When i get home 

 

All the way on the train to London, Solange’s voice croons in my ear. When I get home. What is home? What happens when home isn’t home and home is unstable, home is replanted, taken from the roots and put in a new pot, a bigger one with more space for tangled and deformed roots? What happens when home doesn’t want to belong to things? I read an interesting interview with Solange about her new album. She went home to record it with her old jazz band. The songs were recorded once, some of them originally ranged to fifteen minutes long. She’d edit them for the best three minutes. A vulnerable and authentic concept. Let’s record the purest moments of life and call it home.  

 

I went home for the New Year, back to my roots, back to Uganda, yet my roots were twisted all wrong and they hurt. There were new things, old things long gone. A yearning for things that don’t exist anymore. Mama, why did you move the furniture? That’s not how the books used to look. Those aren’t our books. My dog didn’t remember me, I suppose I’m not home to him after a long game of hide and seek. Yet, the house still smelled like oranges and pool water. Mama said, ‘you cut your hair, you look different’, She smirked, ‘you still haven’t got any taller though.’ I replied dryly, ‘yes, as you have commented every year since I turned 13’.

 

 

Some things never change.

We have an enormous, sprawling tree in our garden that we built our house around. Her branches reach out for an embrace every time I lie under it. Her shadow protects me. Mama told me that she is three hundred years old. The oldest tree in the world is more than four thousand years old. What changes then if a tree has seen it all? Can we build a treehouse and call it home?

 

The seasons don’t change at home. We live in Uganda, right on the equator and we’re left with a perpetual summer. In Paradise Lost, after the Fall of man, God tilted the Earth to create seasons as a sort of punishment; an imbalance resulting in extremities of weather with freezing winters and unbearably stifling summers. Eden must lie somewhere close to my home then. Yet, my tree changes with the seasons of a distant place. She loses her leaves every September and they fall into our pool, brown and soggy. Her arms are bare until March when new leaves sprout out, lime green, welcoming a spring that doesn’t exist in my world of unchanging warmth. It’s funny, I said, it’s like the tree is in the wrong country Mama, it immigrated here and didn’t know how to adapt. This tree switched places with me, we’re both learning to adapt to seasons of change; she’s confused in a place that’s always sunny, I’m confused in a place where the sun doesn’t always shine. If I close my eyes now, a breeze ruffles her tiny leaves in May. They are the perfect green, she’s in her prime.

 

Getting home always brings back feelings of nostalgia. This holiday, I followed through the same routine I had in the summer of 2015, yet everything felt irrevocably changed. Imagine this— waking up to dappled rays of light seeping through the slit between your curtains and the room is charged with the smell of sunshine. Putting on your red bikini at 9am with bare feet bouncing off the tiles that lead to the pool as the sun has already heated them up almost unbearably. You’ve got a book in your hand and the pages are already dogeared; each one of the folded pages is one that you will return to, read over another day and lose your breath all over again. Imagine the coolness of the water on your legs as you dangle your feet in. The pool ripples and the sun looks like a thousand shards of light across the water. Sometimes the air smells like the earth rising up to embrace the sky after a warm monsoon night. Imagine this— the self of three years ago sitting next to the present self by the pool. How do you cross over years, can you measure our distance? Our hands look exactly the same, yet they are folding different pages of different books. I’d take her hand into mine and tell her that the books I loved then, I’ll be embarrassed of in a few years. That’s right, her eyes will widen in disbelief; ‘How could I ever stop loving this?’ But don’t worry, I’ll say, there will be some that stay with you— remember the first time you read Beloved and you folded that page about the tree? When you look at that page again in years to come, the ink will be smudged with all the times your fingers have run over the words from a second year essay. You’re going to feel what it means to be within and without. It’s intense joy that you’ve thought you’ve felt but never have, it’s like a mouth full of fizzy sweets except in your chest. You’ll also feel so hurt that sometimes you can’t get out of bed because you’ve lost faith in systems of being. Really, I don’t know if you’ll be okay. Everything might be uprooted.

 

When I think of Cambridge as home, it’s lounging on the stairs in our house, it’s lying curled up in duvets on the trampoline. If you’re lucky enough a shooting star will zoom by, and what else can you dream of except always feeling so at home? It’s not perfect, but in a moment you’ve crossed over from the realm of uncertainty and floated to the warmth of home that smells like burnt coffee and hot cross buns.

 

How does one know themselves if they’re constantly changing? It’s a process of evolution, picking up parts of yourself yet to be discovered, dropping parts of yourself that don’t fit anymore. New roots out of the same plant. Now nineteen, I marvel at who I was at fifteen, who will I marvel at when I’m fifty. Will I still love the colour yellow? Will I continue to obsess over Phoebe Waller Bridge? Will my hair still be blonde? Or maybe it will have all faded to grey. Is it possible to wrap your arms around yourself and find a home created out of flesh and bones that are changing, decomposing? They say that your cells are continuously regenerating, every single cell in our body replaces itself over a period of seven years. Isn’t it extraordinary that not even the smallest part of you now was part of you seven years ago?  Do these cells feel the same love, the same fear in them too? We are in the constant process of becoming. The only part of our bodies that stay the same are our eyes, but everything you see around you changes. An unchanging gaze on an ever-changing world.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poem, “What Is Now Will Soon Be Past,”recently:

 

 

Just because you do it

doesn’t mean you always will.

Whether you’re dancing dust

or breathing light

you’re never exactly the same, twice.

 

If that’s true, then I want to be breathing light, dancing through fairy dust.

Cici Peng

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