The day began with anticipation of the Highland Games that I have always wanted and tried to attend in North Carolina and have failed for one reason or another.
We are in Nairns, a small coastal town in Scotland. I step off the bus and joy fills me the second my foot touches the stone pathway which runs alongside the tents selling typical carnival fare, circling the green links like a necklace with gypsy sized sparkling gems.
Subconsciously I note the oversized rose in the garden of one of the houses lining the street where we are supposed to meet at the end of the day. At that moment I am unaware that the oversized rose whose image is tucked in the GPS of my memory is going to help me get back to this spot at the end of the day when all other methods fail.
Walking up the street as joy bubbles in me for no specific reason, the sun shines, and the wind warms the bones. The cool breeze from the ocean interrupts the summer heat. It gently rustles the lush green leaves of live oaks lining the street where the members of the Band are preparing to march.
We take a right onto a street and come upon a group of young boys the youngest 13 the oldest pretending to be over 18. Their eyes innocent of the struggles and wars in the world, alight with hope, enthusiasm and quick wit.
We have been assigned to learn more about Scotland on this trip. They laugh and trip over each other to answer our questions. A vocal 17 year old with smiling eyes filled with and mischief asks me “Are you a reporter” I had to be honest and say “No” without elaborating on our writing assignment.
We ask them how they feel about playing in the band and wearing what is perceived to be a skirt. They without being offended are adamant that “this is a Kilt” in their voices is the pride of hundreds of years of Scottish lineage. We ask them about classic Scottish phrases and they are quick to oblige.
Glenn looks at me with the shining eyes of an idealist filled with the glint of humor and intellect, and flashes of brilliant wit as our conversation continues on the sidewalk. This unique combination of humor, intellect and brilliant beyond his given age rings a bell in my head and heart of someone I had once known who had these very qualities.
“ We have to go get some medicine to get prepared for the parade,” he says laughing at a secret joke. I ask in a very concerned manner if he was sick knowing full well that he was not. “ We have to drink a wee dram to get ready “he says, eyes brimming with smiles and mischief.” I ask“ you mean alcohol? What age is it allowed” they do not bat an eyelash as one says, “18” and the other said “Most everybody has been drinking since we were 13”
I look at their fresh faces, the sunshine illuminating their almost transparent skin, unmarked by the small veins that erupt with the consistent imbibing of alcohol. They are clear of eye and sharp intellect with the back and forth repartee, all which bespoke an unmuddled brain.
“Where are you from” he asks, “Georgia” I reply, “in the south?” he asks and then gives me a lesson on how to say that in Scottish lingo. Say, “You bide in Georgia”. What does that mean? I ask. “It means you live in Georgia,” he says with a wide smile.
The sunlight dappled fresh green leaves on the live oak seem unaware that fall is around the corner, witness our exchange while further down the lane someone is tuning his pipes.
His eyes seek me as I take leave; he is giving as well as taking, a snapshot of a memory on a warm sunny day in Scotland. The memory of another young boy jogs into my mind: brilliant, witty and a master at repartee while his innocent eyes would bely the level of his intellect.
We near a bus where many generations of men, women, girls and boys, dressed in their kilts are playing the bagpipes.
The music of the Pipes brings nostalgia on the wings of time, I am reminded of at wedding in Pakistan followed by the opening of the pages of history by the keening sound of the music, The sound of the Pipes where many a young lad like the one I had left behind had been ushered into war very much like coal into an insatiable furnace that runs the war machine, fattening the few who control the arms sales.
Soon the lines had formed with the Mayoress and the military dignitaries in the first row, I noticed she had a goiter and wispy hair and made a mental note of her need for a physician or maybe she already was under treatment.
The bands passed us a hairbreadth from the edge where a woman in a green windbreaker was standing next to me, she told me that her mother hailed from a slightly more northern city in Scotland and now at age 91 was living with her in London. A vision flashed into my head mirroring the yearning of this 91 year old scots women for the sunny cool days of Scotland where one walked about on the links and watched the Highland games with family and friends and now time, circumstances and perhaps age had put her in the small cage one of many that people in London call flats.
We walked together behind the parade, I tried to envision what people saw, many folks with strollers, flags and then a Scottish woman in a stylish green windbreaker with a Muslim women in hijab and a floor length black coat covering her from head to toe. Not a common site at the Parade of the bands at the Highland Games and yet no one looked askance and no said a word.
It is mental gymnastic to conjure the reaction of the Londoners versus the Scots, that would be a huge generalization, therefore I will have to go with an n of not too many.
Londoners when they saw me with a coat and hijab knew that I was a Muslim and kept their distance did not meet my eyes but were polite, I existed but it as an existence that could be marginalized with extreme politeness as it would never become a significant or forceful part of British society.
