Sunday, October 13

Return

IT IS STRANGE what one notices on a train ride having taken the route for seven years and then, relocated, becoming a stranger to it after three weeks. I was cold in my white t-shirt only, subject to a draught from the open window opposite. Looking out, back home to my parents on the coast, through—more or less—seventy miles of flat British terrain. How familiar to the passing linear landscape must I have been to notice that they have recently installed new double-glazing on Ilford Train Shop ‘B’? The whole face of it now measured in clean white rectangles that distortedly reflected the fly-over.
   I read and dozed, flitting in and out of sleep, no longer sure how long anything would take. I read and slept to distract myself from how peculiar this journey into my past (as I saw it) felt. I would do anything to not think too hard about this trip and, above all, to enjoy it for what it was: a break to see my family again. How fantastic and reliable literature was—the mumblings of Humbert Humbert—at distracting me.
   A young trouble-looking man got on, spitting wherever he pleased and a rolled cigarette behind his premature ear. I thought—‘Here I am, rolling back into my hometown, with all of its characters.’
   There was no doubt that I was beginning to feel strange and, not wishing for it to affect my visit, I tried to subdue it. I got off at the station—and, o, the memories that came and rocked me; memories that I cannot begin to relay nor to put in any order because, though only three weeks gone, they seemed a lifetime away—yet, damn me, I could not quite detach myself from the notion that this was my nest, my root, the bed where my anchor stuck.
   So, languid and on the routes of old feet, I put through the station undergrowth and came out on to the street. Immediately I recognised the spot where a fatal stabbing occurred the week I left (a spate of three in one week) and carried on.
   I had left the seaside town on the lip of one season to another; now the leaves were falling. Were falling or had fallen, but were there, crawling along the pavement like giant insects in the caress of an invisible breeze. All down the street, strangled by perspective, I saw autumn’s evidence draining colour from my sight.
   The bumps and contours of my path, once memorised, had been forgotten; so I learned them all over again, pain ricocheting my feet. But, still, damaging of all were the leaves; the signature of change; the stigma of death; the prelude to resurrection. I walked onwards, not knowing what to think yet trying to arrange my thoughts. I listened to the music that, on my walks home from work—at a much different time, mind—I listened to, observed religiously. Now all that has changed and I am different—geographically, if nothing else.
   What is the code to the back door? I struggled to press the metal buttons in the right order and then, her grey roots showing, my mother—‘Here he is! my eldest and dearest!’ I am back in the fold. I am wobbling in my place, which my mother notices and asks me about—‘How are you?’ So I say—‘A bit strange.’ I say hello to Nan, too, who is sat blind on an armchair moved from the lounge into the kitchen. I was offered a can of Dr. Pepper, which was very cold and tasty, and then sat down with them to talk. I was uneasy. I had lived there but now I felt like a guest; such feelings were soon evaporated when my mother ordered me to top up her wine glass. The warm smell of cooking—goat curry and brownies—was in the air. My father had not yet emerged from his study, despite knowing I was home and this angered me so that I felt very insignificant; when he finally did, I brushed him off and my mother rolled her eyes at him as well. I did not move from the kitchen table as I had nowhere to go: my room had been cleaned—thoroughly, I later learned—and penetrated by a drumkit.
   In the evening my other brother came over with his girlfriend and we seven of us, sat around the dining room table—used only on special occasions. It was good to see my mother so happy at all of her children being together again, reunited. Although the old rhythm and banter began, something had changed, at least in myself, but something for the best (which was then damaged somewhat when I took a strip of skin off my finger in the fridge, reaching for the coffee). Dinner was delicious—homecooked food!—and then we chatted as my youngest brother puffed on his electric cigarette—‘Leave him alone! It just arrived this morning!’ He eyed us sarcastically, letting the electric vapours roll out of his nose.
   My brother and his girlfriend left and I picked a film for myself and my parents to watch. It felt like old times, slouching there, laughing, quoting Bill Murray’s lines over and over. Then they went to bed and I was free to practice my writing, drink my donated bottle of red, and enjoy the pleasures of wifi’d pornography.
   ‘It’s eleven-fifteen.’ My mother woke me up and I felt dreadful, a sickly mix of sadness and hangover. I shat, had a decent shower and then we went shopping, just her and I—‘It’s on me,’ she said—‘I wasn’t going to tell you just in case you went mental and bought everything.’ In the end, she put more into my trolley than I did. As we sat there in a stationary car—‘It’s weird being back.’
   ‘Yes, I thought you’d find it weird … it’s weird for me, too.’
   ‘I mean, I’m trying not to get freaked out by it.’
   ‘Yeah, I told Dad that you’d probably be in a weird mood … have you had a good time?’
   ‘Yeah! It’s been lovely being back. But still weird, y’know.’
   ‘Mmm.’
   After shopping we ate lunch together, the family, and laughed a lot more at the expensive of some of our relatives.
   I was panicked leaving again. There’s no place like home. I would miss it all over again, but, I had no doubt, it was worth it. I checked everything and away we went, in the car, the heating turned up, the road rain-soaked, my shopping in the boot, my stomach full, sadness flaring steadily in the corner of my eyes.
   I kissed my father good-bye. A beautiful young Indian woman with a rat on a lead, who had observed this shy exchange of paternal affection, held the door open for me. When I thanked her, she smiled and said—‘You’re very welcome.’ I wished to fall at her feet, take her rat in my hands and swear love for no-one else. As it was I went back to my studio and stood in a circle of shopping bags. I packed everything away and felt the alone of my abode clamber over me. It was bittersweet. I set to tidying the place up and making a pot of coffee, being careful not to injure my hands further.

   

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