Manan Anwar: The simple joys of Tallinn’s Kalamaja district

Manan Anwar, a Tallinn-based expat, originally from Pakistan, describes a day of simple joys and moments in the Estonian capital’s hip Kalamaja district.

Kalamaja, a residential district in the northern part of Tallinn, is famous for its colourful wooden houses and laid-back bohemian vibe – although, in the last year or so, it has started to suffer from the effects of gentrification. The area has been my home for more than three years and I just wanted to write down what I feel about this place.

It’s 7 AM. You feel toasty in bed. The sun warms your face. But you don’t want to open your eyes. You can hear the birds singing. A faint tune drifts through the window and it sounds familiar – like an old friend. You try to place it in your head, it reminds you of the deep blue sky, of dark forests and endless plains of snow. And then it clicks.

A typical house in Kalamaja. Photo by Ankeecha under Creative Commons licence.

You are hunched forward on your bike, cruising through the narrow streets. Everyone is rushing to go to work. You see a guy dragging a trolley. He is dark, just like you. His orange jacket stands out against the snow. The trolley is full of postage. You try to catch his eye, but he trudges through the snow without looking up.

It’s noon, you see a dozen schoolkids hunched on the road. They are picking up litter with their tiny gloved hands. They are wearing neon vests that are too big for them. Their teacher is guiding them, like the conductor of an orchestra. You slow your pace, embracing the happiness emanating from them.

You are in the grocery store, there is a new girl at the cashier desk, she flicks through items them like a maestro, whips away your things and hands you the check. You stand there in awe for a moment, you want to compliment her, but her face is so stern that you just nod your head in respect.

Kalamaja Bakery. The image is illustrative.

It’s 1 PM, you are walking home when you see light coming from a slightly opened door. You go and knock. A hand appears through the door. You ruffle your pockets and put a coin on the hand. It disappears for a moment and then comes out with a packet. It’s warm to touch. You walk back home, pressing the packet against your cheek. It fills your face with warmth, cracking the cold. You then slowly unwrap and break a piece. The bread is soft and fresh, and it fills your mouth with joy.

It’s the weekend, you are in the yard – spreading your clothes on the line – and a puppy runs to you; he wants to be petted, you scratch its belly. The puppy rolls in the dirt. The neighbour isn’t happy. He calls the puppy to come back. The puppy wants to play. He licks your palm. The neighbour comes and scoops him up. You stand there for a moment, still smiling.

A park in Kalamaja (Facebook).

It’s 6 PM, you are cycling back home, turning towards your street when you see a girl; she looks you in the eye, a smile fills her face and she waves at you. Your heart beats so fast you nearly fall off your bike.

It’s 2 AM, you are alone, sitting beside the fountain in the park, listening to the trees. The darkness wraps you from outside. You look inside: it’s filled with emptiness. There is no joy or sadness, no hope or sorrow. You are just there, since forever. Something fluffy brushes against your back – a cat sits in your lap for a moment, reassuring you. And then without a moment’s hesitation, she leaps and disappears into the darkness. You feel a pang of separation, but then you understand.

New houses in Kalamaja. Photo by Tony Bowden under Creative Commons licence.

It’s summer, you are at the beach with your family. You feel the sand beneath your feet slipping every time the waves recede. You could hear your brother talking. Your father sits atop with his glasses. Your mother is sitting on the rock, the waves washing her feet. She smiles and waves at you. You look inside: it is filled with sunshine, the lightness of the blue sky, the taste of saltwater and love, so much love and care.

And in that moment, you close your eyes and lower your head. And let yourself be washed over by gratitude, for being given this moment.

This is a lightly edited version of the article originally published by Manan Anwar in his blog.

Cover: Cafe Tops in Kalamaja.