Friday, 23 December 2016


Six hours of taxi, train, plane and car rides and I came home for the holidays. To a house I’ve lived in for three years, to a family I know inside out. To a real Christmas tree (we’ve always had fake) with familiar ornaments looped around branches, intricate ballet shoes I remember Mum and I buying at our local garden centre about a decade ago.  This is the first year I wasn’t around to help decorate.

“It’s good to have you home.”

“It’s good to be home.”

And it is. Bathtub bubbles kiss my skin and my muscles loosen in the absence of dish-washing and hauling dirty clothes to and from the laundrette. But yet, my bedroom echoes that of a hotel: my candles aren’t in my bedside drawer and my hairbands aren’t on my bathroom counter. The living room sofas are still yellow leather and battered, but they’re not positioned like they were three months ago. Maybe it was naïve of me to believe nothing would’ve changed for, after all, I’m not the same either.

“How’s university?” attempted small talk from people I once knew – some with faces more familiar than others.

“Insane,” I say – a mediocre attempt to offer every answer that fits: incredible, blurry, challenging, sleepless, comfortable, uncomfortable, weird. Halls that you learn to love despite their purple carpets and dim lightbulbs. A kitchen you manoeuvre through perpetual crumbs and unidentified spillages and lack of counter space.

“Where are you from?” is a paradox of a question. Seems simple – a slip-off-the-tongue answer, until your birthplace clashes with your primary school and adolescence ships you across seas. Now, “where is home?” can be added to the list of unanswerable questions. For home is both there and here. Home is four walls and wide windows with transparent curtains, but it is also childhood photo albums and board game cupboards and a double bed. Home is Mum’s oven smells and four simultaneous saucepans of boiling pasta. Home is friends old and new. Home is Moscow’s hospital rooms and Bicester’s bike lanes and Barcelona’s sea skies and Norwich’s mist over cobbled lanes.

Home doesn’t have to be a bedroom or a family house, doesn’t need an arrivals lounge or a train station. Home is wherever feels like it. Wherever smile tattoos are free of charge and wherever laughs crimson your cheeks and make your stomach ache. Home is good food and even better company. Home isn’t tangible, nor does it have to be visible. Sometimes, it cannot be put into words.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Year 1

Groggy heads and parched mouths.

Assignments that battle to be completed, the word count an ever-looming finish line. But the coursework racetrack runs parallel to the social one, and both can’t be won.

Butterfly stomachs at introduction after introduction
(“Where are you from?”
“What do you study?”)

Foreign footsteps tattooing the campus concrete, moulding the unfamiliar into its opposite.

Flatmates that switch from strangers to family within a matter of days.  

Yet another mug of tea.

Overspending – pounding heart at the mere thought of seeing your bank balance.  

Crisp pizza crusts and warm pasta to welcome dawn – cooking abilities that the night seems to enhance.

Discovering a nook in the library that, although unofficial, is yours.

Pretending to know how the washing machine works, finding the line between too much detergent and not enough - terrified of being that person carrying clothes still thick with soap.

A newfound appreciation for a morning devoid of a hangover, fresh face and eyelids that open with ease.

Fear of missing out, saying “yes” to three events in the same evening, conscious naivety in thinking you’ll make them all.

More introductions
(“How do you like your flatmates?”)

Yet another cup of coffee.

Making a home of a city that hadn’t seen traces of you before you brought it your favourite pyjamas or your acoustic guitar or your toothbrush.

Wondering how you’ve lived eighteen years without people you’ve known eighteen days.

Sensing every cell in your body liven: feeling your joints shift and your limbs mould into the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Barcelona is

The absence of harsh seasons – an autumn that blends into spring, skimming over the cruel temperatures that characterise typical winter months. A place where twenty-five-degree weather is jacket weather, where the slightest embrace of a breeze merits a woollen scarf.

Restaurants that boast a variety of tapas, each waiter competing to lure you into theirs for lunches that seep into late afternoons and dinners that begin after the moon has risen. Markets scattered around neighbourhoods, tinted with a vibrancy that no camera can attempt to capture. Fruit fresher than folded laundry: crimson tomatoes with a look that almost beats their taste. Almost.

Architecture the rest of Europe should envy, buildings stained with colour on the outside and history on the inside. Gaudi tattooed himself over every brick, his portrait still visible in the mosaic tiles, if one knows how to look. Concrete streets flow like rivers to the Mediterranean shore – beaches that gift views of the mountains, those just a short drive away. Not only the best of both worlds, but the best of all three.

The perpetual echo of multiple languages, a foreground shared by Spanish and Catalan, but a background that’ll make any nationality feel welcome. Areas that seduce tourists neighbour those that house locals, a labyrinth one can weave their way in and out of.

Sunday morning cyclists and dog-walkers, kids kicking footballs as hard as they dream to meet the players that inspired them to do so. You don’t have to watch the Barça matches to know when there’s a home goal – the neighbourhood erupts in a collective cheer.

