Encounter

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I remember the first day we met. I was standing in the shelter of a closed shop doorway, waiting for the rain to pass because I didn’t bring an umbrella and I wasn’t in a rush. I was scrolling Facebook on my phone, holding my coat collar up against my neck. The evening was blue; car lights swept past like sunbeams, the sound of tyres on wet concrete rolling by. You stepped in like you were running from something or someone – I stared at you for a good few seconds before you noticed me.

‘Hi,’ you said.

‘Hi.’ I pressed closer to the wall, turned to face the road.

‘You ok?’ you asked.

It was a weird question from a stranger. If I’d been crying or something, sure. But I was just trying to be alone. Why did that suggest something was wrong?

‘Yeah. Are you?’

‘Uh,’ you laughed, rubbing the back of your neck. ‘Funny story.’

Somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be funny.

‘So I’m kinda…’ you continued, ‘in trouble.’

I was reluctant to offer help. Trouble could mean anything – drug money, crazy exes, stolen goods, an overdue power bill, forgetting to call your mum. But I couldn’t help it. I asked, ‘What kind of trouble?’

You said, quite matter-of-factly, ‘These guys wanna kill me.’

I stuck my head out of the doorway to look in the direction you’d come from. ‘Which guys?’

‘Don’t look! Just … some guys.’

‘Are they looking for you now?’

‘Probably.’

‘What do they look like?’

‘I dunno. That’s the worst part. They might not even be guys. It could be you for all  know.’

‘Is this some weird pick-up?’

‘No! God … I mean – not that I wouldn’t – ah, so … no, not – it’s not. It’s real.’

‘And why … ?’

‘I may … have something they want.’

‘Which is … ?’

‘I can’t say. If you know, you’re as good as dead as well.’

The sky opened further and poured more rain, torrential. We could have been standing behind a waterfall.

‘I’m Jacinta,’ I said, sticking out a hand.

‘Really? You’re doing this now?’

‘You’re supposed to tell me your name and shake my hand now.’

You looked at me like I was some kind of poisonous creature, unsure whether I’d choose to sting you or not. But slowly, cautiously, you stretched out your hand. ‘Jake.’

‘Nice to meet you.’

‘You … too. I guess.’

‘You guess?’

‘I just … a lot is happening right now! Sorry.’

‘Look,’ I said, putting my phone away and facing you now, but still leaning my back against the wall. The rain felt like a fourth wall, enclosing us in an echo chamber. ‘No one else knows you’re here.’

‘How can you know that?’

‘Whatever you’ve got … stolen … whatever. Do you have it with you?’

‘No.’

‘Is it dangerous?’

‘In the wrong hands, yes.’

‘How do I know the wrong hands aren’t yours?’

‘Why do you want to know? Trust me, you look like a nice girl, you don’t wanna get involved in this mess.’

‘What if I do?’

I realised I’d taken a step closer. I realised the rain had let up, that the evening sky had lightened and a faint setting sun was beaming through the heavy clouds. We didn’t know each other then, didn’t trust each other. But in that moment I felt your walls coming down.

Footsteps came and went, but no one killed you that night.

 

[A 20 minute writing exercise inspired by the following phrases: I remember, the telephone rang, when it all changed, an important meeting.]

A Millionthousandzillion Minutes

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In some ways it’s obvious and beyond our control: time is linear and finite, the sun rises and sets, the seasons change, businesses open and close, and, if we are to be a part of society, we fit ourselves into the pattern of everyone else’s routine.

But time is so much more interesting than ticking clocks and the turning pages of calendars. The more I think about it, the more I understand time to be a bending, compressing, stretching thing; still mostly out of our control, but unique to every one of us.

How else do you explain the way some moments seem to last forever – living on as a detailed memory long after they have passed? And that there are months, perhaps years, you don’t remember at all?

Am I the only one who feels there is never enough time, lying awake at night wishing I could be three people so I could do all the things I want to do in this life, hang out with all the people, see all the movies, read all the books, learn all the things, absorb all the places and cultures, spend all the time with the people I love, train parkour and capoeira, walk the dog, watch the stars, write a book? And do all those other things, like eat and sleep?

