It was my watch.
The watch stopped working. Instead of being five minutes in advance like it was usually set, the minute hand would be five minutes late. No matter how much I rewound it, it was five minutes later the next day. Where do you get your watch fixed in Boston?
A simple question, a simple task in the middle of the day.
Missing home and missing people is not something you constantly feel -thank god- and sacredly hold on to every bit consciously. Days can go by without even having time to give a single thought to what you left behind and to the people you used to be around. You’re mostly content, satisfied, and even still bewildered at your new life.
Until your watch stops working.
I am at the Home Plus mall behind our apartment in Ilsan. I am going down the slow escalator to where the man is selling jewelry, the type I would never buy, and repairs your watch for a modest fee, expertly opening the watch and placing a new battery, without exchanging a single word. Something so simple and common.
And I have no idea where to have my watch fixed in Boston.
I go back up the escalator, walk hand in hand with Mom past the giant Minion that was placed for the movie “Despicable Me 2”, which I regret to this day not having taken a picture with. We pass by the hideous ‘work of art’ in front of the mall, always staring at it although we see it every single time we pass by, and marvel at its unseemliness. The young man working to greet the passing cars going in the mall is there, he’s probably been standing there for a couple of hours, and will continue to do so long after we’re gone. We walk on the red bricks, and sometimes, a stupid biker will annoyingly ring the bell of his bike so that he can go his way, although the road for bikes is clearly right next to the pedestrian sidewalk. Mom probably curses him in French. But we go our way, still hand in hand, maybe with a bag of groceries in one hand. Dumplings for me? Or perhaps tomatoes from which Mom makes juice every morning. Probably tomatoes. You can never be too healthy. The light is red and we wait for our turn to walk. A gentle squeeze from our hands, we look at each other and smile. Just because. Just because we’re there, together.
It’s one of those moments you miss every single thing from what used to be home, every detail, including the most annoying ones. And you’re annoyed you remember those too, that those too have their place in your memories.
Thankfully, I don’t have frequent storms of nostalgia that put me to bed in tears. It’s more of a gentle breeze that shakes me a little and leaves me a bit chilly when I’m least expecting it. But after the initial brisk surprise, there’s a tiny time frame I let the wind squeeze its way beneath my jacket and my clothes, during which I learn to enjoy the sudden and momentary chill. And those few seconds are all I need to see the streets I used to walk, the people I used to be with. I guess it’s the warmth of their memory that allows me to enjoy the cold before I gather up my scarf and my jacket and let the wind find back its flow onto the fallen leaves on the new streets I am walking now. I guess it’s because I know how to let both the warmth and the coldness of the past go that I l can cope with nostalgia. I let its colors sip into the orange and red leaves before they roll away, each one carrying the image of familiar faces and familiar places. Sometimes my eyes get teary because I held on to the cold for one second too long. But it eventually goes away, and the tears go away too, leaving me a with shy and guilty smile for looking forward to the next step.