Reading Fernando Pessoa in Portugal [being the good traveller I am], I get chided on page three itself. Writing about Soares, one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, and Pessoa himself, the translator writing the preface says to me as I sit on the train from Porto to Lisbon staring at the country going by:
“Like Pessoa, Soares never goes anywhere, for he can journey to the infinite in a ride across town on the tram. “If I were to travel,” he says, “I’d find a poor copy of what I’ve already seen without taking one step.”
I look up from The Book of Disquietitude to my laptop screen where I’ve begun writing the first of a series of pieces for Kafila on travel, the cities that I have just left behind and those I am headed towards. I think of a boy in another city by another bay who once said the same thing to me. I think of the hours I spent planning this trip. I realize that I’m already dreaming of the next one even as I’m on this one. I sulk for a moment. I feel bereft of imagination; a victim-consumer of a Lonely Planet travel guide that I do not even own. The backpack on the luggage rack above stares at me accusingly. I plead guilty.
It occurs to me that there is a need for another preface. A because. An I travel because. To silence Pessoa’s baleful glare at me that has become my baleful glare at myself. So here goes.
Because perhaps my dreams aren’t as real as Pessoa’s. Because I don’t perhaps know yet what my dreams could be. Because my city has not, in fact, had a tram since 1963 and I want to ride one through a city. Because maybe the dreams you dream on trams are unlike any dreams you dream anywhere else. Because I want to know what I will miss. Because I want to feel the texture of how I will miss it. Because I need to know that I will miss something. Because copies are interesting, profane, originals, critiques and salutations in their own right. Because places do not grow apart or alone, and to understand some you have to go seek others. Because sometimes the empire helps you understand the colonies but sometimes only the colonies explain the empire. Because others have learnt how to fight better, differently than you know how. Because you need reminding that the fight, a fight, any fight is still being fought. Because I know my own city’s tricks too well and it knows mine and we dance around each other, using each other not to think or see. Because I let myself be alone, terrified, and scared in cities that do not know me. Because tourists in cities I visit ask me for directions. Because, every once in a while, someone familiar picks me up at an airport of a city I’ve never been to. Because in so many cities there is a station at the far, far end of subway line that almost no one goes to and I have to go see what’s there. Because those who travel to my city change it. Because not all running is a running away. Because all running is a running away. Because while you travel, no story you tell is a lie. Because of inertia and physics and rotations and gravitational pulls. Because I want to mate beyond my tribe and my skin. Because today on a beach where men lay without their clothes, I did. Because in mirrors in other places, someone else looks back at me. Because I once saw an unmarked, naked plane in an airport that seemed to momentarily belong to no nation and it filled me with a feeling of an endless possibility and desire. Because sometimes traveling just to get to someone else is the one time you feel [gloriously] less alone [yes, I’m talking to you]. Because maps exist. Because the finite sometimes offers more than the infinite. Because flights are also trams and neighbourhoods are also countries. Because an airport’s departure lounge and the gentle rocking of a train are the only places I know how to be still. Because therapy is too expensive. Because staying still is also travel.
And, so, onward.