Place swapping is a fantastical phenomenon which Pixi encountered some years ago, at the time of the Beginning. It befell for the first time on a night when the smell of autumn was in the air. The smell of fallen leaves. The smell of cold, which clung to Pixi’s bed sheets, as she took them off the line and back into the warmth of indoors. It was that crisp, cruel cold that makes you expect it to be followed by the smell of gunpowder; that makes you think worryingly about homeless people; that makes you so thankful to have a roof over your head.
Pixi had been struggling with a headache, so bedtime came early. And with it came a blissful halt to existence, as if her body suddenly became capable of producing some kind of natural sedative. Within a millisecond lapse in the space/time continuum, the switch occurred. For the rest of the day, Sleeping Beauty took full advantage of this time out from the wicked spell which had been cast upon her. She hit the town; did some window shopping; bought post-cards and souvenirs; and even made friends with an old woman at the park and the good looking waiter at the little Italian restaurant she had dinner at. The waiter had given her a slip of paper with a number scrawled across it. She didn’t have the faintest idea what she was meant to do with this, but chuffed, gave him a squinty, teethy smile in return, like a knowing accomplice in some naughty plan.
While in a land, far, far away, up in the highest tower of a castle barricaded by the thorny overgrowth of rose briars, Pixi slept soundlessly in the deep hush of an entire kingdom which could not wake. How is any of this relevant? -You ask. It is not, and irrelevance is key to escapism.
“I feel like I’m in a box-car speeding downhill without brakes,” Pixi says to Glorious, and then she regrets it because admittedly the metaphor is a tad cliché. It is a month after her return and the two are locked in an emotionally-constipating conversation of sheer inconclusiveness.
“I know what you mean,” He says, although he doesn’t really. This is one of the problems Pixi has with Glorious. This, and the fact that everything he says to her comes out sounding rehearsed.
When Glorious asked last summer what it would take for her to see them as something more than friends, Pixi could only say ‘time.’ But time was what she never got in the proper sense of the word. She got phonecalls and favours and gifts and doting. She tried to refuse them in vain. She appreciated them and strived to return the kindness. But the one thing Glorious wanted from her, she did not have to give.
“I need out,” she continues. “I need to get away.”
“You always ‘need’ to get away, but is it going to make you happy?” Glorious challenges. “What are you trying to get away from?” And then Pixi wants out of the conversation too, so she subject changes.
“You know, Faringdon is one of those words one wishes to treat as if it were the plural of something. Like oxen.”
“Is it?” Glorious is lost.
“For instance, 'the ox is rotund' and 'the oxen are rotund.' Similarly, 'Faringdon are' sounds alot more gramatically correct than 'Faringdon is'.”
“Allow me to demonstrate further,” Pixi leans back on the park bench with her hands burrowed deep into her coat-pockets, and observes an overcast evening sky which is becoming ink-stained with a storm that brews in the belly of its clouds. “Faringdon are a residence,” she begins. “to particularly posh blue-bloods of the only-organic eating variety, that break up in hives when they spy a bum walking on the opposite side of the road.” The sound of thunder overhead announces Pixi’s time to to be off along home. Either that or heaven is not amused. “Or in fact,” she tempts it further. “The Farigndon are coming round for tea this evening, whot! Lord Faring fancies a bit of fresh sconn with his tea. I shall ask Lucy to make some.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Glorious raises himself off the bench and zips up his jacket against the cold.
“I rest my case your honor,” Pixi also rises and they start making their way to the tube station. The rain begins to pelt them with a deliberation that warns of a torrent on its way.
“I take it you’re enjoying the internship?” Gorious refers to Pixi’s current position as Slush-Pile-Plougher at a Literrary agent based in Farringdon.
“Very much so,” she grins teethily, and bids him goodbye. On the Distric line train home, Pixi near rests her head against the tube-window but notices in time the smear of hair-grease left behind by the multitude of previous passengers. She opts to whip out her prayer beads and shut her eyes instead. Behind her lids she thinks longingly of a once time which was called the time of General-Bigness, because by default of Pixi's littleness, everything else was big.
In this time there was still hurt, but her heart was not so heavy and there was no room for place-swapping. It was a time when life and the world appeared as a great expanse of oportunity and endless possibility. And Little-Pixi spent alot of it burrowing between pages, star-gazing on rooftops, and struggling against various growth spurts.
On the day of Pixi's first experience of the Opera, The time of General Bigness came to an official, crashing and burning kind of end. While Pixi wept for the plight of Madame Butterfly, little was she aware that her tears had a mind and intention of their very own, for they emanated from the wound of eternal severring. The weight of this she never did understand, but in simple terms it meant that nothing would ever be the same again.
Summers would henceforth grow less bright and more half-assed. Sunlight would rarely be tinged with blissful innocence, and Pixi's eyes would nevermore retain the same wonderment and awe.
It is by some coincidence then, or divine poetry, that on this splushy evening, where the roads are gleaming with the reflection of headlights and streetlights, Pixi comes out of Finsbury Park tube station and trudges along home to Bocelli's Time to Say Goodbye on her iPod. It is one of the rare tracks on her iPod which is good and still novel enough, and hasn’t yet become rinsed from over-listening. Over-listening is a thing Pixi hates to do, but these are bleak days for the world of music, and everything out there is generally shKit.