I think back on the slowest times in my life, the ones I remember most clearly, and they all have one thing in common: I was fully present. I remember a lot of my parkour training over the years because it requires me to be present, or else I risk serious injury. I remember all those teenage firsts. I remember sitting alone on a plane to the other side of the world, unsure of anything but the fact that I was unsure. I remember being in a bus crash when I was nine. I remember conversations where I’ve connected with people on multiple levels, some of whom I only met once, briefly, and I never even got their name; conversations where the rest of the world melted away, and I learned something about them, about myself, and about the way of things. I remember dancing with my husband, tipsy and barefoot, on a beach in Boracay. I remember laughing with one of my best friends till we cried, about a shoe. I remember times my heart was full to bursting, and times it felt torn apart. I remember curling up in the middle of the courtyard on one of my first days of school, in tears, completely alone surrounded by people for the first time in my life.

And then: I pick up my phone for five minutes, and an hour disappears into the internet.

In the hours between two and four am, I lie in a daze, not quite awake, certainly not asleep, considering giving up on sleep altogether. The minutes stretch on for eternity. My stomach rumbles. My eyes hurt. And then, somewhere between four and eight am, time slides away.

I sit down to write, and the first twenty minutes is like squeezing words from an empty toothpaste tube. Then, on the best days, two hours disappear and when I ‘wake up’, there will be pages of words that didn’t exist before, not quite in that way, in that order. Like magic.

There’s a trick to this: do one thing at a time. It makes time slow down, and multiply. When we try to do many things at once, we never finish anything, we don’t realise how much we’ve actually achieved, only what we didn’t, we’re left frustrated, and dissatisfied, and incomplete, wishing we could be three people so we could do it all. We try to have dinner with our partners, look out for an incoming work email, partake in our friends’ messenger conversation, and comment on someone else’s Facebook post, at the same time, and every one of those exchanges becomes meaningless and thus forgotten.

I used to give the kids this exercise: write about the longest minute of your life. I had them think about what makes time move slowly (anticipation, boredom, tension, fear), and what speeds it up (excitement, fun, routine). Of course, it was nonsense, in a way: time moves on at the same pace no matter what’s happening for you in any given moment. But your perception of it changes, and this makes all the difference.

What if we all realised the power we have to bend, compress, and stretch time? That we can take notice of all the details when we’re at our happiest to make them last longer. And not dwell on the things that bore us, scare us, worry us, so that they don’t take over, as they tend to do (at least for me).

Time would still go on as it always has – the sun will rise and set, we will grow older.

But maybe less time will disappear into internet.

And more time will unfold in the presence of people we connect with on multiple levels.

Sometimes, partway through a workshop, one of the kids will ask: “How many more minutes?”

I say, “A millionthousandzillion.”

They laugh, and look at the clock.

“Only ten minutes!”

And they write faster. As soon as they’re focussed, even they know ten minutes can disappear in the blink of an eye. But in its place is something that didn’t exist before, not in that way, in that order. A story.

And stories last forever.

Parkour: the spectacle, the practical, the philosophical, and where competition fits in

Parkour as a spectacle is easy to define. It looks beautiful, impressive, terrifying, exciting. It’s often fast, it often flows, it can look animalistic and superhuman. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular on YouTube, why shows like Ninja Warrior have so many viewers. Parkour as it is widely understood – an extreme sport for super-fit adrenaline junkies and/or ‘crazy’ teenage boys  —  is so far from most people’s everyday lives that it fits perfectly into our constant hunger for a vicarious experience of danger, excitement, fear, pain and satisfaction from the safety of our couches.

Parkour as most practitioners understand it is quite different from this. Parkour is big jumps and small jumps. It’s rhythm, flow, balance, teamwork, strength and discipline. It requires self-checking and courage, an embracing of fear and challenges in order to be better. It’s on rooftops, it’s on the ground, it’s in cities and in nature. It’s quiet, serious, creative and playful. It’s personal and universal. It’s asking questions. It’s endless possibilities. It’s an extension of everyday life, a way of making sense of the madness. It’s experimentation, repetition, refinement, and precision. It’s damn hard at times. It hurts. But it also makes you stronger, literally building a thicker skin. Parkour is a means of getting from A to B, working with your environment rather than against it, or being complacent within it. Parkour is taking your power back. It’s a pathway to freedom in a world in which it’s easy to forget how much you have, how much you’re capable of, and what you have to contribute.