Holidays of human towers, giant puppets, fire-breathing dragons, and streets littered with sweets. Lipstick is replaced with wine; perfume lost in a lingering cloud of beer. A culture that might not be universal, but constitutes a universe of its own.

Mastering the art of patience, discovering the comfort in waiting rooms and eavesdropping on the conversations of the customers ahead of you to make the delay that little more entertaining.

Club nights that morph into seaside mornings, sun rising higher as feet sink ever deeper into the sand. Not a city that never sleeps (for snores sound through Sundays and post-lunchtime siestas) but one that, when awake, has a heartbeat that vibrates beneath the bricks and tiles.

Friends from countries I’ve never set foot in, born over oceans, with backgrounds opposite to my own. But laughter parallels between cultures. So does love. They’re friends I’m not sure what I did to deserve, those for whom words fail to do justice. You know who you are.

A home away from home. A city that will not only have a permanent place in my heart, but one that has soaked into my skin and coated my lungs in ways that only settings where one has spent their formative years can. 

Thank you for six unbelievable years, Barcelona. I’ll be back.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Taboo: Stretch Marks

“What’s that?” His finger resembled a knife as it tickled my thigh – because pointing wasn’t enough, a poke was needed to confirm the lines were not just a figment of his imagination.

“Stretch marks.”

“What?” His tone was one of combined casualness and curiosity: the marks appeared to be coloured with crayon or chalk, but he recognised a permanence that couldn’t be erased.

“Stretch marks,” a repetition uttered through my teeth.

“What are those?”

As if the name wasn’t self-explanatory.

A wave of embarrassment surged, the lingering remains of an insecure young girl surfaced. My mind flashed back to the neon crop tops other girls paraded – those I’d never dare to don.

I can’t blame the boy - I myself spent hours pondering the marks’ existence, wondering why the burden was mine. For before acceptance comes denial: trousers long enough to mask my upper legs, bikinis a forbidden item in my closet.

And after denial comes anger. My fire eyes burned through the marks I saw as scars, where swords had scratched – weapons that belonged to a battle I hadn’t volunteered to fight. Except swords would have drawn blood, and blood would have meant release. But there was none of that, and there wouldn’t be. They were tattoos that lasers refused to remove – permanent.

As nature has it, all waves subside. The embarrassment ebbed and gratitude grew. For these matters merit upbringing – blazes of controversy that shouldn’t be extinguished. Maybe if there wasn’t such a taboo around the issue, maybe if young adults were taught to take pride in their skin and every mark on it, their fingers wouldn’t be rubbed red, sore from attempting to erase that which they cannot.

When I asked my nine-year-old sister what she thought of stretch marks, she shrugged as if I’d asked her about tree bark or orange peel.

“Do you think they’re normal?”

She nodded with a certainty of which only children are capable. It might be time to bottle this positivity and sprinkle it over pubescent adolescents.

The first result of a Google search on stretch marks concerns their treatment. The second, their prevention. And the worst part is that these results cease to surprise me. For it is typical of our society to conceal that which makes us undeniably human. From the foundation caked onto our cheeks to plastic nails we glue over real ones, the entire premise of the cosmetics industry is to convince us that we need fixing. But you’re not broken. No matter how far you were stretched, you didn’t shatter. You, and your skin, made it.

For when one’s skin stretches, it must be a sign that they had more to give. More love inside them perhaps, dreams that were wider, goals that couldn’t shrink themselves to the restrictions of their body. They wanted to take up a little more space in this world, and the world allowed them to do so.

In primary school assemblies we sang about fruit: “beetroot purple and onions white,” praising the colours of inanimate objects. Maybe it’s time to value the shades of our own bodies: whether purple, pink, red, white, or grey.  

Stretch marks are strikes of lightning. Because you are a thunderstorm, not a drizzle, downpour that makes everyone wish they’d brought their umbrella. They are the lines that join puzzle pieces, to prove that you are not just a fragment in God’s game, but an entire jigsaw he put together. When chocolate chip cookies bake, their surfaces are jagged, not smooth, as if the oven refuses to produce perfection. Maybe it knows there is no such thing. Stretch marks are the creases in the corners of a paperback, those that signify the book is worth reading. Your body is a novel layered with complex sentences and three-dimensional characters. Inside are themes that matter. You are art: a carved sculpture, an oil painting. You deserve to be displayed in museums, unveiled in galleries for the world to see.

Let those marks kiss you, let them lick your thighs and your stomach, let them caress your breasts and hips and your upper arms. Embrace them like tattoos designed for you, those you might not have chosen, but those that don’t deserve removal.

The next time someone asks about my stretch marks, I’ll smile, widen my lips to reveal the gap between my two front teeth, and say “they’re a prize.”

“For what?”

“For making it.”

The universe didn’t give up on you, so you shouldn’t either.