September was a fresh month, full of new faces, full of ‘hello’ and ‘what do you study?’ and bank accounts and travel plans and parties and sometimes remembering names. I sat down with people my father back home wouldn’t sit down with, and joined the society of something obsolete and peculiar, going to a pub on a long road of ideas just to have conversations and leave them there. Strange accents, early dinners, short skirts, driving on the left. September was open minded, more than ever before.
October was my first trip Somewhere. I saw a ben (Vorlich in the night time) and a loch (Katrine, set to hills). I went with friends who weren’t friends yet. My first lecture was in October, and I did not “ken” one word. I started to feel lonely, calling home every night and sometimes in the day.
By November time I had Very Formed Opinions. I had decided about flatmates, friends, and places I would go. I had decided about Glasgow, and staying there. The weather was dark and miserable and had character. The smell was dirty, strong and pungent, like a nicened malt. I had gotten used to Glasgow after all. I crossed roads without praying first, looking the right way, no really, the right way.
Which meant December time was hard to leave behind. It was good to go home and be there at Christmas, good to prove to people what I’d said over the phone – ‘Look, I’m still alive’ – and lie a little, ‘I’m still the same’. But December felt like half way, and home just didn’t feel right.
My January landing was quick; back to the friends and places I know. January was the first time I missed you, the first time I slipped and called Glasgow ‘home’. I realised I was falling in love. It was wet and it was dark, slushy with no snow but I didn’t care. I was back in the Boyd Orr building, back in Kelvinhaugh Street, I was drinking Guinness again and inviting people from my old home to come and visit me here, see Glasgow, meet Glasgow. Me and Glasgow were together all the time now, and it was official.
And it was wet. The howling wet February winds left me stranded on Arran sitting at a ferry terminal going nowhere. I played Erasmus Scrabble – you can use English, Italian, French and German or just sound out the words – and learned some Scots. I started to fail tests, slightly, forgetting that I came here to study words on pages and numbers on screens. This course may have started in the lecture theatre, but it had taken me somewhere else. It was more about celtic music on a Sunday night, more about meals together and people I know. The lecture theatre would always be there. Anyway, it was the hills that brought me to this country in the first place.
That said. Midges might drive me out.
I was glad I stayed though; in March I realised how much I’d changed and wanted to keep on changing. Wanted to stay. The names from my old home were starting to mingle with the names from here: Mum, Sarah, Lithgo, Hamish. I was inexplicably grateful to them that I came. Stay or go back, I knew I’d hurt some of them either way. Go back or stay, I knew they’d understand by May.
I joined the library in April, having asked a Scottish friend for directions. I climbed the steps to the sixth floor every day and hiked up learning’s steeper slopes. I had to study, everyone else was, and there were exams to come. Four hours sleep and twelve hours learning and climbing the stairs made Scotland seem more serious, and leaving the camera at home made me feel less like a tourist. April ended in end of year exams and I realised it didn’t matter whether I got an A Grade or a Fail, I knew it was over. Those great grey clouds that decorated Winter were only hiding Summer and would leave soon. There were only three Sundays left then no more music at Uisge Beatha. People in my old home were planning my holidays, I had a report to write for Erasmus and I could nearly understand the taxi drivers. Glasgow and I were still together, but one of us would end it soon. Things started to cool between us. April left the room.
Kelvinhaugh street, The Primary, Sauchiehall street and the Bower building; I said goodbye to my city in May, because although saying goodbye is difficult, studying for exams is harder. Oban, Perthshire, Mull; I said goodbye to Scotland, touching every corner with my feet. Arran, Shetland, home.
I said goodbye to people in June. I said goodbye but meant much more; something I couldn’t say yet in English. You have touched me, but now you hurt me and I said “goodbye” but mean…
Goodbye. I will love you jealously, through drawn out summers full of home, I will love you ‘til the winter comes.
Now let me go, Glasgow let me home.
They said goodbye to him in June. His name was Hamish, their only Scottish friend and he stood on the pavement, waving. He hadn’t thought much about what to do once they were gone. They looked backwards out the car window and suddenly left him.
He put his hands in his pockets and walked back home, trying not to think about it.
Its hard to say goodbye when you can’t stay.
But its even harder when you must.
THE OTHER END