Parkour is not a competition. There is no winning in parkour, just as there is no winning in life. There is only constantly striving to do the best you can with what you have. Your ‘parkour career’ doesn’t end when you get injured, or you establish yourself as the best in the world (whatever that means).

You can’t measure who will be most useful in an emergency, or who trains the most sensibly to last longest, or who has grown the most on a physical, emotional, spiritual level since they started. There are too many variables. Those concepts don’t fit neatly into an event; they don’t make for very sexy TV.

But parkour movements fit easily into competition culture. You can compete to see who has the biggest jump, the fastest time, see how many techniques you can demonstrate over certain obstacles. I can see how this can be motivating, driving practitioners to become faster, stronger, more technically proficient. Obviously it can be fun, and bring people together as they cheer each other on. 

I’m not against having any competitions which measure some aspect of parkour skill at all. I’m not against a reality TV series showcasing the incredible athletic ability of people I already know are amazing to the masses. I have huge respect for people who have competed in Ninja Warrior – to me they are admirably brave and strong for not only tackling the course, but for not having my fear of epically failing in public! I have found it particularly empowering to see women competing on the same course as men, for the same prize.

My concern is that you can only compete with parkour movements. It can look like parkour, but the intention is different. And viewers will always, unless we work really hard to make it otherwise, assume a parkour movement competition is parkour.

Personally, since I was very young, I’ve lost interest in most activities the moment they turn competitive. I grew up around some pretty competitive people. Roaring, cocky, throwing racquets and clubs, slamming doors competitive. Play hard to win, even if it means getting injured, competitive. I know it wasn’t their intention – I was always encouraged to join in – but I never felt their passion for competitive sport. I was never very ‘good’ although I enjoyed playing, and this made me decide that I wasn’t sporty. So I retreated to my quiet activities of reading, writing and crafting things.

Maybe it was growing up in a competitive culture, a society in which things are validated by levels and awards. But as I got older and more passionate about writing, I craved something more than personal satisfaction, wanted to share my work with more than my teachers and parents. The only apparent option was to try and become a published writer by entering writing competitions for kids. One prize meant so much to me I cried when mum couldn’t find the awards ceremony venue, even though missing it wouldn’t change the fact that I had won a prize. On another occasion, I won a national short story competition. I still remember how I hung up the phone after receiving the news and danced around the house. When an extract of my story was read out to a full banquet hall, I heard someone behind me whisper to their neighbour, “Wow, that was actually really good!” (not knowing I was in front of them) and that’s still the greatest compliment I’ve ever received, one I never would have received had the competition not existed. So I think I understood then how much winning and recognition meant to others in sport.

The existence of writing competitions gave me a structure to work with – goals, deadlines, themes, and incentives. Not everyone would need it, but it helped me. As writing is such a solitary activity, and with no friends or mentors who loved to write like I did, it provided a way of comparing what I wrote to others my own age, and gaining feedback from professionals. I was awarded and published a few times, rejected many more, and the whole experience made me a stronger, more confident and more determined writer. It gave me perspective and kept me grounded. Not once did I think that just because my work wasn’t chosen, that I had ‘failed’. It just meant that that story wasn’t right for that competition, it wasn’t ready, or I needed to practise more. Again, I know not everyone would respond in this way, but it worked for me. 

Amongst creative writers, there is a strong mutual understanding that success is based on chance as much as skill and hard work, and that lack of recognition isn’t necessarily a measure of the quality of your writing. JK Rowling is a popular example – Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before a publisher finally saw some potential in it. Dedicated writers are persistent, consistent, and passionate; they write because they must, because it brings them joy, because it challenges and satisfies them. If you are writing for money or fame, you shouldn’t be writing, despite the fact that competitions and many avenues for recognition exist.

But back to parkour. Personally, I fell in love with it for many reasons, but it was it’s non-competitive aspect that kept me training. It reminded me that I can and do love moving. I love playing, exploring, being outdoors, challenging myself without worrying about tests, levels, shows or races. I can play and be challenged in my own way, developing practical skills and having fun, and that is not only ok but the norm.

