Once I looked out the window of the living room of a friend of my father, beneath six floors there was a lonesome highway. It was paved through rice fields, reaching for the horizon. In a starless night, that tranquil southern water shows its vastness while immersing in silence. Therefore, that artificial star belt which blooming orange-red warmness has become the only lighting in sight. I am familiar with such a scene, for I have been living alongside several different highways since I was a child. In my childhood, especially during nights I found Bach and Debussy was not sufficient to calm me, I would imagine sitting in a driven-by truck, travelling to distant places while blurred music humming in the radio. As for what kept me attracted in those far places, perhaps it is the freedom that placed in the destination by my imaging.
For many years, that’s where all impressions of my hometown were based on.
There was a day when my friends and I had to stay up the entire night for finishing assignments, a beautiful old day. The night proceeded to the most sleepy hour, we walked out to the balcony for some refreshing air. Hills of Hollingbury sat on the end of Moulsecoombe. While the terrain softens itself, the endless Sussex filed lies ahead. It is hard to ignore the only illumination in the darkness: the highway that architecture students of the university have to step on every morning. It is a belt of light, stretching out from the town, straight out to the direction of London. Sometimes a car with dim headlight slowly approached the nearest point between us and the highway; sometimes a night train flew by with the regular noise of rail echoes in the coldness. The disturbance of light made me felt like seeing the highway of my hometown once more. By which exactly people in that car were attracted to London, and what has driven people to return to this maritime town in the middle of a night in December? I had no idea. The only thing I am familiar with is the echo in the weather which breaks the silence.
After we successfully graduated from the Foundation course, time was very limited due to the rapidly-increased amount of tasks. There was no sufficient mood for us to step out and had the same observation again. 11 months have passed, the Bonfire Festival arrived. Coaches and coaches of young people headed to a small town called Lewes via railway, right after night fell and they completely soaked in beer. For my love of history, the bonfire of 5th November is the last thing I would miss. However, just like my absence to the British Museum which I maintained until the last day of my four-years’ stay in the United Kingdom, I never had my chance to witness the event. I often imagine the size of the fire pit, would that be like, two-three levels high, as it was rumoured? I cannot concentrate on this narrative for I was summoned for a drinking party. It was at a house located on Ladysmith Road, the top of the hill. I was so bothered by forced social interaction with those unknown people; whilst drinking games as well as digital noises were exhausting my strength. Therefore I walked on the balcony decided to spend my time. I was quite surprised that there was a mate who majored in navigation and sailing already standing there, unstoppably continue on the next cigarette.
Until the moment I am writing these words, I still don’t know his name. Back to that night, I was trying beers of different brands, he had a sudden move-forward and tried to start a conversation. Without any body language that indicates my willingness for such talk, he pointed at a star and told me that is Polaris; then a massive talking regarding the complexity of sailing and composition of stars followed. I failed to recall the majority of his articulate presentation, however, there was one story I can remember. He said once he has sailed for half a year and finally returned to a port of the homeland. However, that city was not the final destination of that journey. The accent of workers on the dock confused him, and the length of the aimlessness of the float numbed his sensitivity of date-tracking. He ran from his companies, rushed to a tiny restaurant and got drunk, then walked towards hills alone. “I cannot remember how long I have walked…” he said, and paused for a long breathe, “…but finally I ended up with a pedicab.” The sailor pulled out his last hundreds of pounds — his hard-earned salary — that survived previous squander on liquids, flung them all to the driver. He told the driver to randomly drive along the winding road on the mountain, as long as he can be delivered back to the dock when the sun rises, it would be fine. He told me when the pedicab ran into an open space, he looked down the hill, staring at those countless lights that sparked in houses of the gulf, like thousands of stars shine in distance. When street lamps regularly lit up his face, then pushes him back into darkness, that six-three man suddenly cried like a child.
It was dawn when he returned to his post.
That dude kept handing me cigarettes. However, I was not really a smoker back in 2014. He was too passionate to refuse, I had to accept. My pocket was quickly filled up with Chinese cigarettes. When the conversation came to end, he polished the left alcohol in the bottle, and turned around; he slammed the balcony door quite hard, pushed noisy people in the house who happened to be in his way, and left the boring gathering straight away.
Time flew to the last year of my university, my stay in England. I accompanied my friends, in their car, went outside the town to see some fireworks. I decided not to disrupt the treasured time of that couple to be alone in romance, so I climbed up a little slope, trying to see if there are any stars. I scanned over the horizon, on the right end of the sight I have found uncountable lights of Brighton, like a cluster of stars; but what surrounds her were the randomly spread fires that located in distant villages. Bonfires even burned those thick, low clouds to orange-red. And those bright colours in the sky linked linearly upon the horizon, formed a road to redemption. The end of the road is the sea, on which countless ships float; countless sailors were on those ships, their pupils reflect that cluster of stars when they gazed into the bay.
Finally, I had to farewell that star belt.
Transferring between airports and the usual unreliability of fights of the mainland when it comes to punctuation, the travel was destined to be troublesome and exhausting. I had to sneak through waves of people to reach that tiny seat on airport coach, by which will I got home in 2 hours. I looked the coach slowed down, with my head feebly lean against the window. Night has fallen on my small hometown, street lamps lit, blinked on the surface of the lake which surrounds the highway home. I turned my head to see the other side of the corridor and could not help myself to notice what was reflected on the window there. The same road by which my redemption will be led to, a familiar belt of stars, shining the light of orange and red. The location of the imagined freedom I have been seeking so long, turned out to be found in where I started this journey. Harvesting this sarcastic ending did satisfy my pursue of dramatic scenarios as a hobby of an unappreciated artist. Acknowledgement of the last line of the story dropped a curtain between further meaningless thinking. I have known that the moment I get off the bus, would be the moment I step on my road to redemption, the moment to face whatever hardness and obstacles that life has prepared for me.
all oil on canvas