This was written over countless cups of coffee spent as I tried to make sense of how I felt after coming back to the city I once called home, and learnt to call it just that again. The final words were put to paper after brewing a medium roast with my french press.
The idea of homecoming is, at least in my head, limited to those who come home from a war, a voyage or something in proportion. So, when I came back to the city where I learnt my ropes as a human being, I didn’t much see it as a homecoming. I did see it as the idea of someone coming home after a long time, in every sense of the word. It didn’t feel earned though. I thought I was the same person who had left two years ago in an almost knee-jerk reaction of leaving the city for good.
Of course, I came back multiple times during those two years since you can’t live a life in your whims and fantasies. You live for other people. If other people happen to stay in a city that you have sworn to never set foot in, you set foot in it, but never once do you call it your own. It is theirs and theirs alone. So, never once did I call it home. It was intentional, too. It wasn’t home to me because I wanted to leave my older self behind here. I was forced out of it. Almost as if I was being put on an exile by myself from myself.
When I returned, I felt this need to either erase the past two years of my life and continue from where I left things, whatever their state today be, or to keep everything as it was but feel this convoluted confusion. Alas, time did go on, so the idea of erasing the past two years was an outlandish one to me anyway. Apart from my dramatic flair, I am usually a rational man. Keeping all that in mind, I decided to keep the past two years and along with them, decided to continue things from how I had left them.
Of course, a little context is in order. You see, I set out on a hugely different path some six months before I decided to leave this city for good. I had decided to give myself the gift of time, the idea that I could live a little, and make some art, and write a few words, and help a few others. I did live a little for I fell in love. I left everything else to their own devices. Some things transpired, a heartbreak was involved, and a death in the family, and so, when the water was far above than I could swim or stand in, I decided to flee. I fled in haste too because I took the first opportunity that came my way. I did not care where I was going; I needed to go.
In that sense, it was a voyage.
When I came back here, I realised I couldn’t still walk on the streets as I would once upon a time. I could see shadows of my past selves, all of them on different roads. I could see each mistake happen in front of me, and as much as I wanted to stop myself from making them, I understood it was the terrible gift of memory. It’s a terrible gift indeed to experience pivotal moments of your life in one place alone. Not for the lack of travel too, yet something about this place is conjoined with your life. That’s what a hometown is all about if you’ve ever had one: your shadows were spread all over the city, all fighting inside you, with themselves, with each other, all the time.
In that sense, it was a war.
A hometown isn’t just where your home is; you need to have your own reason to call it home. A hometown is a place you enter your first fist fight and lose a tooth. A hometown is a place you get your first, and in my case, every heartbreak. It’s a place where you run into the shadows of your past selves. It’s where every street has a name but also a nickname, aptly associated with some event from your unimportant life. Only you remember all those pivotal moments, irrelevant for the world, but to you, they’re like chapters in the only story that matters.
One day when I was walking down a familiar street, I realised autumn had begun because a few leaves rustled under my old sneaker. I continued walking as a familiar turn arrived, and I looked at my shadow, and I immediately remembered the dreaded autumn evening. I decided to tap him on his shoulder. I asked him how he was feeling.
It was two years too late, but I believe these things are better late than never. He told me he wanted to cry, so we found a bench nearby, and he sobbed. Only, this time, he wasn’t sobbing alone. I was with him, and I let him know he’ll be just fine. He’ll be lost as if lost at sea, and he’ll be all over the place, and he’ll be clueless, but he’ll return. He’ll return to that same fork in the road and tell himself it was okay to cry alone in autumn on an ice-cold bench in the evening as people pass him by. I told him I’d been where he was once, and that it was going to be okay.
It would take years, but it’d be okay. During those years, he would be tested, and everything he stands for would be put in doubt. He might even have to let go of so much of himself that when he comes back, he won’t feel like he was the same person who left, and yet feel like nothing was changed, desperately holding on to who he was before he left.
By that time, he’d have gotten so many times off the floor of his quiet apartment that he would know how to win that battle every day. He’ll learn so much about who he is, and who he can be, that he’ll know exactly why he feels what he feels. He’d feel it all on his body too. He’ll be exhausted, and his right leg would ache now and then, especially during colder days. Fortunately for him, the city was always cold, so he’d get used to the aching.
He’d learn to trust himself again. He’d learn to let people count on him also, and he’ll pull through again. I told him that life was all about this: you never knew where you were going until you had to come back where you started from, retracing your path. It was then that you remembered how far you had wandered off to find some semblance of solace. It was where you found yourself too, along the way, a shadow of yourself wandering. The shadow disappeared after it had sobbed enough, and so I made it a point to revisit each titular shadow and each moment I couldn’t let go.
Thus, my journey began. I went to the familiar alleys, to the random forks in the roads, to the most frequented coffee shops, and the most apparent streets and I told each of them the same thing. I told them all I’d been where they were, and that they’ll be okay, and I knew how they felt. Of course, I did. It was me who had felt all of that, and it was me who was waiting for someone in all those moments, stuck in time, waiting on a hug or a handshake or just someone to say, “it’s okay.”
Once I was done telling everything I had learnt about myself in the past two years to each of those shadows, I understood that it was the right decision not to throw it all away. Now, I could start afresh with everything I had become in all the time I spent away from the city. Yet, I could start from where I left. So, I did. I resumed life from exactly where I had left it when I did all those years ago.
In that sense, it was a homecoming.