by Cath Barton
You twist your head to see out of the window as the plane descends through the swirl and the fluff of the clouds. The pattern of small fields threaded with hedges is soft with a green of an intensity you’d forgotten. You turn to exclaim to Arif, but the stranger next to you is looking the other way. You gather your feelings back inside and turn again to the window, to the small and distant comfort of the green below.
The noises of the sub-continent play in your head; bells, car horns, barking dogs, shouts in the guttural tongues. The patterning there was bright with coloured chalks, flickering lamps, marigold petals. You turn your palms up, half-expecting to still see an oily orange stain on your finger tips. But of course they are pale now.
The noise of the plane changes as it descends. After all these months you are only minutes away from stepping back onto British soil. Or rather, tarmac. The air is cool and you pull your shawl tighter as you walk down the steps. You stumble and a man puts out a hand to help but you bat it away.
‘Thank you, I’m alright.’ It comes out more sternly than you meant, but you will not be dependant on anyone, you are determined.
The train, juddering west, is full, but the sounds are muted. People are plugged into electronic devices. A sudden laugh jerks your head up. A young woman is saying goodbye to a friend. As she stands she hoists her jeans up over the fat of her stomach, looking at you looking at her as if to say And? Are you better than me then? You return her surly look with what you mean as a friendly smile, but perhaps it isn’t because she huffs and turns, hoisting her bag over her bare left shoulder, where she has a tattoo of a heart pierced by an arrow and the name Dean. You have to duck to avoid the bag hitting you in the face.
On the platform there is a lad with hunched shoulders and hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. The girl approaches him and says something, pointing back at the train, and they both gesticulate, ugly expressions on their faces. You shrink into your seat. Welcome to Britain, you think to yourself.
There is no welcoming party in your home town. Why would there be? People are embarrassed by grief. They mutter their sorrys, or cross the road pretending they haven’t seen you. And your mother? She says you should never have stayed there all that time, what good could ever have come of it? She doesn’t mean to hurt you. She cooks your favourite foods, that’s the way she shows she cares about you. She can’t talk about feelings. You’ve always known that so why did you think it would be any different now?
Before you left Arif’s family gave a party. So many people came, people you knew and people you didn’t and they all wept, and sang, and wept some more. They took your hands, smeared them with oil and marigold petals, touched your forehead with gentle fingers and made sinuous movements with their heads, wishing you a safe journey, saying you must return soon, you would certainly do that wouldn’t you?
Had it been one of them they would not have washed it off, this visible blessing on your hands and forehead. But you are from a different culture. There were no marigolds in the Bible and in Britain cleanliness is a virtue. But, looking out of the rectangle of your mother’s kitchen window you see that she does have marigolds in her borders, bright orange and yellow, and this somehow, oddly, gives you a glimmer of hope.
Cath Barton is an English writer and photographer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella for The Plankton Collector, which will be published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath has been awarded a place on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring scheme for emerging writers. Read more at https://cathbarton.com/