In Scotland the response superficially could be interpreted as being polite and reserved but instead of marginalization one noted that the attempt to integrate was very obvious.
They saw me as different but equal……. A huge jump in acceptance of another parallel entity without an element of patronizing.
We took a short cut through a street to meet the band again while the lady in green regaled me with Thursday night Highland dancing at the center in Nairns.
As the band came marching up I saw the young man looking at me, smiled and gave me the salute. I was touched it was as if he saw the hole in my heart where another young man like him had resided and he wanted to cheer me up.
What I did not know was that Scotland was getting to roll out the red carpet for me. As my green jacket friend parted, Lola appeared and we gradually eased into the people descending into the green links where the action was taking place.
Even the organizing patrol was polite when they asked us to leave the running lane open for the runners……I wondered what was in the water of Scotland or was I wearing the rose colored glasses of a one time tourist?
She and her friend sat in a chair; they could easily have been one of the staid older patients that one sees whom I call the wannabe nobility of the south.
After standing for a while on the inclining hill, I decided that I was going to sacrifice my French coat and sit on the grass. As I sank onto the grass, the man next to the lady on my left appeared with a folding chair obviously at his wife’s command and then another one appeared for Lola.
I thanked her profusely and took the chair. I learned in Jerusalem, never to turn down a gracious offer from anyone while visiting a foreign country.
We watched the band march by, my young man with the twinkling eyes sweating it out along with the others. The music evoking memories of eras gone by, of a branch of our family that reposed in nobility and hobnobbed with the British but with whom we had not kept touch, as they were considered “loose” and non-practicing in the ethics of the faith.
I was happy that I had turned a corner in my life where what I was experiencing was pure joy of the moment and I had no recriminations due to the absence of anyone or someone in particular.
I asked the neighboring lady in the salmon colored sweater if she knew where the loo was and she pointed in a general direction and then got up to accompany me. You don’t have to go with me I will find the way I said “no no she said companionable I need to use it too. Meanwhile it had begun to rain gently, I unfurled the umbrella and used it to shield her beautifully coifed hair, for which she was happy and it seemed it gelled our friendship of the road.
At the loo I spoke with two girls in the band one a flourisher and other a bass drum player. They wore their kilts with normality no self-consciousness and were happy to be in the present. What a change from American teenagers.
The loo visited ended well with water to wash hands an air dryer and then back into the soft rain. As we walk back to our places Mrs. J tells me that her son is in Thailand and wants her to come visit, her husband has been over twice she mentions, but the long plane ride makes her tired and she does not want to get sick.
Sometimes when people talk to you unguarded the inflection in their voice or a particular not in it will open a window into their life and for a split second you get to witness where they are and what they are feeling. Also it was with Mrs. J. The tone in her voice transported me to the longing that a mother feels for a son who is thousands of miles away, she waits he doesn’t have time to come, she doesn’t have the health, stamina or finances to do so, time passes and …………one or the other falls away into eternity leaving unfinished sentences between them.
Mrs. J with the salmon sweater invites Lola and me to the back of her car, she opens the trunk and uncovers the feast that she has prepared, it is her, and her husband, but the three trays of egg, tuna and turkey sandwiches, another of freshly baked pasties and pigs in a blanket speak of generosity and hospitality…
I gracefully accept an egg, sandwich thank her profusely and tell her that her husband is a very fortunate man, He appears smiling, with a flourish of his hand he says he made it all and then turns to me, with a twinkle in his eye and says “ I lie”
Meanwhile the second Mrs. J in the purple sweater who had provided the chairs brings about a plate of freshly baked moist chocolate cake slices alternating with pound cake slices………..I wonder if I am in heaven because the thought of dessert had crossed my mind but had been dispensed due to the impossibility of acquisition.
The Divine was out to give me whatever I wished for, I had wished for dessert he gave me that and some, if I had asked for something else he would have given that to me too. I am stunned and overwhelmed, the generosity and friendship of the Scottish women, the humor and affectionate manner of the Scottish men and boys, the politeness of the Scottish police, the rolling greens, the marching band of swinging kilts and the nostalgic music of the pipes…………..
I wanted to lay down on the young green grass and enter the land of timeless ness where one is content with where one is and in the state that one is with the full knowledge that if any other need was to appear it would be fulfilled with the same alacrity as had been done so far………………
All thoughts, wishes, plans, worries, disappear from my head and all I can feel is gratitude, joy and contentment. I lay back in the green grass and watch the kaleidoscope of the rotating roller coaster silhouetted against the blue sky and the waters of the North Sea, the ornate tents out of a renaissance festival, the kilts swinging with the marching band, the beautiful girls with buns balanced on top of their heads, their necks stretched out like swans dancing their heart out in unison to the pipes……….Time has either stood still, or I am in Nirvana named Nairns.