I’ve been trying to work out why I reacted in one way to competitions in sport, and another way to competitions in writing. And I think the answer is that in writing, I was motivated by the confidence that I could be noticed – if I tried hard enough, if I learnt as much as I could, if I stumbled upon the right opportunity. And no matter what happened, because I never told anyone I entered anything unless my work was selected, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s expectations.

In sport, I was de-motivated by the acceptance that I had no chance of winning, or even helping a team to win. I didn’t want to get in the way. And no one seemed to be playing just for fun.

The question is, do we want parkour to be a thing that is a casual part of more people’s lifestyles, like walking a dog or riding a bike? Or do we want it to be a pursuit only the able and passionate need bother even try?

Honestly, I just want people to move more and play more, no matter their age, gender, background or ability. I would love to see more value placed on movement for movement’s sake, in the same way I have tried to build Creative Write-it up as a space for kids to be creative for creativity’s sake – don’t worry about grades or if what you do seems silly or doesn’t work. It’s the trying, the process, where the lessons lie. And I truly believe parkour has a lot to offer mainstream modern society, whether the ‘moves’ are part of your everyday life or not. How to face challenges and measure fear. A culture of effort, self-improvement, longevity, and sticking together. An awareness of environment, a connection to it. I’m not saying parkour is the only way to find these things, but it is definitely a way. Parkour provides an antidote to disconnection from the environment, ourselves, and each other, during a time in which disconnection from all of these is one of the biggest, most dangerous problems we face.

If parkour competitions had existed when I started, I’m certain I would have stopped very early on. It would have been like every other competitive sport I’ve tried and lost interest in because I was never going to win, and didn’t even want to. And I worry that now that competitions do exist, and they are likely to continue to, that many people like me will never experience the multitude of positives parkour has to offer. I worry about a shift in culture, from an inclusive, welcoming community, to one in which more people are driven by money, fame, and ego. In which more people are driven to win, no matter the cost. At its worst, I fear parkour becoming another sport which links competition and depression in both the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’.

If there is a way for parkour competitions to exist without losing our integrity or hurting the inclusive culture we’re all working so hard to cultivate, I’m doubtful. But, based on my experience as a writer who has found value in writing competitions, I’m also hopeful.

Competition culture isn’t going away. The media isn’t going to lose interest in an activity that seems ‘extreme’. But it makes the role of parkour coaches imperative, in the same way we (at Creative Write-it) are constantly reminding kids that the ‘creative writing’ component in their upcoming scholarship exam is only tapping into a tiny element of what it really means to write creatively, in reminding trainees that only so much can be taught. Training for competitions is a very specific skill-set that does not nearly encapsulate the whole of parkour training, in fact the competition element itself is not parkour at all. And training without any interest or intention in competing is just as valid.

Keep teaching, training, sharing, talking. As Julie Angel’s See & Do project suggests, the more people see, the more they will do.

It’s a tricky balance, but not an impossible one.

 

Further reading:

Federico ‘Gato’ Mazzoleni, Parkour in the Entertainment Language, 2016

Giorgio Ferre, Defined in Practice, 2016

Alex Pavlotski, Parkour and the link between Competition and Depression, 2016

Julie Angel, See & Do, 2013 – present

A Plan of Action

I’ve only ever followed politics to a point. After that point (which will be different for everyone) it becomes background noise, two kids fighting for your best friendship just so they can share the chocolates your mum always puts in your lunchbox. I’ve felt guilty feeling this way, because, despite uninspiring options, it’s something I should care more about. Don’t you care about the economy? About your rights? About the country you live in and the people you share it with?

You think other people will take care of that. You assume they will exercise common sense. You think it doesn’t make much difference who you vote for, or which of these loud-mouthed kids is leading.

But you are wrong.

For the first time, in the lead-up to an election, I felt genuinely worried. Months ago, it was, “Are you kidding me? No one is going to take him seriously.” And now here we are.

I’m not American, but because it’s America, we’re all affected. That’s what makes this even more painful that our vote really doesn’t count, we don’t get a say. We can only watch in disbelief as state after state makes their choice.

For the first time, because of an election, I wanted to curl up in a ball in bed and stay there. Like someone who had personally disrespected me and hurt me the day before, I didn’t want to give him my time or energy – he didn’t deserve it – but then I felt that guilt again. It’s because of people who might have voted differently not caring enough, not knowing and understanding enough, not even voting, that these things happen.

