It wasn’t a talking carpet like the one in Aladdin. There were no furry tassels. It didn’t fly through a dark sky sprinkled with white stars.
Instead, it was heavy and fraying where the edges met the varnished wooden floor. A golden colour that had turned to beige, it had red shapes on it that were now rust, green that had faded to yellow. The carpet was in my parents’ bedroom, down the long passage that creaked. If you knew where the creaks were, you could leap silently from side to side as you tried to escape your room, without anyone hearing. One wrong step though, and the whole house would wake.
There was a long Sunday lunch on the go. The afternoon was thick with heat and haze, and we were tired of swimming, our fingers rubbery and wrinkled from hours in the water. They’d leave us alone playing in that cracked pool in those days, when parents were the opposite of helicopters. When they used to forget we existed sometimes, as they got louder around the table, and we got bored and ran to find other things to amuse ourselves.
Each pattern on that Persian carpet was different. As children can see things in cloud formations (“Look a dog! No, it’s a giant tractor silly!”), so too could we see worlds in that jumble of symbols on that carpet. Or rather, I could see the worlds, because as the oldest I was in charge, with my little sister and her friend my faithful followers. We’d hop from one foot to the next, all trying to squeeze on to an image no bigger than our hands. To enter a new world, we’d each hold a little toe onto that specific symbol, close our eyes and then twirl around and around until the three of us were dizzy with laughter. Once we’d fallen down and then risen again, we were somewhere completely new.
A green triangle that looked like a Quality Street chocolate led us to Sweetie World, where we slid down candy canes on to giant pillows made of marshmallows. A symbol similar to an hourglass led us to Topsy-Turvy world, where we conducted whole conversations while doing headstands. A circular bear-like shape led us to Animal World, where beasts ruled the kingdom and a lion was our chief. Each world was different, an escape from that stuffy room on that farm in the Karoo. Anywhere else but there. Places thick with magic and possibility.
30 years later, hindsight shows me that the room with the frayed carpet was actually the place thick with magic. How all those possibilities shimmered like the heat. Though of course we didn’t know that then. We didn’t know that one day life would settle into a familiar and frantic rhythm. That every day would not always be strange and new, and that growing up meant that your days would mostly be filled with THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO. That your time would belong less and less to you. I suppose freedom is only mourned when it is lost.
I hadn’t thought about that magic carpet until yesterday, when our yoga instructor told us that he was off to India next week, and wouldn’t it be nice if he could fly there on his yoga mat? So much better than planes and trains and carbon emissions. We all chuckled, but the image stayed with me.
What if we COULD hop on our carpets and escape the stifling traffic, the boring conversation you’re too polite to leave, the person you don’t want to bump into at the shops? We could fly away, to a better place.
Although difficulties must be faced. Because if there’s anything we’ve learned as we’ve progressed into adulthood, it is that true fairytales are actually more about staying put than flying away.