There's a thin layer of dust stuck to the top of the surface of the map. Thin, as in, 'Oh, I've been here for the past three weeks' type of thin, but stuck, as in, 'You can try but I'm not going to rub off easily either'. Back in the days when I was barely taller than the mini-fridge we used to store our sugar-free coke bottles with the red caps and glass bodies, my Nana used to lift me up on her knee and point to the map and say in that raspy voice of hers 'That's where we've just been, girl, and there's where we're going to go next.' I used to think it was some sort of game, and I would take a grubby chocolate-stained finger and draw a line from one dot on the paper with the odd names and random lines forming misshapen boxes, and I would drag it over some other random lines into a different misshapen box to rest on the dot with the odd name that she was pointing to. Then, somehow, we would miraculously arrive there, carried hundreds or thousands of miles over unnamed strips of tar in a fantastic moving box. We might've been for travelling a day, or maybe two, or heck, even ten, but in the end it wouldn't matter, for we got there all the same, and I would hop out of the car and greedily fill my lungs with clean air and all of a sudden the past few days spent in my travelling house would be blotted out like the words of the second-hand books my Nana would buy.
Books. They were the very things that had defined my childhood just as they defined their capricious characters on their yellowed pages. They were marvellous, those books were, what with the whimsical lands and the eccentric people, and often I would fancy myself in the role of those titular players, travelling from city to city in my fantastic moving house.
"How'd you do, Mr. Rabbit?"
And the store clerk would just sit there staring at me, for no grown girl of my exalted age of nine had any justification for calling him a rabbit, no matter how much said girl wished she were in fact in Wonderland instead of a grungy Seven-Eleven. But he would sell her the milk all the same, and off she would go, hopping and skipping, and he, under his breath, would probably remark something along the lines of 'Why, very well, Alice. In fact, I was just on my way to a tea party. Care to join me?" But of the course the girl could never know this for sure, for by the time he opened his mouth she was already out the door and in another world, perhaps one filled with mermaids and flounders and forbidden love.
"Daddy," I asked my father one day, for I was just starting to grow up and into longer novels, and having just finished a tattered, dog-eared copy of the Magician's Nephew I was mightily exhausted. The small trailer rocked up and down, up and down, and I myself was rocked half to sleep. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a sandy canvas painted with rolling brown strokes and speckled with angry flecks of green, but this time I was not entranced by it; I was not drawn into another realm populated with blasé cowboys and robust belles with their austere braids capped under a floppy hat. There were no grotesque scorpions with their vituperative stingers or cunning snakes curled around emerald cactuses with beads of venom leaking from their expectant mouths. I would not excitedly yelp for my father to bring the vehicle to a halt at the nearest town, and then beg for him to check us in to the nearest motel where I could feast my fervent eyes on the words of a wild-west novel. No; spontaneity was for children, and I was no longer a child. I was well on my path to adulthood, and being an adult meant planning ahead; looking to the future, not living in the present.
"Daddy, here, have a look at this map."
"Not now, sweetie, I'm driving."
"No, it'll only take a second."
A heavy sigh, followed by the whining complaint of the brakes as they allowed the hefty vehicle a short sojourn on the side of the road.
"What is it?"
Excitedly, I grabbed the map and carefully rubbed off a thin layer of dust before thrusting it in his face, so close he had to narrow his eyes and strain his head back an inch to read it.
"I don't see anything."
I sighed. Adults never did. They always had to wait for us insightful not-quite-yet-adults to see it for them.
"That's because it's not on the map. I need you to help me find something."
Short, concise sentences. I had long learned to make myself clear quickly and succinctly when talking to adults. I often saw what I said go into one ear and out the other, never fully processing in that alien brain of theirs. At least this was how I found myself speaking to my father and the store clerk I'd called a rabbit and the vegetable vender who I'd asked for the magic beans. But not my Nana. No, no, no; my Nana was special. If not for her sinewy, pulled-back hair the colour of moonlight and her leathery vein-marbled hands and her heavy skin that made her face sag and pulled down the corners of her eyes, I would have thought her a child. Though shrouded in old material, I knew her to be young at heart. And that, I'd decided, would allow her to live longer than any of the new material adults with the fake tongues and dying hearts. Now that I look back, I wonder why I even wanted to be an adult in the first place. Perhaps I was confident I would become like Nana; eternal in spirit. Such fallacies, such delusions crowded my mind at the tender age of nine.
"Will it take a long time?"
I sighed, another long, heavy, exasperated sigh, and tried to quiet the sound of my eyes rolling in their sockets.
"Does it matter?"
"Well, yes it does. I was driving."
Driving where? I asked silently, but instead bit my lip and said:
"No, I don't believe it will. I was just wondering whether you've heard of Narnia."
He laughed then, a sonorous, hollow laugh that rang in my ears that night and in the thousands of other sleepless nights that followed. I frowned for a second, confused, the creases crinkling my unmarked forehead. The confusion soon gave way to anger, but he only kept on laughing, and so I stamped my foot in frustration, demanding an answer.
"Why, what a silly question."
"Why is it silly?" The blood was truly boiling in my veins now and heat was rushing up to meet my face. But my father- the ever blind man that he was- ignored me.
"I suppose it's the fault of all those stupid books Nana gives you. My, it's about time I have a word with my senseless mother." His dull eyes focused on mine, and in that instant I poured all of my bitter resentment and rage into one hot melting gaze, hoping against hope that I could see the blazing fury igniting my eyes reflected in his, and then he would understand and lower his gaze and apologize profoundly for calling books 'stupid' and Nana 'senseless'. But instead he just trudged on, an oblivious bull slogging around in a fragile china shop.
"Did you by any chance just recently finish the chronicles of Narnia?"
You think?! I wanted to roar out loud, condemning his thick-headedness and lack of awareness and that of every other adult in the whole wide world. But I did not, for despite my hysterical vehemence I was still afraid, afraid that I would say something wrong and then he would cease to be my father anymore and become just another regular adult in a world full of regular adults.
He mistook my silence for acknowledgement and continued on, but this time in a more gentle tone of voice, almost soothing.
"Sweetie, there's no such thing as Narnia. It's just a story. A myth."
It took some sitting down and some explaining and then some calming down before I finally understood, before he finally uttered the words 'it's not real' and my entire world crashed down on top of my raw head. I suppose for other children it's easier, what with going from believing in Santa Claus, to having the older kids whisper 'You don't really believe in that stuff, now do you?', to finally growing up and whispering to the younger kids: 'You don't really believe in that stuff, now do you?' The other children; the normal children who went to school and lived in solid homes and didn't have everything they'd ever believed in torn away from their grubby chocolate-stained fingers. But all it took was a single moment of realization for me to accept it all: adults did not chase after stupid fairy tales and that was that, and that was probably also why adults had no plan in mind; instead they just drove about aimlessly with no real destination. I could never be like Nana; for Nana had completely skipped over the stage of not believing and went straight to opening her heart and spreading her wings wide and flying. I had no wings, at least not anymore, not after my father had told me that Angels were just specks in the sky of a story-bound world. Angels: what a disjointed fantasy, one that could only have been conjured by the mind of a naïve child. I both long and hate that child, for she is no longer a part of me, and never will be again; that day, in a rolling caravan travelling to God-knows-where, I ceased to be a child. That tiny spark; the flaming part of me that made me so child-like was extinguished. It died, along with every other story and myth and creature that I had long thought true.
And if you don't believe me, all you have to do is take a look at the dust-coated surface of my map.