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.