Feeling at home/Sailing away

She might have been eight. The flat was on the first floor in an orange-brick, unpretentious building of the 1960s in the corner of a busy avenue. It was a small two-bedroom apartment, but felt like paradise after several months of constantly shifting places, sometimes every two weeks. Her parents decided to go into hiding because of political reasons, and while they continued working and going to school, everybody was under big stress.

She had to change schools and was told to be extra careful on her way home, checking out if she was followed by the secret police (which, not too secretly, used to wander around in Ford Falcons and donned dark sunglasses and almost mandatory moustache). She felt it was hard but she knew there was no room for complaints. This flat was supposed to become more permanent. They had to keep the window shades three-quarters down all the time, so as not to be seen from the outside. Her family spent most of the time in the kitchen, which looked to the inside of the building, and where they had breakfast, maybe coffee and mate, dined, and listened to the radio (Radio Colonia, a Uruguayan station that supposedly had less censorship). The kitchen felt like the only cozy place in this apartment.

She decided the living room was to be her playground. This room had a tiled floor and, due to closed shades, it was usually lit with electric lights; all in all, it felt cold. But she tried to create her own safe place. The play she remembers more vividly was when she put her toys in the sofa and pretended she was sailing away with all her beloved ones. She could spend hours doing this, after she came back from school. She would play with the toys, particularly a pair of elephants (Babar and Celeste, from one of her favorite children’s books). She imagined that she was the captain of the boat, steering the wheel and sailing towards distant lands.

Another play she recalls is making a tent above the dining table. She is unsure why she preferred making it above and not under the table. She put two or three chairs up the table, which she remembers as involving some challenge, and then covered them with sheets or blankets. She climbed on the table and brought her toys. She remembers an orange bed sheet that created a warm light inside her tent. She thinks she kept this particular construction for a couple of days, and her mom was not too happy but let it be, as there was an extra table in the kitchen. Her memories are of her alone, but her sister might have joined her in the tent too. It was her space, her safe place.