Lucky red socks
There used to be monkeys at my old school, our school occupied a grassy space near the forest where the trees were lush and the ground always smelled like sunshine. The monkeys were like stray cats, except they lingered on the rooftops; sometimes you could hear them moving above languidly, tapping on the metal rooftop in a maths lesson. You weren’t supposed to make eye contact with them, in case they ran after you. A rather scary game of chase. What I now realise is the absurdity of how mundane it all was. You could walk past them, without a second glance. The only time that we’d distinctively notice their presence was when the new teachers arrived; their faces always morphed into a mixture of surprise, fear and confusion, sometimes even letting out shrill squeals. They would pull out their phones, tentatively snapping shots of the little creatures and it seemed amusing to me that these creatures created such a stir at the beginning of the school year. You’d also notice that as the school year dragged on, the teachers soon became indifferent to the tiny mammals swinging about, dangling from the mango trees. If you see something over and over again, it starts to lose its charm. Monkeys, squirrels, cats.
The most ironic thing was seeing them reposing on the monkey bars, a man-made contraption named after them, for children to climb on. They would dominate it, as if in defiance to our intrusion into their territory. When I look back at my childhood, this is one of my most vivid memories. My mum would come pick me up and we’d walk past the monkey bars, noticing the undeniable irony of the tiny beasts in their own kingdom which we created.
The house always smelled like a mixture of oranges, pool water and freshly cut grass. It was a mixture of wooden floors with tribal statues of warriors placed around, decorative banana boats made from paper maché. Our front door was always decorated with red posters depicting the animal that represented the Chinese New Year. I don’t think they ever conflicted with one another, my double identity reflected in the objects of our home. When I get asked where I’m from, I linger on this image, a mingling of here and there. Every day was like this— a fusion meal of mashed plantain, called matooke, and dim sum pork buns. Afrobeats and Dancehall at parties while wearing my mum’s red socks inscribed with 福, the Chinese symbol for fortune; she superstitiously thought that wearing them would lavish me with good luck right after the Chinese New Year. It was a running joke between my friends — I’d wear the socks to a house party, exclaiming that it would give me the luck that I needed to pull whatever boy I had a crush on then. ”I’m only here to get lucky,” I’d jest. Those socks were my version of sexy undergarments.
Summers were long days by the pool with friends who I’d known as long as I could remember. I’d cover myself in coconut oil, waiting to sizzle in the sun and roll into the pool whenever it got too hot. We’d dare each other to climb onto the water tank outside my house and at night, we’d sneak out to go skinny dipping with only the faint lights around my garden, we’d even sneak out for midnight bicycle rides, reckless and engulfed with a feeling of invincibility. One summer, we went camping outside the city, near the border of Kenya, where there were more stars than sky. Shooting stars would whoosh by every so often and I’d send wishes off into the warm, humid night, lying on my friend’s lap, falling asleep to the sound of hyena laughs that eerily echoed around us. I wished upon a star: let me be an astronaut/spy/ballerina floating in space, touching two stars at the same time.
Even back when I was in primary school, I never read books about places like home, they were always about crowded cities with underground trains, skyscrapers and chain cafes. Characters with names like June, Anna and John, that ate Pop Tarts for breakfast and went to the skate park. I wanted all of that. I wanted to give up my monkey bars for railways, give up my red socks for it all.
I have started wearing my red socks again over thermal tights in supervisions, I need all the luck I can get. I’ve gone to a skate park, know what lines to take on the tube, learnt new definitions of home. My mum gave me a single red thread as a bracelet to match my socks this year. She told me this story— how we are connected to the people we love on this invisible red line, a thread intertwining and weaving around us like a red spider’s web. The people who are destined to be in your life have the same red string and they’ll always find a way back to you, tugging on the red lifeline. The string doesn’t break, no matter how far apart you are. I said back to her, “seems unlikely that this thread ever thought that international travel would be possible”. We still wear identical red threads around our wrists.
When you walk to Grantchester in summer, stretching out on the grass feels the same as lying in my garden. If you close your eyes you can feel the same sun dripping on your skin. Cycling home at midnight here, I still feel that same sense of invincibility that I did at sixteen. The roads are smoother, yet I’m still wobbling all the same.
This is what it means to achieve teleportation, I’m here but still there.