Marina Vassilopoulos works and resides within central Manchester. She can often be found writing her experimental short fiction in various cafés whilst fawning over patrons’ dogs. Born in America and having resided in various parts of the world, her passion for creative writing was reignited at the University of Sussex after undertaking an MA in Modern and Contemporary Fiction. She enjoys reading and writing about the diaspora, feminism, and present social issues such as mental health.
My first memories occupy the balmy streets of Singapore, the concrete jungle where I grew to hate the sensation of perspiration. As the sticky honey of sweat dribbled down our spines, our mother would often trickle cool water from clenched rags to quash our burning skin. The slow drip of the water was never cooling, but always cold.
Evenings slid towards sanity. Stifling heat gave way to gentle breezes, the whispers of which were the matinee affair, support acts for the concerts of the crickets. As traffic slowly dissipated and the city fell to slumber, they rose from their beds to strum their manic lullabies.
I learnt at a young age that their chirping is a form of ‘stridulating’. A pleasant word, but tarantulas can stridulate too. Even the most abhorrent things have beauty within themselves.
I sometimes wonder if my insomnia began there. I became used to forces outside of my control taking the reins of my sleeping pattern. There has always been a prevalence of noises in the night.
Nowadays it’s my brain, rather than the insects, that tends to stridulate in the later hours, singing the unwanted noises. Or, perhaps, I am a cricket?
We always wore thick soled shoes in Singapore. Sandals made of thick cut leather, with buckles of cheap brass that clicked with each step. These weighed down my fleeting childhood feet that longed to carry me away from the grotesque metropolis and towards beauty.
Disney and distant parents make for an imaginative childhood. I always thought that if I could escape the constraints of normality, of life as I knew it, I’d be consumed into that scenery. That somewhere, past the corners of our flat pack home, there’d be elephants who’d swing me from their trunks and bathe me in shallow pools. That perhaps there existed gorillas who would preen me, transform me into their Tarzan queen. There might be giant hyenas (I was never a cat person) who would let me ride their sleek bodies into the dusk. A land beyond time; a land before humanity.
This was prohibited by the abominable green leash my mother bought me after my first attempted escapade. When she was distracted by an old friend, I took my chance. Between the racks of clothes in a department store, I curled like a cat amongst starched fabric, knees heated by the purrs of contented breath. I fell asleep dreaming of games: this time I lived amongst the dinosaurs. Herein it was T-rex, rather than my mother, who was my greatest foe. His arms were unable to grasp me.
They found me two hours later when a woman, reaching for a blouse, accidentally grabbed a fistful of a yelping hair. I learnt that there’s no sympathy in games. A slap is a slap. That leash bit into each of my shoulders like a fraying backpack. It was always her favourite colour, Crayola vomit green.
I would often try to run away from my family. From friends. From teachers. Always running, incapable of staying in the same place for long. A necessity to keep learning about the world around us, if only to make sense of it. As I’ve aged, the only difference is that I’m less quick about it. Adulthood does that to you.
I suppose it’s worse now, as I increasingly find myself running, even from myself. What do you do, when a house is no longer a home? There’s a sentry guarding something no longer sentient.
I don’t remember the innards of our home, only blurred scenes. My personal favourite: I’m dancing on the sofa to S Club 7 and tumbling, only to lose my first tooth; my first real memory of pain. I remember watching one of our fish spurt out babies and having the prominent realisation of how complex the world around us can be. Most hazily, there’s sitting on the floor, drunk, because my father, on one of his rare visits home from a business trip, accidentally gave me an alcopop instead of lemonade. I remember it was a Mike’s hard lemonade. I learnt to drink before I knew how to spell.
My favourite place was always the gardens in our complex. I often sat beneath the mottled arms of a Banyan tree. Each branch looked like Medusa’s hair, a path upon a map into a new world. Simultaneously north, east, south, west. A tree of endless possibilities.
The gardens were encircled by impossibly high concrete walls crowned with barbed wire. I always thought that the wire there was to keep children like myself in, the ones who felt there was something unspeakable beyond them, and that something was being kept from us. If only I’d know that when one lowers walls, they invite danger.
Our family friend Zoe once visited in the height of summer. She made the decision to walk barefoot through the grass. In the days that followed, she’d repeatedly complain that one of her feet was unbearably itchy, and that she must’ve caught a fungal infection. When she visited the doctor, they found worms embedded beneath the skin. White, wriggling tubers, like the filaments of our bones, trying to flee their imprisonment within human flesh.
End of Extract.
Marina can be reached at email@example.com