As the rain falls and Bocelli puts his heart and soul into lots of Italian words which no one (but the Italians) understands but everyone agrees is beautiful- Pixi is feeling especially slow and especially grey. When her eyes snag on the back of a random man in front of the kebab shop, she is too tired to pull them away. The man is a shadow with a hood. He stands lithely with legs apart like a misplaced warrior, scanning an expanse which isn't there. As Pixi passes him by she searches his face for a brief split-second, and sees in it a tiredness like her own.The recognition makes Pixi's emptiness wake up and yawn and stretch. Pixi shakes her head as if it would make the emptiness go away, which is a silly thing to do because it only rouses it all the more and passers-by think she’s a crazy person. Like an uninvited visitor, it follows her into her bachelorette-pad when Pixi gets home.
“Assalamualaykum,” she mumbles, slipping out of her knee-high New Rocks.
A lack of response from Little-Sis’s work station welcomes her. Little-sis has on her retro headphones and is bopping spasmically to something which doesn’t allow anything else in the world to be heard. The kitchen is in a state. The leftovers have all been eaten. A jar of nutella sits apologetically in the middle shelf of Pixi’s bare, little fridge, and on closer inspection its innards prove bereft of hazelnut chocolate spread.
“Why do you put empty jars back in the fridge after you’ve finished them?!” Pixi yells with some annoyance to get her voice heard. She succeeds.
“Oh Assalamualaykum,” Little-Sis peeps through the door with her headphones still emitting a great deal of loudness from around her neck. “You’re back.”
“Yes. And you’re encouraging false hopes! Nay, deceiving hungry people!” She hands the nutella jar to her. “Bin it!”
“How are you?” Little-Sis does as she’s told.
“Very tired.” Exeunt Pixi from Kitchen. Little-Sis follows her into the bedroom. “Have you eaten?”
“Yep, I’m full.”
“Good, coz I’m gonna go straight to bed,” Starting with her headscarf, Pixi begins pealing off the layers.
“You’re not gonna eat?”
“Too tired to cook. I don’t feel well.” The growing emptiness is making it more and more impossible for Pixi to function. As her mind closes in on itself like a defence against reality, her limbs grow heavy and she feels it’s too cold to stand there and answer Little-sis’s questions.
“Ok,” Little-sis gets the point a little sadly. “I spoke to mommy. She’s coming back next month.”
“That’s good,” she snuggles beneath her duvet all trembling. Pixi has always had mixed feelings about Mum's comings and goings. Their's is one of those deeply complicated relationships that are destructively loving. If Pixi had to pick a musical dedication to it, it would probably be U2's 'with or without you.' A tad dramatised, yes, but both Pixi and Mum had a tendency to dramatise things. When apart they missed each other terribly, but when together, they simply couldn't coexist for longer than 3 days without grating on those awkward corners they mutually shared. And because Mum was Mum, she'd win by default. And Pixi would always end up receding into her conical shell, like a bitter little hermit crab, to fester all by herself, and be forever misunderstood beneath the great many things she failed to communicate clearly. “Can you shut the door please?” she says to her sibling.
“Ok. Goodnight.” Little-sis struggles with said door for two-and-a-half-minutes, before she can get it back on its broken bottom hinge and aligned with the door frame. “Goodnight,” she offers again because she feels that the time which elapsed since her first ‘goodnight’ has made its meaning void.
With the door finally shut Pixi waits and hopes to swap places with Sleeping Beauty. Her eyelids fall, and she welcomes a dreamless sleep-marathon which might hopefully last 12 hours or more. But that’s not what she gets. Instead, The Boy That Never Was comes to Pixi in a dream.
The dream of The Boy That Never Was haunts Pixi for days. In it The Boy That Never Was, is a very restless, very slight 18-year old. His room is a place which is strangely familiar to Pixi. It is like a place from one of her tumultuous childhood homes which served as temporary planting pots for the period of uprootment.
The Boy That Never Was tries to tell Pixi how he feels about her, but his words and actions, for want of maturity, keep falling short of reaching her. And Pixi in turn wants to tell him many things, but it all comes out sounding condescending. In this exasperating manner, the dream is cut short.
Pixi wakes sadly and the sadness follows her into her daytime, and then the daytimes that follow. It makes her eyelids heavy when her alarm goes in the mornings, and Pixi grows lethargic. Her chest tightens, and in her chocked up silence, she wonders about The Boy That Never Was, and everything that he'd stood for in her life. And she concludes that the dream isn't the cause but the effect. The dream is her subconscious grieving in place of her.
"You're slipping," Glorious says to Pixi, in response to her tomb-silence over the phone. When she asks him where, he tells her she’s slipping into herself. And indeed Pixi begins to grow distant from him. From her Little-sis and Sufi-cat. From her friends. She tries to make an effort with them, but just doesn’t have the energy. Her brow is eternally knit, and when she forces a laugh it comes out like a dry cackle and her features creak for lack of being accustomed to happy expressions. Her knee shakes spasmically under tables, her tummy clenches itself, and her reflection is rude and raw and removed from her. Finally, her left wisdom tooth decides to jump the bandwagon just in case she doesn’t quite feel rotten enough. It refuses to let her sleep two nights in a row.
When you are losing control thus, there is only one thing to do: nerd-overdose. Another kind of irrelevance. The next day, Pixi goes to her friend Xeph’s flat seeking comfort in a day-log video-game and movie binge.