviews with Djellah and wrote a long article for an Estonian magazine about her: “That strange woman still flashes through my thoughts, like a dream I saw or a thought I didn’t get to finish. It’s as if I’ve touched something at once plaintive, humorous and beautiful. Something intangible and incomprehensible that I can’t ever completely forget…” That’s a series of flowery words that I once stitched together to describe my experience. Unfortunately the article was rejected: “This person is nuts, why should we publish a story about her?” argued one editor. “The city trams are full of these half crazies pushing fifty. You probably haven’t had any contact with real bohemians, but it’s normal, you’re still young!” Another magazine did end up accepting the story after severe editing: a piece about a woman without a homeland or mother tongue; a woman who still holds a place of honor for me as one of the most unique people I have ever met.
But I haven’t had any more contact with Djellah. I accidentally left my journals, notebooks
“Problems” in Spanish.