“Cocoon Lucky” is one of the short stories featured in Where We Find Ourselves, an anthology of stories and poems by UK-based writers of the global majority (Arachne Press).
It is December and I dwell on what fortune-tellers have told me in the past. There is not much else to do when ‘festive season’ occurs while we’re in lockdown. I’m semi-shielding, actually. Everything I do is half-baked and prefixed by semi or demi. Nothing is full-on, not even make-up for work Zoom calls or Zoom parties. Lipstick and a pearl pin in my unruly hair is enough, isn’t it?
I am trying to decide if I feel the need to go out or not. I’m quite content within my walls. I’m quite comfortable, thank you. I do like having walls.
The soothsayers of my past had a hit rate of fifty percent in their predictions, which is what you’d expect. Some of them had rare imaginative detail, and it is that detail that made their predictions striking when it turned out something they said would happen, happened. One of them said I’d die abroad. I won’t be able to comment on that one when it happens. Anyway, what is abroad?
Last year included travel to a beach. Last year in December there were festive happenings. I went along to a few Christmas drinks parties, but, one year on, they are hazy in my memory. I recall just one vividly. I remember walking into a buzzing room, getting entangled in my own coat as I attempted to hand it to the daughter of my friend, who was on coat duty, and accepting a glass of fizz from my friend’s son, who was on drinks duty.
A knot of people are in intense conversation, and I join them because I know two of the six, so I can say ‘Hello’, and they can expand out to make space for me. I have inadvertently fallen into a serious discussion about passports. After Brexit you know, they want to be sure that they, and their kids, also have European passports, so that they can access Europe as Europeans – as well as being British, of course. Some of them were born in other European countries. Others have heritage. I am used to this; I have friends who are now also nationals of Ireland or Portugal, because one of their parents was born in those countries.
One of the men in the group is grumbling about how very long his new naturalisation process is taking. ‘This is so important,’ he says, ‘and it’s taking months. Months. My country can do better. It’s the European leader in technology.’
‘It’s not,’ another man cuts in. ‘Finland is the nerdiest country in Europe. My country.’
‘Aren’t you American?’ I ask.
He smirks. ‘That’s one of my passports. But I need a European passport now. This whole Brexit thing is so ridiculous.’ Six people nod sympathetically at him. They all need a third or fourth passport for their children. Being British as well as non-EU nationalities is not enough, now, we need European papers too, for free movement.
I am possibly more sick of this talk than all of them, but that’s because I find a passport a strange thing.
True identification of individuals is good, we need that for society and security. But to predicate movement on which passport one holds? When a passport can be the same as an accident of birth. One day we will have a different system.
I am tempted to talk about the refugees they have little sympathy for. Refugees are escaping something, hardship, at the very least, if not terror, and if they had the means they would waltz into Britain and buy citizenship like the planet’s criminals do. One passport would do them. One right kind of passport. I don’t say anything because we are at a party, and two of them know my schtick anyway.
The others may have guessed my thoughts from the curl of my lip. One of them hard-nudges my arm in a friendly gesture, almost tipping my wine. ‘Of course, these are first world problems,’ she laughs.
I don’t want to curb their discussion with my sniffy expression.
‘I can’t contribute much here,’ I say, ‘so please excuse me.’
I make my way to a white sofa and sit on it, attempting to affix a more pleasant half-smile on my face.
‘Let’s not be judgmental,’ I say to myself. I know these are all lovely people. They are doing what they can to continue to prosper. They don’t want any country that they live in to be overrun by the world’s poor, that’s all. And if they happen to belong (in mind, body and passport) to three countries, why then, they don’t want the world’s poor to overrun any of those nations. Sometimes I have asked them if some of those refugees might perhaps contribute more to the country they come to, than some of the ‘born here’ folks. Not that these people were ‘born here’, but as people with good fortune, it is different for them. They are always ‘legal’, aren’t they? I ask, sometimes, who provides all the things they love, such as dining out and embroidered garments? Who will provide the vaccine when it comes? Will it be former refugees, will it be ‘foreigners’? Ah, I can be quite boring.
I can also be envious. Because I would’ve liked to have kept a passport that I had, oh, twenty-five years ago, but that country didn’t allow dual citizenship. So, I’m a one-citizenship gal.
I hope my half-smile is making me look pleasant and not a crosspatch.
It is Christmas and anger has no place in seasonal cheer. Nostalgia is permitted. Surfacing sorrows are allowed to zipline, everyone talks about losses at Christmas . An annual accounting that turns into a profit-and-loss table of years past.
I too, have affection for at least three countries, and heritage I can call on, but to gain one kind of freedom, I had to give up a part of me. You could say obtaining freedom of movement cost me the trusting part of my soul. I am suspicious of human beings the world over. I talk to animals, mostly the domesticated or urban types.
