This is for Georgia, who said she didn’t understand.
1. I stood on one side of the wooden gate; she sat on a bench some way away on the other; our eyes met.
She was four years old at the time, four-and-three-quarters to be precise: a round little face, pink waterproof overalls, her hair in bunches. I was almost twenty-seven: deep in transition, not any longer the person I had been before, not yet the person I would become. She looked at me, and in that moment she was as big as she was little; I looked at her, and in that moment I was as strong-and-brave-and-true as I was lost-and-scared; and as her clear, steady gaze was matched by mine her eyes seemed to say, “oh good, you are here.” As if she had never expected anything less from me but she was happy to see that I was carrying out my part of the plan nonetheless.
She was five and a half when she told everyone I would be her teacher. We didn’t quite believe her, but she knew what she was talking about. She was six-and-a-quarter on the morning she walked down the wooden plank bridge we had build for the start-of-school ceremony. I stood on the other side: twenty-eight, finding my way, ready to catch her.
In the three-and-a-half years that followed, the years in which I was her teacher, I sometime thought back to all of this — always with wonder, often with the sense that I was exactly where I ought to be.
2. Places can do this too: take for example the East Coast of Scotland, or, to be more specific, the hills of Fife as seen for the first time through a train window, on the summer of my first big adventure. It had been grey all day, and raining on and off, but as we left Edinburgh the sun burst through the clouds giving me my first experience of that common but exquisite British summer experience, sun-after-rain, causing my heart to burst into something as well, something like joy-after-having-been-scared. The sky was blue, and high, and ever-present, the hills were greener than green, the sunlight slanting and golden yellow, and it was all so new to my southern self, so delightful in its differentness to everything I’d known — and yet a part of me was resonating with a strange sense of recognition, as if the landscape itself was whispering to me, saying, in its own quiet way: “you are here.”
In time this feeling faded –these days the railway line from Edinburgh to Dundee does not call my name in the way that it once did– but for a summer or two Scotland was the place to be, and Dundee sometimes felt like home.
3. This is what Athens is doing to me at the moment, what it is doing to me again — it has done it once before, which is perhaps why it is so good at it. It seems to be singing to me with a hundred voices, all of them saying the same thing: “you are here.” What am I to do but listen?