Returning home to an unexpected greeting.
By Joanna Li
It’s been a long time since I’ve crossed the bridge. I do so almost mindlessly now. It feels familiar, worn. The smell of old washing liquid tipped out into the river below envelops me. It feels like home.
The journey took far longer than I expected. I could blame it on weather, bad transport, or simply I was tired, but if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice. Should I be coming home?
I swing the plastic bag a little more viciously at the thought. Sure, it hadn’t been right, leaving home like I had. No warning, just walking away in the morning dew on a grocery run. And I made sure they wouldn’t find me. Maybe it was cruel, and I couldn’t say I never felt regret at leaving. But I wouldn’t have changed it either. At the time, it was new, it was exciting.
Now, the new and exciting wore itself down to the ordinary and dull. I was running, I was dirty, I was laughing at the night sky, and I was bored. Maybe I should have known straight away that it was time to come back. A circle always completes itself.
The cherry blossoms in the front yard are littering the ground now, and I kick the fallen ones with my boots a little. It creates a little storm, my own little storm. If anything, I had missed the cherry blossoms the most. I missed the smell, the feel, the way the branches twisted up and I could hide among the foliage. I missed being able to see just over the hill if I sat at the very top branch. I missed their colour, light pink, delicate, gentle.
It was forgiving.
The pebbled path is the same though. Maybe a little more worn, maybe a little more sparse. Still the same loose stone third on the right, still the stain on the middle left where I had spilled lawnmower oil one summer. Unconsciously, I shorten my steps so that it still takes me fourteen strides to the end of the path. Where shorter legs had once struggled to keep up with my father, determined to only step as much as he did, my longer legs now crossed the distance easily. Nothing had changed in this place except for me.
It was comforting, to know that even though I had worn down my shiny exterior and maybe walked a little slower, some things never changed. Home. An anchor, a constant. Why did I ever think I would never come back?
I stopped in front of the door, hesitating for a second, my knuckles just grazing on the splintered wood, but it swings open before I can make another move. My mother stands there, still in her pink and green apron. I’m taller than her now, and it feels disorientating, looking down at her. Her hair is swept up into a granny hair net, and I could smell the fish and chips in the oven.
I smile weakly, lifting the bag in my hand. “I got the bread.”
She gapes at me, raising her hand, and I brace myself for a slap. It wouldn’t be the first time. Instead, I’m assaulted with a face full of soft fabric, the smell of oil and lavender. She pulls me down, and I nestle into the crook of her neck, like I did when I was a child. And as her shoulders start to shake, I close my eyes.
Yes, I’m home.