Earlier this year, I was in London the day of the Brexit result. Everyone I spoke to was outraged, upset, disappointed. But clearly my ‘everyone’ was not the majority; at least not the majority who actually voted. Soon after, I learnt that in Australia, Pauline Hanson was back in the senate. Pauline ‘White Australia Policy’ Hanson. She was around when I was in high school, when I was just starting to get over wishing I was ‘normal’ and white, getting  comfortable with and even proud of being Asian-Australian, feeling like I belonged. Her wanting ‘us’ out hurt. And the fact that she had any public voice at all, no matter how easy she was for the media to mock, she had supporters. ‘My people’ supported her wanting ‘us’ out.

Not to mention it made the changing of our refugee policies, and the opening of our borders to asylum seekers who are not only being held in limbo for years but tortured under our government’s watch, having escaped desperate circumstances only to find themselves in equally desperate circumstances, feeling further away than ever. Never before have I felt so ashamed to be Australian, part of a privileged Western society, as I have in recent years.

In school we learnt about Hitler, and the horrors of wars that happened before our time. I had nightmares about living in cupboards only to have my family and friends killed anyway. We learnt what can happen when the majority of people lose all reason, deciding only to look after ‘their own’, brainwashed into living in fear of the ‘other’. We learnt what can happen when the wrong people are given too much power. In class, we shook our heads and thought, “Thank goodness we live now, when people know better!”

But clearly, more voters than not don’t know better.

I’m taking solace from the fact that my social media feeds are flooded with posts from friends who are just as disgusted, shocked, saddened, and disappointed as I am. That some of those posts are reminders of our need to band together and, now more than ever, speak up and fight for what is right. I’m taking solace from the fact that I don’t associate with closed-minded idiots people who pass judgement and make decisions based on fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Right now, I feel small, powerless, and afraid. I feel like this kind of behaviour, and other hurtful, unjustified, uneducated and inhumane behaviours and views, have been validated. I feel like the way I feel doesn’t matter. I feel like the child-version of me was right to wish she was ‘normal’ (a.k.a. white), that I can’t go back and tell her, “Hey, you are just as Australian as anyone else. You belong, you are wanted, what makes you different actually adds to the beautiful, diverse, proudly multicultural Australia you are lucky enough to live in.” I can’t tell her how lucky she is to be born into a time of openness, acceptance, peace and freedom. And it looks like I won’t be able to say that to my future children either.

I don’t share this blog much/at all, so if you’re reading this, you probably know me, and we’re friends because we’re both not bigoted assholes good people who care about other people – and not just those who look like us, behave like us, and have grown up with similar circumstances and privileges. You’ve probably contributed to the social media feed I’ve been taking solace in. So I don’t need to convince you. And what we need now is not more venting and despairing (thank you for reading though), but a plan of action.

Here’s mine:

  1. Bury my head and weep for a few days.
  2. Re-group. Remember that the day before yesterday I was on a mission to live a full life and contribute positively to the world I want to live in. I believed, and still believe, we essentially all want the same things. To be happy. To be free. To feel safe. Even though fear and hatred are the driving forces at the moment, this can, will, and must change.
  3. Continue on that mission. Continue calling out bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism. Even – especially – when it’s a ‘joke’. It’s never, ever a joke. It’s never ok.
  4. Continue to take solace from the fact that the people I know and associate with are intelligent, compassionate people with good hearts, many of whom are actively driving conversations and initiatives towards greater understanding, love, empathy, and acceptance. Read, talk, and remember how many more of us are out there. We are on the same side, and together we can effect change.
  5. Dont lose hope. Ever.
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An amazing tree I found in Bali, Indonesia about a month ago. I’m going to assume it’s survived a lot of tough times, but has stayed strong, kept going, and has only grown more and more amazing. This is my hope for humanity.

Belated.

I often scribble things down and forget about them, but some thoughts are worth holding onto.

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19/8/16

I don’t know what distance I covered. I don’t know how much time I spent. All I know is that after a day of feeling overwhelmed (there were tears) I felt infinitely better after going outside to just quadrupedal alone under the moon and stars. I could achieve that, the more I pushed the more natural it felt, the stronger I felt. And now I feel like I could conquer anything.

