Essays by Timothy Lim

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On Returning (1)

May, East Malaysia

I cry at the sight. Was there ever really a way back?

Things have happened.

If I was meant to leave why do I feel guilty for doing so? If I was meant to choose why do all choices seem doomed? It's possible to move between paradise and hell with each footstep.

When I was sixteen my best friend and I explored an abandoned house with the fearlessness that comes only with youth. She lay on a door that had found a resting point on a spiral stairs. I took a photo of her. Light dappled across her face. The roof had disappeared a long time ago and in its stead a tree had made a home. I remember her smile and the way her teeth bent.

She's many timezones away now and our words stretch like arms across an aisle, bound to fall away eventually. Can you hear me? Yes, let me get my headphones. How are you? It's been too long. Your dad? How is he?

My grandpa opens the window to air out the flat. Orange light spills into the living room and bathes us all as we sit in silence. There's a hum of traffic and I can feel the seconds leave. It doesn't take much to make someone's day. It doesn't take much to make mine.

I think of a Singaporean I met in Tromsø. His dark skin and his silver hair made him like no one else on the entire island. He had a kid, I recall. Maybe two.

"We hate to see you so lost"

"I could be settled in Norway with kids in kindergarten and a dog needing to be walked after work. I would feel and be very not lost"

"That's true, you wouldn't be lost but you would be lost to us"

There's a dirt that collects in the corners. There's a fraying that happens at the edges. I see things slowly and gently expire. Order was the exception, degeneration was the destiny. The falconer never really had a falcon. The centre collapses like a mouth without teeth.

What does it feel like to sleep in a childhood bed? I think it's as if a lizard slid back into its skin: familiar but totally wrong. You can only return changed. You have to return anew.

Even her voice is fading. I press my cheek to hers and she coos like a dove.

"It was so good to see you. You brought joy and happiness to us"

I press my cheek to hers again.

Gold streams through the window.

I cry at the sight. Was there ever really a way back?