I do talk to human beings. All I’m saying is I can be changeable. I can be the life of the party, but not this one. That first conversation I entered has plunged me into a soup of mixed emotions. Should I speak up? For the world? To the world? No, sit tight, sit quiet, love the life I have, don’t complicate fragile comradeships.
The family’s dog, a chocolate-brown labradoodle, who knows about unconditional relationships, sashays to the sofa to nuzzle me. ‘Oh, you’ve found me,’ I say. Its tail wags, and its eyes are alight with recognition. I’m the lady who dispenses long strokes. This is such a photogenic animal. It has posed so beautifully for the family greetings card. Last year the dog even sent its own Christmas card in addition to the family’s one. It was signed. This is a dog with good handwriting, and I am on the favoured list.
I mutter up my gratitude to the universe for friends who offer good wine, classy canapés and a good-looking dog who acts as my sofa sentry, adding to my aura. I should be so lucky.
This Christmas I am counting my walls and feeling cocooned. My walls are painted ‘deep slaked-lime’ chosen from an environmentally friendly paint colour chart. I’m offering myself my own good wine and eating ‘starters’ from my grocery shop. These duck spring rolls apparently serve four people, but do me nicely as a meal for one. After a bit of clearing up I just have to toddle to bed and read my book.
Or I could answer my three hundred pending emails.
Or I could go for a walk.
I have been resisting evening walks this December. A strange inertia. Last year I walked home from that Christmas party that I remember so well. I even recall the walk home.
My neck is bundled in a red wool scarf. I’ve barely taken a few steps when a black cat detaches itself from the dark spaces by a fence and shimmies alongside me. ‘At least you’re not crossing my path,’ I speak aloud to the cat, and it doesn’t run away. ‘You’re just bored and coming along for the walk home, looks like.’
All these superstitions about black cats – some good, some bad. What I believe depends on my temperament at the moment. Tonight, the cat is a good omen. In truth, a cat, black or not, is good. I have not yet found myself in a mood where I mind a cat crossing.
The cat meows and slinks so close to my legs that I can feel it. In a few minutes I will be home. The new LED street lamps are so white and bright. A fox crosses my path. It pauses to note my glance, and darts into darkness, into someone’s garden or the children’s playground.
‘Alright.’ I’m speaking to steady myself. There are good and bad superstitions about foxes crossing a person’s path. Like with the cat, I usually take a fox as a good omen. It is living, it is doing its city thing. When I was young, my grandmother used to let me dress up in her fox pelt stole, complete with fox’s head. I have to say I loved it then. That was the first fox I had seen – a dead preserved one. Now I regularly spot my local foxes, sometimes snoozing in the sun on the top of my neighbour’s shed. Sometimes they startle me at night, like this one, that has crossed my path with a message, perhaps, and disappeared.
I realise I have stopped, and so has the cat. I walk on and turn into my front door. ‘Coming in?’ I ask the cat. I go in and turn on the lights in the hall. The cat prowls around the front of the house, it has found something to interest it. I say goodnight and close the door on my harbinger of luck, hoping it sticks around. I already have some luck, that I have clawed for and clawed at over the years, but I can do with more. Who couldn’t? When luck was a no-show I went about my business determined to greet it with open arms when it came. For many people it may feel like it never shows up at all, despite all the graft they put in. And in some life-stories, you do feel that ill luck has dominated.
It’s hard to know if anyone else is as silly as I am, believing minute encounters to be visitations of luck. But believing in a universe that listens to my muttering is good for me, it allays the tedium of the perpetual striving that is life.
This Christmas season I’m finding excuses not to walk in the evening. Semi-shielding can be tiring. Just the constant deciding what not to do and what to do, organising enough food for the end-of-the-world (although will I be here to eat it?), and keeping up with what is allowed or when it will be allowed. My bubble-person is also semi-shielding, which makes two of us in a semi/demi state. In my holding pattern, I just wave to the neighbour’s cat through the window. It sits on my sill, outside, its eyes flashing when they catch the light.
This December, I count my walls. I can eat in one room and work in another. I can sleep.
This December, in my dreams I am bounding about like a maniac at different latitudes and longitudes across the globe.
Friends who are dead come to speak to me. My body lies tranquilly through this hectic adventuring. My body enjoys its familiar comforts, even in semi/demi state. It likes to be parked in its cocoon at home.
Home is where I have walls of my own to count. Anywhere else is abroad.
Where We Find Ourselves is an anthology of stories and poems from nearly 40 writers of the Global Majority. Stories and poems of finding oneself and getting lost, colonialism and diaspora, childhood exploration and adult homecoming. Published by Arachne Press and guest edited by Laila Sumpton and Sandra A. Agard. Available now.
Release date: 28th October 2021
Editors: Laila Sumpton & Sandra A. Agard
Kavita A. Jindal is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies and literary journals worldwide and been broadcast on BBC Radio and European radio stations. She has published two poetry books: Raincheck Renewed and Patina. Her novel Manual For A Decent Life won the Brighthorse Prize and the Eastern Eye Award for Literature.