An Illustrated Atlas of the world. What extraordinary treasures you’re going to come across. 

The Journey

When I go back to this story, I realize abruptly that everything started earlier than it seemed to. I was a five-year-old girl. That day dad came back home from a business trip, and I was waiting for him on the stairs of the porch. A red fourteen-apartment fourteen-story building was our place at those times, and they all knew that we were willing to move to another apartment, and dad had been doing his best to earn some money. The day was chilly, and it was drizzling; there was a massive stand of clouds above. When the short days of fall came, days drew in. Much as I had never been into the fall season, I didn’t really mind that as I was getting goosebumps, I was feeling absolutely thrilled to watch my dad getting out of his car and heading towards me. He gave me a hug, his eyes cheerful and warm. After that, he gave me a flat corrugated cardboard box, which I couldn’t hold in my hands because it was too heavy for a little girl, and a large book fell out of it. 

“What is it?” I asked with a feeling of excitement.

“I’ve brought something for you, sweetheart,” he smiled.

It was an Illustrated Atlas of the world.

My parents must have been busy in the kitchen, and I was impatient and opened the Atlas in the bedroom. And that was the first time I saw the picture. Joining up the bright tiny images of different places on the southern part of the map with one line, I followed the way with all the curiosity of my green eyes. I was looking at a quirky piece of a peninsula lying on the right side of the map, and there was in the picture Disney World Theme Park. If only I could have spotted my favorite cartoon character wearing a sailor shirt with a blue cap and a red bow tie somewhere in the crowd. 

I first came to a meeting about the upcoming journey held by our professor. Rumors were that he was likely to be in charge of accompanying a group of students that year. I was ecstatic about the opportunity, and, at the same time, I was jealous of those who had already taken part in the camp two years ago. I saw their passionate eyes. It seemed that I had missed out on all the opportunities that life could offer me at the time, and there was nothing to do about that. And finally, I got the chance within a month. 

There were fewer days before our departure. Two months. One month. Two weeks. In two weeks, I would make my first transatlantic flight. I would make it out. When the people I used to know asked me if I was afraid of a long flight to reach our destination, I gave them a negative response, which was not true. And if I said I was, I was worried about that, although making my way by an unknown route gave me the feeling of excitement, the feeling that I had was of an explorer, a discoverer; no one could have ever imagined how I felt. I remember my suitcase. My bright red suitcase. I’d never had my own suitcase, and I borrowed it from my best friend. 

Today is a perfect morning for a new day to be born. I go to the kitchen. A healthy breakfast is essential that goes without saying. To tell the truth, I have never been a great one at cooking. However, things are changing as I am myself undergoing changes and becoming more mature. In spite of the fact that I don’t have a sweet tooth, I absolutely love baking pastry. I guess this has to do with the fact that I have always been keen on handmade decorations, and that is why decorating cupcakes or cookies makes me feel over the moon. I prefer topping my cakes with crunchy or chewy textures, with drips, or applying fresh berries such as blueberry, bog bilberry, blackberry, cranberry, and raspberry. Almost all of these types of berries can be found in the area where I live, half a mile away from home – that is what I call the perk of living on the outskirts of the city. Who wouldn’t agree that adding a burst of color creates a festive mood? All of a sudden, I recall my first purchase at the airport. It was Ben&Jerry’s mint chocolate cookie ice cream. I had been dreaming about it since I found out about him in a romance book. Ironically, I didn’t have a chance to enjoy the taste as I left it in the small fridge in the hotel kitchen. I wonder if it was a treat to anyone else. 

Monday morning. Now I’m preparing for my classes. Never had I thought I would ever apply to a university and earn a degree in linguistics. To tell the truth, I have always been into liberal arts. I will certainly never forget my university years. Those were crazy times, the craziest times ever, and I’d undoubtedly say, “my roaring twenties” – I always got the sense that I became torn between hanging out with friends and other people I met along my way, partying up all night long and coping with the studies in the morning. Nevertheless, those years of leading a riotous life were wonderful, and it is not likely I shall ever experience them again. And here I am, working as an English tutor with primary and middle school students. Building up a feeling of mutual respect and understanding, as well as bringing out the best in them, I consider to be my mission. I think of my favorite teachers and University professors as I am getting ready for classes. Children are sometimes hard nuts to crack, but I suppose I seem to have a way with them. Teaching English is a journey of the heart. I often use authentic materials and try to speak English as much as I can. 

I can’t be an English teacher.

University professors always allowed some latitude for experimentation. I follow their lead. To the best of my knowledge, my favorite subject at the University was Analytical Reading in the English language. That’s absolutely true. Strange as it might seem, the most difficult subject became my favorite one. I offer my greatest gratitude to that Professor who guided me when I was a student, and largely influenced my interest in text analysis. 

