First, you stray very far from yourself.
You have strayed far before, far from your mother and your language and your mountains, but you are quite unprepared for the jolt of loneliness that accompanies straying away from your self.
This straying, this forgetting, slips into the moments every day when you feel ill-equipped for the task of being human. When this day feels like yesterday feels like tomorrow. You begin to fear the hours, sure that they are being repeated in cycles of twenty-four with nothing much to distinguish them from another, all of them characterised by a certain greyness, a distinct absence of any sort of magic you are sure you believed in a year ago.
You are so lonely that you nearly cry one afternoon when a third grader runs her fingers through your (unfamiliar to her) curly hair.
You had forgotten what it feels like to be touched.
You are tired of grieving for yourself. You accept a job on an island without knowing much about the job or the island. You spend four restless months waiting for the routine of your city life to cease; thinking yourself out of the deep pits daily commutes and being shoved on sidewalks catapults you into. You don’t want what’s next to be an escape from something unbearable; you know from experience that running blindly toward something to avoid suffering never works in anyone’s favor, you know that you need to love and forgive and give grace to what is happening now if you want to give what’s next any sort of fighting chance.
The four months pass and you spend every hour between working and sleeping packing up what you have accumulated over the past year in this sprawling city. You arrived with one single hardshell suitcase on a freezing Wednesday morning and you’re leaving with it too, only this time it has friends. Enough friends to fill the back of a moving truck. Not too many friends to overwhelm you the way possessions have the tendency to. Only what is useful, only what is beautiful.
You drive for four hours (ah, the symmetry) alongside a ponytailed driver who refuses to smoke even after your fervent protestations that while you don’t, he certainly can. Who seems genuinely impressed when you tell him you’re twenty-two and moving yourself and your belongings to an island you’ve never been to. You want to say that it’s not bravery, it’s necessary.
When you have been deliriously wandering a desert for twelve months and gulp down whatever liquid is set in front of you—that’s not bravery, that’s necessity.
You just smile and look at the passing river.
He unloads what you have in fifteen minutes, onto the floor of your third floor apartment overlooking a pine-ridden mountain, and says in broken English that he wishes you happiness. You climb the stairs back up to the the tiny flat, almost drunk with solitude and anticipation.
As the sun sets on that first day, you slowly open boxes, unpacking first what is beautiful. The bright red whistling kettle. The pine green cotton sheets. The countless packages of tea. You hang fairy lights in the kitchen and over your bed. You roll out the thrift shop carpet, threads of brown and black and cream, and you fold over to touch your toes, to let all that has been knotting and plotting at the base of your skull roll over your head and onto the floor of your new home.
You whisper it to yourself over and over walking home from the market. You’ve done it before, whispered that to yourself on the bad nights, but that was you trying desperately to convince yourself.
This time feels like speaking a quiet truth; it does not boast, it does not try. It is cold, it is a winter evening, but you are carrying lemony green broccoli and a fat carrot in a bag and you are on your way to a little apartment bathed in fairy lights and there are boxes to unpack and there is self to unpack but there is time, there is nothing but time.
You are home.
Author: Ané Breytenbach
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Michael Hull/Unsplash