Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beyond forever

There is a small grassy hill in the tiny park behind my uncle's house in Toronto, Canada. People walk dogs around it, and Little Leaguers play football in its shadow. No one ever climbs it though, I noticed on that breezy late summer afternoon. Everyday the world walks past it like it isn't there.

I stood at the foot of that hill looking up at its peak. There seemed no reason to climb the hill. There was nothing up there. I looked around, expecting passerbys to look at me funny as they saw a young woman standing in front of a hill, her head slightly bent to one side, looking up at its peak with a curious expression. But no one was looking at me at all.

I took a few steps towards the hill. I could feel the ground beginning to rise to meet the slope of the hill. A few white birch trees rose from the earth like eternal witnesses staring up at some invisible phenomenon. I stood under one of those trees, my eyes still looking at some unseen soundless something at the top of the hill. I placed my hand on the rough bark of the tree. I inhaled sharply, and a tear came to my eye. I'd been here before. Twenty years ago, I had seen this hill, these trees. Except this time I was alone.

I was nine years old when I dreamt that I was standing at the foot of a hill, facing its steep slope. The hill looked big as its slope spread out into the light grey sky. A lot of people were climbing the hill, walking all the way from the bottom to the top, taking slow careful steps as they strained against the force of gravity. They all seemed to be dressed in robes similar to the garbs of a Hajj pilgrim. I could just see the backs of these people who looked like the elderly waddling up the hill, many of them securing the hems of their robes so that they wouldn't trip and fall. I don't recall anyone looking back. They'd keep walking even after reaching the top of the hill so that they'd go to the other side and disappear from my line of sight. The hill wasn't crowded, people kept lots of space between each other, like the players on a football field. Everyone was climbing the hill, and so was I. I was following directly behind my maternal grandfather and grandmother, both of whom had passed away over the past few years.

There were a few trees scattered at the bottom of the slope. The top of the hill was completely bare and looked to be covered with short grass that had begun to lose its green colour. I was following my grandparents until I got stuck in the exposed roots of a tree and couldn't go further. I began to cry out to my grandparents, my hands shooting out to reach out to them. I was bleating like an orphaned lamb that had fallen into a hunter's trap, terrified at my fate of being left behind. My eyes were brimming with tears.

My grandmother turned back and began to cry because I was crying out for her, because she couldn't come back to get me or make me stop crying. She stopped walking and raised a shaky hand to me before drowning in sobs. She brought her shawl close to her trembling mouth as her eyes filled with tears at the helplessness that was both hers and mine. My grandfather turned to put his hand on her shoulder and laughed his usual clucking laugh, his eyes twinkling, his small cheeks shiny and round. He kept chuckling as he helped his wife get back on the course they were on, the one that took them up the hill and over it to the other side. The twinkle in his eye said that there was nothing to cry about. Their backs turned to me, my grandmother's small bent one as her sobs shook her frame, and my grandfather's tall strong one as he helped his wife up the hill, leaving me behind, stuck in the roots of the tree.

I looked at the birch tree next to me. I felt like I'd met that tree once before in another lifetime. I looked up at the top of the hill which grazed the bright blue Canadian sky. What was on the other side? I took my hand off of the tree. My feet were rooted to the ground that was beginning to rise to meet the hill. My stomach was in knots. I took my first few steps towards the peak, away from the trees at the bottom of the hill. I stopped and turned to look back. The trees hadn't held me back this time. I faced the peak once more and took slow but certain steps until I had reached the top where the breeze was fast and the world fell away and I knew what was true.

While googling for an appropriate image to accompany this post, I clicked on one that seemed perfect. Turned out to be a painting by a Canadian artist who likes to display her work on her blog, the - get this - 'Gallery of Dreams'. Of all the...

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