All the places you’ll never go back to, all the places where you once lived, all the languages you will never speak again. All the skies you once looked at, all the patterns of stars, the air smelling like wood smoke, like eucalyptus. The mountains you saw, the huts with tin roofs, the steak cooking over the fire in a circle of rocks. The world was breaking and reforming and you had no idea where you would end up.
All the memories you have of that place, of the people you never saw again, of the people who listened to you talk about how lost you felt, the people who heard you explain your loss. The people who once understood you, who you understood. Someone who was more a father to you than your father, someone who sat listening to you on the wooden porch, someone who saw you were still a child, someone who pushed you with a gentle hand on your back and told you, go.
All the things you learned other people expected of men, reprimanded for wearing your uniform incorrectly, for flipping up the brim of your slouch hat, for going barechested in the heat. The things you and the other children believe you would do as men.
All the days in your life after this – lived out a world away, hardly ever outside the few city blocks where you and your wife you barely knew set up household with the children in a too small apartment, where the cars revved on Saturday afternoons and concrete covered all of the ground. You woke every morning to go into work and there was never a break. There was work, and there were children, and there were the dinners where no-one spoke freely and there was the TV and there were the gunning city streets. And at night you would look up and see that the stars were almost always drowned by light, and when the sky was clear enough and there was sufficient darkness you could never find the constellations you used to see on the other side of the world.
All the stories no-one would believe, the stories about how you escaped one country, were arrested in another, taken far away as a prisoner, freed finally, joined an army that wasn’t yours, and saw stars that couldn’t be seen from the part of the earth you stood in now.
All the places you could never go back to, that you went back to again and again in your mind, that you remembered the smell of and the taste of, but you could never speak about it with that kind of specificity, because who would you tell about it? So you thought about it over and over again, returned to it in your mind all alone. When you woke up and you went to work, when you drove down the highway in your Impala, when another sky appeared and in the cold winter morning before sunrise, you’d remember heat and you were there. Even if no one else could see it, you were there.
Linda Mannheim is the author of three books of fiction. Here most recent book, This Way to Departures, has been shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Linda’s short fiction has appeared in Granta, Catapult Story, 3:AM Magazine, and more. She recently launched Barbed Wire Fever, a project that explores what it means to be a refugee through writing and literature. Originally from New York, Linda divides her time between London and Berlin.