Someone once introduced me to this word. It means “an overwhelming desire to run away from a place or city”.
Have you ever felt that way? I’m sure you have. I have too. Time and again.
Sometimes the familiarity of this city gets to you. Memories lined up to greet you at every intersection, every crossing. Every time you turn around a corner and boo! A memory is right in your face like some random stranger playing a prank on you. Strange that one should think of it as a “random stranger” because the prank playing memory isn’t strange at all.
Sometimes while you are walking down a block and you come across a coffee shop, something just flashes before your eyes. Some fond old memory that was tucked away cautiously in a corner of the mind, it peeps out at that moment and catches you off guard. And then there are those monsters lurking in dark alleys when you’re returning home but then, you know those monsters all too well — misty memories that you wished you could erase. Once you’re in the alley, you almost expect the monsters to jump out of every corner, every dark patch — you are so used to them. The odd day when you’re too preoccupied with some other pressing thought, you don’t even realise when you cross the dark alley into the light of the road. When realisation strikes, you stop short, look back and wonder what happened. Because not being ambushed by painful memories isn’t normal, being hijacked by the pain is.
So, Drapetomani is the common. I wonder though. This familiarity that is cause for much of our pain, isn’t this same familiarity the reason for our comfort? The comfort of knowing which corner to turn and which restaurant to go to when you want your burger and fries? Looking at the yellow taxis and knowing that some ten of them will say no before the eleventh one actually agrees to give you a ride? Knowing that every morning you will wake up amidst the familiar smell of fabric that comes from your bedsheets. And that when you look out of the window, the light that greets you is the one you know of. The birdsong is that which you have heard before. And the fragrances of the morning glories and 9o’clocks are the kind that grow in your city.
So when Drapetomani comes calling, I could run away to another city somewhere far away from mine. And the new light of the mornings, the different flowers, different coloured cabs, and a different smell of the new city are all very exotic. However, the dancing rainbows at the tips of my eyelashes reflected by the light that catches my eyes are not the same. Rainbows they are but they have a different tint to them. Or maybe it’s all just in my mind. Just that it isn’t the light I know. Maybe my eyelashes are playing spoilsport. Maybe they are just too used to the hues of my city’s light.
So, while a few days away takes away that overwhelming urge, the memories remain at the same place — in the mind. A few days away may keep them at bay. I know though that when I return, so will the memories. I will pass by the coffee shops and the wind, driving the aroma of brewing coffee beans in my direction, will stir up a concoction of tinted glass and coffee shots, bricked walkways and long conversations. And I will walk down those same alleys and those same monsters will be there. They will again remind me of some moment of affection now gone sour. I will probably know every small detail as to when and how the memory will ambush me. But I will play along anyway and be caught surprised and gasping for breath at the iron-hold of the pain at my throat. And when I do pass by without an ambush, I will stop and look back at the miraculous escape, for the thousandth time.
But it will all be in my city. And there is something strangely comforting about that.