I took this photo on the morning of February 14th, 2017 – Valentine’s day. Ironically, it was also the first night I ever spent away from the two boys I call love. The first night I didn’t sleep right next to my son, his feet in my face, and the first morning I was not awakened by the tickle of his fluffy blond hair in my nose.
19 hours earlier:
I take the Intercity from Dordrecht to Schiphol – Amsterdam’s airport, have a coffee at the gate while staring at nothing outside the walls of glass lining the terminal’s building, too dazed by the perspective of 48 hours on my own to even just pull my book out of my bag. The flight to Berlin Schӧnefeld is on time, I have only my small backpack so I skip the baggage claim area and walk directly to the S-bahn station. I take the suburban train nr S45 in direction Gesundbrunnen, get off at Südkreutz, switch to the S2 in direction Bernau, get off at Oranienburgerstraße. The hostel where I’m staying is just across the street from the subway stop.
Three weeks prior, on a random Tuesday night, once my Man and my Child went upstairs to get ready for bed, I cleared out the dinner table, nicely stacked the leftovers in the fridge, rinsed all plates and cups and forks, played Tetris with the dishwasher, ignited the ‘Eco 50℃ – ½ time’ cycle, wiped all kitchen counters, wiped the table clean and dry, then I sat at the red-checked dinner table cloth, face livid in the glare of my retina screen, and felt like I was about to do something extremely daring. Like running on the shore of a crowded beach completely naked, tits flapping and all, while eating a mango.
Earlier that day I received a message from a friend – was I going to be in Berlin for the film festival this year? Of course not! – I almost answered – I never travel away from my family, not even for professional networking occasions like this one, because… because… well, because… And then the dishwasher humming in the silence suggested – Because you’re scared?
I check out the room – clean and simple, two comfortable single beds, a small table, two foldable chairs and a smart little shower lined by mint-green tiles in the spotless bathroom. It is to my taste, I check that the Wi-Fi works as it should (it does), I proceed to the next phase.
Without even taking off my jacket, I relieve my backpack of the following items: laptop, two changes of underwear, two pairs of socks, two t-shirts (one to sleep in, one for tomorrow), a rolled-up pair of leggings, the satchel with the toothbrush and mini-toothpaste, mini-shampoo, mini-deodorant, my main work notebook, the computer charger. I keep only the book I’m reading, my diary, the phone’s charger and take off. It’s almost eight, I’m starving.
I lived in Berlin for about a year, a long long time ago, my flat was not far from here. I know exactly where to head to. I order a falafel plate and a lemon-scented beer at daDa faLafel, a short walk down the street from the hostel. I sit on a stool in the window, watching the cars drive by on the street, reading the book and drinking the beer until the falafel finally arrives, and when it does, I (take a photo of and) devour it.
The months I spent in this city were free-flowing and hazy as most of my life for the past 10 years, before my son was born. I don’t know exactly what did I expect to find here, now. Perhaps I thought that if I’d savour the taste of a few hours in the same mode as then, I would be overwhelmed by a sense of soothing, by a breath so deep it would crack my lungs – that sudden taste of freedom I so often fantasised about while elbow-deep in toddler tantrum in a supermarket alley. Or wiping spilled apple juice for the third time in a morning.
So how does it feel? To eat this falafel without having to wiggle a small child in my lap, making sure he doesn’t steal all my food and wipe his sticky hands on my clothes again?
It feels void, unreal, suspended.
It feels like nothing special.
Except the food.
The food is fucking amazing.
I walk out of daDa and stroll to the Friedrichstadtpalast to take some photos of the red-lit trees and the Berlinale’s decorations to post on my writing studio’s social media. I hurry up, it’s so freezing I can’t think of going much further, so I go back, stop at a night-shop near my hostel, buy a bar of dark chocolate with hazelnuts, and a box of cookies. I go back up to my room, take off woolens and shoes, slip into the leggings, eat chocolate and cookies washing them down with tap water, skype-chat with my man, bid him goodnight around eleven then brush my teeth, get in bed, and watch Hard Candy on my laptop before falling asleep.
How does it feel to lay in an empty bed and sleep?
Lonely, and a bit too still.
And also peaceful, yeah.
But not without a chill.
The next morning I wake up shortly after 7. I put yesterday’s clothes on, take my wallet and the room’s key card, descend to the café on the ground floor. I buy a croissant and a take-away cup of an infusion of lemon slices and fresh ginger, go back to my room, sit on the bed by the window with my pre-breakfast. Outside, I see a huge area between the elegant townhouses that has been shaved down to a bare construction site. It’s the area where the Tacheles used to be, they took it down since the last time I was here so now there is this vast, post-punk ground zero instead.
I take a shower and get ready. I have a breakfast appointment in less than one hour, then one just before lunch, and one just after lunch and another one for dinner. I brush my teeth, dry my hair, wear a clean pair of underwear and the fresh t-shirt. I go back to the window and call home. My boys are already up, I speak with them while observing the bulldozers shift like giant snails over the landscape of sand four floors down. Giggles on the other side of the line, they are still in bed, reading books and watching Youtube clips of whichever Disney blockbuster is my son’s fever at the moment, they miss me, they say. But I probably miss them more, suddenly struck by the thought that this construction site is the best image of the point in life where I have come – shifting like a giant snail in-between longing for what will never come back, and the anticipation of what is not yet here.
I tell them I have to go, and they need to eat some breakfast, I send multiple kisses to my mobile’s screen while they wish me good things for the endeavors of my day. I click the phone off, both excited and sorry that I’m not with them.
Then I turn to the mirror across the room and take this picture, of me.
Not quite there yet, but soon-to-be.
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Marta Parlatore is currently an Artist in Residence in Motherhood – find out more on the official ARiM website. Subscribe to this blog to never miss a post and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram,