Inspired by Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds flash fiction challenge. My piece is really a memoir rather than a work of fiction, but it wanted to be written.
Length: 952 words
Deadline: Friday, June 10th 2016, 12 noon, EST
I hate maps! I struggle to read them, I have a lousy sense of direction and always end up going the wrong way. I even feel the iPhone map laughing at me every time I use it. After all, there’s a 50/50 chance of getting it right and yet I always get it wrong. Before the advent of sat-navs, I used to drive round Soho, completely baffled and befuddled by the one-way system. I’d be one of those people in a strange city who the local scam artists would spot straight off. Not only am I staring at my phone whilst intently walking along a road, but I always turn round shortly afterwards and go the other way. Or maybe that puts them off me ...
I’m not one of those people who looks at maps and plans things. I find it hard to work out the scale, even when I know what it is. Things look close by but turn out not to be - and vice versa. I’m an accident waiting to happen with a map. I’ll happily drive anywhere strange as long as my virtual map reader is working and giving me instructions in their annoying computer-generated voice. I don’t even mind a real human-type map reader sitting beside me, that is until they get their left and right confused and I have to fight my way across multiple lanes of traffic whilst other drivers inwardly (or very vocally) curse the idiot woman driver.
I’ve grown tired of the hire car attendants in Italy who are mortally offended by my taking the driving seat whilst my boyfriend waits with the other wives and girlfriends. I learned the Italian for “yes, I am the driver” and “my boyfriend prefers to read the map” but eventually limited the discussion by saying “I drive because I cannot read a map”. This last seems to fit in with their male sensibilities - the little woman needing her man to tell her where to go. If it wasn’t so true, I’d be offended on behalf of my gender, instead of which I simply feel ashamed for letting them down.
Yet, recently, I’ve been poring over maps, trying to identify where once we lived. My family are globe-trotters and my parents met when my father was on a posting to the city where she lived with her parents - then Madras, now Chennai - in India. Following their marriage, my father was posted to a variety of cities around the country, even a spell in the hills near the Tibetan border.
It was always my father who kept track of our family history. He retained all the details of my mother’s family in his head and so was the one we turned to when memories conflicted. But now he is suffering from dementia and he can no longer be the keeper of those details and so I have tried to step in. He still likes details, he still wants to know facts and figures. One of his regular monologues is the recitation of where each of us children were born. He struggles to recall where older members of the family - like his father - were born, but whilst he can remember us and our dates, he seems relatively content.
The other day there was a cricket tournament going on in India. Now my father likes cricket, the old fashioned sort, none of this limited over stuff. He enjoys it the proper way, slow and languid, played over several innings and days. He has no need of the rapid fire escapades of 20-20. But neither he nor my mother could recognise the place the cricket was being played, despite all their years in India. So I looked it up on Google, then found it on the map and initially I chucked out names of places nearby without success, that is until I took the computer across to my parents and they looked at the map for themselves. Then they found names on the map that they remembered and suddenly, where the cricket was being played had a place in their minds.
Maps have also led us on to stories of my father's earliest years which none of us have heard previously. My particular favourite (and a favourite of his) is the story of the Nawab of Patiala and his cricket pitch. My father likes to tell the story of how the Nawab, a keen and very good cricketer, chopped off the top of a mountain to make a cricket pitch. Wikipedia confirms that the Nawab (or Maharaja) certainly built the world’s highest cricket pitch (at 2443m) and it’s photograph looks very much like the flattened top of a hill (a big one certainly). My father also thought the Nawab had played cricket for England, but he may have been confused by the knowledge that the Nawab played for the Marylebone Cricket Club during a visit to England and that the Nawab did play cricket for his country, but that country was India.
We’ve since used maps to trigger memories about more recent postings from my childhood. These later years have my mother joining with my father in the remembrances. I join in too, for I rarely get to share them as my younger siblings have no recall of them at all.
I cherish these opportunities to share family memories, for they will not last long. I guess I have to admit that maps aren’t so bad after all.