I seem to be somewhere close to it, but I never myself get into it. And this way, at some point, I feel like Jay Gatsby. There had always been something standing between me and my lingering dream. I felt as though I was looking at the rarest species of bird with bated breath and only needed to lend a hand to touch it, but I was not able to do it. Being frustrated, disappointed, and mystified, I turned around and went back to my place with a gloomy face and weeping buckets. I had to go on annihilating the tedious, intervening days. Once again, I had to keep it all in cold storage.

Every night I fell asleep with visions of myself having a lovely house with a backyard where I grow lovely flowers, ripe fruit, and delicious vegetables. In my sweet dreams, I see myself driving a car along a highway while listening to “Angels Forever,” the song written and performed by my favorite songwriter and singer Lana Del Rey, having grabbed a cup of coffee in the nearest Starbucks, looking at all breathtaking places coming on my way. Whatever time of the day it is, I feel that all these flamed colored skies light my fire. They lure me, drive me crazy. There is no Christmas I wouldn’t decorate my house inside and outside and turn it into a fairytale place: twinkling fairy lights everywhere, me writing and sending Christmas cards, feeling extremely cozy while having the smell of cinnamon tea all around and looking out of the window, feeling at home. 

Time flies. Now it’s October, and I go to a pumpkin patch to get ready for scary Halloween. When I studied in the eighth grade during the exchange program, we threw a Halloween party at school. What a fascinating but creepy celebration it was. Everyone wore masks and fancy dresses. I was her Majesty the Queen of Spiders. In the ninth grade, we got the chance to celebrate Halloween again, where my best friend was wearing a long black satin mantle, and I was dressed up in a Princess costume that I had made with the help of my aunt and my mum. She was stunning, and I felt like Alice in Wonderland, with all orange color shades, sparkles, and head-to-toe handmade roses. 

I wish we celebrated Halloween here; I wish I had a chance to participate in all these entertaining activities. I wish I could feel the spirit of the tradition. 

The classes are over, so I am returning back home to make something for dinner. After dinner, my vivid imagery floats me back to the dream. I remember standing at the customs control that July. While standing in line, I felt quite uncomfortable as there was no way someone would help me–I had to go it alone. Although I was very nervous, I remained outwardly calm. The customs official asked me some questions, and finally, the officer put a stamp on my international passport.

“Welcome,” he said with a warm smile. I had made it. The officer was a good-tempered person and looked friendly. It wasn’t just a stroke of luck, far from it – I had put all my back into it. It had been a very long way, I thought; I didn’t get a wink of sleep, and yet I was on cloud nine as, at that moment, everything suddenly converged into a single-for-me sensation of life. As soon as I passed through the customs control, I started the journey across the country. It was more than just a door, more than a gateway: it was a moving window through which the life of a whole different nation might be observed. It was a window through which I got the chance to reunite with the person I had always been dreaming of. I have never felt like the real me.

Monday evening. Now that I’ve had dinner, I have time to take care of myself. My mind goes back to the exchange program. We always had dinner at 5 pm, which was undoubtedly too early. The meal time conversation excited me and engraved a great number of profound memories. After dinner, I always watched videos on YouTube or read short stories in the original. I need to devote more time to reading. Reading is like traveling – you never know where you are going to find yourself. What extraordinary treasures you’re going to come across. 

“Come back to earth,” they say. 

“I have no intention to,” I reply. “I’m dead set on going back.”

It was supposed to be an extraordinary evening, but it was not. I went out to the Centre for Education and Culture, and that was it. I was not able to take my exam at any time and probably, would never ever be able to make my dream come true. Would I? 

“I once had dreams…but upon an unfortunate series of events saw those dreams dashed and divided like a million stars in the night sky that I had wished on over and over again, now shattered and broken.” 

Applying for the higher education program, and all of my dreams were put to rest overnight by the final negative reply, and it sounded like a death sentence. It was a dark, gloomy evening, and it seemed there was no sound in the streets, although I was downtown. The street was dead empty; it was all dead silent. The buildings around me had grown somber and impersonal. I heard the rain impinge upon the dirty sidewalk under my feet, the incessant needles of cold water playing on the ground. The rain and the wind scattered the leaves of different colors over the water. I felt as though I was screaming, and no one could hear. Walking past the spacious windows, looking at the kids having English classes with their teachers. I turned away slowly and walked along the street. 

I went back home. The apartment was dark, with the lights off. Staring into the inky darkness of the night, “I saw myself as a creature driven and derived by vanity; my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”

I open my journal, and I write down “To be continued.” 

By Ana Saliy