Summer is drawing to an end and you are going back (home). The open suitcase, overflowing with summer clothes, tells you what you would rather not admit: you have become one of those people, the ones who stream back to the home country in the holidays, visiting beach resorts and attempting to learn the names of a new crop of cousins.
There had been a girl born the night you arrived. You had first seen her tiny seven-day old face by candlelight, in a house that was quiet and dark and unfamiliar due to a blackout. The lack of electricity and the shadows thrown by the lone candle had made the familiar room seem like a prehistoric cavern or a bomb-shelter.
This picturesque scene could be a whole chapter in a story of home-coming, the sort of story that delves exuberantly into all the details of the homeland, describing smell, texture, and taste like a gastronomist and a travel brochure rolled into one.
But to begin writing a story of home-coming, you first have to pin down the word home, pin it down firmly on a world map with a red map-pin and give it a name, a location, a latitude.
"Don't tell me you're feeling sorry for yourself," says the angular aunt, the one with the perpetual furrowed brow that lent her a thoughtful air and a dignified mien. "Thousands would dream of this sort of life."
"The world's full of nomads with a collection of passports and a year split between continents," your cousin interjects. She's one of them. One of you.
You never thought you would be a stranger to winters in your own country. You can vaguely remember summer visits when the water would make you sick, and that makes you think of stories of sickly children in alien climates, quite contrary Mary wilting under a fierce sun, stubbornly poking at infertile sand. It is not a comfortable thought, because it brings you face to
face with the sour truth that belonging is never simply a matter of deciding to.
"You can only really become something in your own land. It's about dignity." This is the wisdom offered to you by an elderly woman, full of life and wrinkles, who commandeers the tea-making
process. She hands you a cup of green tea and asks you chidingly when you will come home for good. You fumble for an answer that will satisfy her.
"Don't ever write about 'home-coming'," your cousin demands, with acerbic scare quotes.
You promise not to.
Within a few days you and your cousin will be on opposite ends of the globe, where your lives will continue to unfold, connected by nothing but the slender thread that leads you back here, every other other summer. You could ignore it. You were neither born nor raised here. You are not moored.
Except when you step out of the enclosure of walls, the physical space that is home, you're still in some way home here. You no longer qualify for go home slogans. You don't feel compelled to eulogize the feeling. But it's something. It's there.
Home back home is a terraced house, currently empty, in a nice suburb where the cats tiptoe across the roofs at night and slip into your room if the window is open. Plump well-groomed pets hold the community together, encroaching into the neighbors gardens with no respect for properly pruned hedges and demarcated borders. Here the door is always unlocked and occasionally ajar during the daytime, and neighbors come in with a perfunctory knock or the clearing of a throat, while the cats are skinny, feral and aloof.
You lean out of the window and look down at an overgrown garden, home to a lemon tree, a fig tree and a weathered palm with a trunk like rhino hide. There are roses on the family farm, pale pink as new skin, and your aunt, a dedicated gardener, has stolen some for her own plot of land, is gently encouraging their growth as though they were premature infants or children with delicate constitutions.
Like a scene out of a film the suitcase waits to be closed. You leave it open and wander downstairs, encountering clusters of people who are your flesh and blood. Family. You are waiting for the farewell scene, an inversed version of the welcome, the same faces, but more subdued. It is a special kind of theater.
It seems a day between the embraces of welcome and the uplifted hands of farewell.