As I landed in Shanghai Pudong Airport for the first time, even after midnight, the heat and humidity astounded me and a sense of defeat immediately struck me. The friction of people’s bodies was astounding and violating, their breaths were exhausted and so were the exhaust pipes of swarms of identical taxis, even the streetlights seemed to scorch with heat, contributing to the clammy atmosphere. It is absolutely essential for a main character of a story to have some sort of goal; one cannot be a useless wanderer, a naive fatalist just floating by, afraid to touch, treating the world like a museum full of dainty fragile artefacts. No one in Shanghai is. Whether Shanghai-born-and-raised or newly residing here, or just passing by from Pudong to Hongqiao on the way home, everyone is here to make an impact. So my goal was to spend a year in Fudan University as exchange program from my alma mater – Edinburgh University in misty Scotland. One can say that the omnipresent aura of Shanghai is similar to a fog over Edinburgh – mystical, all-consuming, intoxicating, imprisoning but also liberating from life itself. I took a deep breath and lost myself in The Fog and it as not long until I met Him. I wasn’t sure where I was when I first felt his presence by my side but at first it felt stalkerish. His appearance was both surprising and expected. He was beautiful.
He has bigger than me, better than me, more dangerous and daring but also attentive and while He didn‘t offer much compassion He was a great entertainer. He was brilliant at making bad things disappear with a swipe of a hand. He knew all the joyous corners and I think that a lifetime wouldn‘t have been enough to visit all of them. We spent our afternoons perusing small streets, crowded alleys in Tianzifang, peeking into mundanity of pantyhose washing grandmothers, constantly smoking/spitting but secretly kind-hearted fathers, prepped and preened mothers that were brave enough to wear pearl-white kitten heels in the dust of the pavements and effervescent bundles of joy that were the little emperors stumbling upon their untied shoelaces. The beauty I came across everyday moved me almost to tears, I was scared that I couldn‘t capture the moments of simple, beautiful truth, that I wasn‘t able to convey the light that was shining from people‘s eyes and hearts with my smartphone camera.
I was madly in love, I wanted to soak in every moment we spent together like a sponge. Countless hours were spent by two shades wandering back and forth on the Bund, hoping to leave footprints, hoping not to be forgotten. I got lost. I wanted to cry. And he was immediately mistaken. I cried happy tears because I finally got lost.
One marvelous afternoon in May, I realised that it was time to pack for a homeward journey. I knew the day was coming but I hadn‘t realised that my tiny dorm room could feel anymore like home and decluterring even brought a tear in my eye. There were so many mysteries that surrounded him that I will never have a chance to uncover and so many things I haven‘t found out. I had this helpless feeling that strucks you when you are leaving a place not knowing if you will ever be able to come back. I can‘t help but imagine our future dialogue. It is a mistery where it will take place. Vienna? Hong Kong? Will he be backpacking through Europe? I think it will go something like this:
He stands all serious but a mischievous smile plays wih his face making him appear to grimace once in a while as I approach the bridge, any bridge. Wherever it might me, I have a feeling that we will meet on a bridge. Halfway, ideally, but knowing him, I will have to step a couple of extra steps. With a Burberry coat that does all the talking about his financial situation, a white streak through his otherwise thick raven hair and thick rimmed glasses he seems to be living in Xintiandi.
– You look good, – I say, trying to hide my excitement of seeing him again, – Established, rejuvenated. I have actually seen you on TV, read about you in newspapers, internet, obviously… internet is the way to go nowadays. But I must say that in the days when you were hopeless before, I just liked you more.
– Oh don‘t be fooled. I am still hopeless.
– For Shanghai?
– Haven‘t you figured it out yet? I am Shanghai, – he laughs but that is exactly what he was to me at the time and that is how he is imprinted in my mind right now, in the future, – I am everything for so many people and I root for them so badly all the time. I want them to succeed, I want them to fall in love and be happy, but I am not only hopeless, I am also helpless. Because only they can make it happen. And only because of them I can flourish. And I flourish.
– Were you ever mine? – I gather the courage to ask.
– Ofcourse I was. The same way you were completely and wholeheartedly mine. You see, we take invisible pieces of other people, so small that they wouldn‘t feel the damage but big enough to carry their essence. We do the same thing with places, experiences – we make them ours. But they do not simply become us, they mold into us creating new braingroves. Everything is as real as you feel it is. And rightfully so. If you felt that I was the love of your life, I have no right to tell you otherwise.
I can only pray for this reunion to actually happen.