Atti

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Atticus told me to write a story about something beautiful. But what is beautiful? A bouquet of flowers, a symmetrically-featured face, a snow-capped mountain, a satellite view of the earth orbitting the sun?

He clicked his pen as he thought of his own ‘beautiful’ story.

‘Can you stop?’ I said. ‘It’s distracting.’

‘Sorry.’

He stuck the end of his pen in his mouth and cracked his teeth against its edges.

I gathered my notebook and went outside to sit on the deck.

There was nothing but fence and straw-coloured hills and sky. The cows and sheep must have been over the hills, grazing in the shade or drinking from the water hole. The gum trees rustled in the breeze, and goosebumps appeared on my arms. I stretched my legs into the sun, but kept the rest of me in shade so I could see my pages.

You know what’s beautiful, I wrote. The lines in the wood on the deck right here. You can follow them with your fingertips and go on journeys to everywhere. And you have to wonder what came before – what kind of tree was this wood made of, and which year of its life did this line signify? What happened that year – or the years and years before – to make the grain swirl in this way? Who sat under this tree, who climbed it, who lived in it, who scratched their initials into the bark? 

What’s beautiful is even thinking about these things. How does the sun feel if you’re a tree? Can you feel yourself growing?

Does your stump still exist out there somewhere, left to grow tall again while you are here, a plank of wood for me to sit on, stretching my legs out in the sun and writing about something beautiful?

Bare footsteps padded towards me, thumping and peeling away from the inside floorboards. The door opened then slid shut again to keep out the flies.

‘Time’s up,’ Atti said.

‘You didn’t say there was a time limit.’

‘Sometimes you can’t know these things.’

‘But-‘

He snatched my notebook and held it high, ignoring my protests and jumping in pointless attempts to get it back. Giving up, I sat on the pile of firewood, crossed my arms, and waited.

‘Not bad,’ he said at last. ‘I’m impressed, little sis.’

‘You have to show me yours now.’

‘Didn’t write anything,’ he shrugged.

I got up and ran inside, but all his stuff was cleared from the table. My blood boiled like only he could make it.

‘I hate you!’ I called.

‘You don’t,’ he laughed.

‘I do! Why’d you make me write that stupid thing anyway? It’s not even a story.’

‘It doesn’t matter. Don’t you get it?’

Just then, mum and dad pulled back into the driveway. Dad got out of the car and opened the gate, and mum drove the car in, crunching gravel all the way. Atti left to help them bring the shopping in, and I cleared some space on the bench.

I gave one-word answers and nodded as they rattled on about the things they saw on the drive, the locals they spoke to, the daylight robbery prices of things at the shops.

And I forgot to say to Atti, No, I don’t get it. Why did you make me write about something beautiful? What did you write? I know you wrote something. I know it.

Now that he’s gone, I wish I’d remembered.

[a 20-minute story inspired by the following random words: beautiful, earth, orbitting, slow, Atticus, drinking, red, tree, running]

London, June 2016

i saw a fox walking towards me in the darkness.

it stalked up the street, we shared a footpath.

headlights swept sparkles across wet concrete

i reached for my phone, knowing i didn’t need an Instagram picture to prove anything

the fox froze, and disappeared through a fence into the night.

*

on the tube, a boy sat down with his young mum.

she sat hunched over him, spoke in whispers, and when she smiled it was quick, forced because he waited for it each time he said something to her

the boy chatted and rummaged through the shopping for a snack

he didn’t know or care about the unspoken tube-oath of silence

he stuffed his face with chocolate popcorn, grinning at the couple beside me with rainbows painted on their faces

ssh, his mum said

he pushed more popcorn into his mouth, then painted arches in the air with his hands

in the reflection, the rainbow-faced boyfriend smiled back

the boy’s mum shuffled in her seat. fixed the boy’s hair, pulled him closer. pressed a kiss into his head.

‘mummy,’ the boy said loudly. ‘do you know chocolate is my favourite of all the fruits? but actually you are in front of any foods is how much i love you. even more than chocolate.”

*

this city is laced with memories of the most unsure years of my life.

the triggers are everywhere –

this was when

here was where

i want to reach through time and hug myself

tell that girl,

you did the best you could.

everything is going to be ok.

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