My family and I have recently moved into a new neighbourhood. In this neighbourhood, we have a new place that we now call ‘Home’. I’ve only ever known one other Home in my life; that Home, I had known for over 25 years — more, if you count the time that I was moving and shifting around in my momma’s belly. That was Home. And, a bit unnervingly, I still call it that even now. I don’t mean to, I really don’t. I like this new Home I have. I really do. I like the space and the air, the greenery and the birds.
But my old Home was family; it wasn’t just a brick and cement building. Imagine moving into a new Home and leaving one of your family members behind in the old one… That may sound extreme or exaggerated, and before moving, I might have thought the same if I had heard someone else make that analogy. But, I promise, that is how I feel. I have left part of my family behind. An old grandpa. Or old uncle. (Yes, my old Home was a man. Grey and wrinkly. And cracking in certain places. But he was lovable and dear.)
It is impossible to bring him along, but it feels almost as impossible to leave him behind. I drive past this old Home and I struggle to picture other people inside it. I try to imagine them in our kitchen, eating around our table, or lounging in our living room, and I feel like they are intruders. I want to visit my old Home, just to see if he is doing okay. To see what they’ve done with him, and if they’re treating him well. Now, I know I am bordering on insane here, but how do you not become just a little bit crazy when you leave behind 25 years of running up and down the passage even when Mum said not to; banging bedroom doors to relieve teenage frustration; family breakfasts, lunches and suppers around an antique dinner table; or sounds of creaking doors that would alarm you to the approaching parent just in time so that you can hide that novel that you should not be reading or that movie that you should not be watching while you actually should be studying Bio or Geography for your final Matric exam? And if you think that sentence was too long to digest, perhaps that gives you a slight indication of the length of time I am trying to squeeze together into some comprehensible and tangible form so that I may keep it alive for a little bit longer.
Now I know they say that Home is where the heart is, or where the family is, and that this is just a new place for me to make new memories, and that change is good and all of that. I’m sure they are right. But change and a new Home takes some getting used to, and memories take a while to become memories. So while I do honestly love this new place, I am still waiting for it to really feel like Home. In the mean time, let me share with you some things I miss about my old Home, my old uncle that I left behind. Some of the things on this list I had already documented elsewhere, on more temporary media forms, and due to a concerned friend, who kindly advised me to try to think of things I like about my new Home, rather than reflecting too much on the past, I stopped that list. But now I want to continue, but please note: this is not a lament. This is not a form of nagging and moaning for what is lost. This is just me reminiscing and fondly replaying the memories of a place that was Home for the first 25 years of my life. I’d like to look back 25 years from now and remember that place, and the details of it. But by then I’ll be 50. And I might have Alzheimer’s, or just plain ol’ bad memory. So these words might help as a supporting aid.
Things I Miss About My Old Home:
1. My cousin who lived three roads away. Random evening or afternoon walks up to her house, or random visits from her — these are no more. In fact, just random evening walks anywhere in the neighbourhood. We still take random walks in the evening in this new neighbourhood, to my sister who stays up the road, or just around for the fun of it, but there’s no community here. No little children running through the streets at a time that they actually should already be in bed, no teenage boys taking skateboard races up and down a cul-de-sac, or people sitting on stoeps having casual conversations in the cool night air. I loved seeing these things while my parents and I leisurely walk through the streets at night. Oh, and bumping into aunties and uncles along the way and stopping to greet but then ending up having a 30-minute conversation. (All our neighbours are aunties and uncles. I mean, our ex-neighbours.)
2. My neighbours. We weren’t the tightest-knit community of people. There were people two houses away whose names I did not know. But there was Uncle Kevin across the road; we never spoke, but we always waved in passing. There was Aunty Faeeza next to him; she often sent us guavas from her guava tree in her backyard, and I grew up playing with her children. There was Aunty Zaida next door; she made scarf shopping really easy and convenient because she sells them. And Uncle Muhammad who always stood on the corner at the end of our road; I’m not quite sure where he lives, and I’ve never spoken to him at all, but he waved in greeting to me each morning as I took that corner. And, like I said, all my neighbours are aunties and uncles, even those that lived roads away.
3. Hobos that you know and who become regulars at your house. I used to have conversations with them. It was memorable.
4. Shorter distance between Home and my place of work. And no traffic. At all. Just some annoying drivers along the way. But other than that, it was just me and the wide, open road. Now… I have more distance, annoying drivers, and a slow-moving, car-crammed, accident-prone highway between me and my place of work. Granted, that stretch of car-crammed highway is not very long before I again get on the wide, open M5 road, but when there are slow-moving cars, the 3 minutes you should spend on that highway to get to the M5 turns into 10-15 mins of agony.
5. My beautiful, close view of the mountains from my front stoep. My old neighbourhood is not the most scenic of places. In fact, it is pretty crowded and houses are very close to one another. But we were also close to the mountains. And I loved looking at it as I stepped out in the mornings, or on sunny afternoons. I love the mountains. Sometimes, as I’m driving, I am in danger of getting too close to the car in front of me because I’m too busy staring at the glorious mountains and the different patterns and fashions in which the clouds cover it. So having the mountain so close to my doorstep was a huge bonus that I never took for granted.
6. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air from the nearby Blue Ribbon bakery. This one my cousin reminded me of — the cousin who lives three roads away. She lives in the neighbourhood too, so she would know. That smell… is beautiful. I would come to the red light at the intersection just outside the bakery and sit there just inhaling that aroma. Gosh, I miss it.
7. Living around the corner from a masjid. That was just a blessing. There is so much attached to that. To which masjid will I rush through the streets during Ramadan for taraweeh now? Which masjid will sound the athan into our home now? There is no masjid near enough here.
8. The ‘Eid vibe. ‘Eid has just passed us. It was the quietest ‘Eid I have ever experienced. Reasons are already stated above: community, masjid, all of that.
9. Creaks, cracks and bangs that I knew. Here, there are sounds of creaks, there are cracks, and there are bangs that I am not familiar with yet. And they FREAK me out! Especially when I am alone at home. I knew every sound in my old Home; I knew exactly from which part of the house or from which object falling it came. Here, I do not. Even the sound of the wind scares me.
I shall end it there. I do not want to make this list too exhaustive, lest it be thought that I am unhappy in my new Home. I am not unhappy. I am, indeed, very happy here. Alhamdulillah (All praise to Allah). I miss the old, naturally, but I certainly appreciate the new for what it is. It is spacious, fresh, lush, quiet and safe. I find new reasons to love it each day. And I know that, soon, this Home will become an old aunty to me (this Home feels like a woman; a fairly young and fresh woman too). So do not be mistaken by my words of longing for my old Home. I long for it, and I will most probably always miss it a little. It was my first Home. It is where all my firsts happened. But I am excited at the new prospects. I have visions of amazing times here with my family in this new place to call Home.
Have you ever felt connected to a building or place, like they’re a part of your family? Or am I just a strange person?