Going back

The girl sat in the backseat of the car together with her brother and Grandmother. After giving some last instructions, her Grandfather sat next to the driver and told him sharply “Let’s go””. The driver started the engine and they came down the path on the left of the house for the last time: she saw, as if in a dream, the tall araucaria tree, the green lawn where she had so often played with her brother; she glimpsed her Grandmother’s roses in whites and yellows and reds and pinks; she could not see the swimming pool for it was on the opposite side of the house but she could see it in her mind, the turquoise blue water glistening under the morning sun. Now they were going through the open  green gates and turning right to the street and moving away. And then she looked back at what had been her home for her whole life, the majestic, two storied house her Grandfather had built some twenty five years ago, back in the Fifties, before her time…she saw the arches of the veranda on the ground floor with the flower beds below, and the balcony on the first floor where the family got together to watch the impressive show of tropical storms, and she remembers feeling no fear at all of the thunder and lightning, only the intensity of the experience.

 

But that of course was in the old days, before fear and insecurity had come into their lives to stay. The reasons why they were leaving their house.

 

She looked back again and again and the house was becoming smaller. Tears poured down her cheeks and an immense sadness invaded her. She knew for sure that nothing would ever be the same in her life again. Whatever happened, there would always be this hole in her heart, this longing, this sadness for home. She had read somewhere that home is where your heart is, and part of her heart was staying behind, within the walls of her beloved house and among the garden trees she had so often climbed.

 

In the months that followed they lived in a beautiful apartment facing the sea. From the balcony she could see the bay and the ocean beyond, the ocean she knew she would soon cross. Not once did she go back to the street where her house stood, not even for a last glimpse. She had said her goodbye, and then came the last farewell, to her native city. From the plane she saw the land disappearing down below but this time her eyes were dry, only the hole in her heart remained.

 

A lifetime after

More than forty years have gone by – a lifetime. The girl has lived in several apartments and houses ever since, somehow never getting too attached to any of them. The first year was the toughest – she cried everyday on her way to school on bleak, cold, rainy winter mornings she was not used to, coming from a land where summer and warm weather lasted all year long. But then, at twelve, you have your whole life ahead of you – and she adapted. She made new friends, fell in love and enjoyed her teens. She grew into a woman, had a career, married, divorced, fell in love again, and most important of all, she had children.

 

As any mother would, she loved telling them stories. She told them fairy tales but she also told them her story, that she had been born in Africa, the happy childhood she had had, what a wonderful house she had lived in, how beautiful her native city was with the wide streets lined with Acacia trees…and of course she showed them many photos of herself and her family and friends, of the sandy beaches with tall coconut trees but most of all of her house. They asked many questions about her life there and she told them all about it.

 

Her children grew up and one day they said they wanted to get to know their mother’s homeland. She had never really considered going back, but now she did and all of a sudden it seemed like a good idea – in the end her children wanted to be there with her, so that she could share her most precious memories with them; they wanted to get to know that part of her life she had so often talked about but had somehow kept shrouded in mystery; they wanted to go there and experience it.

At this point you may have guessed I am that girl who left her home forty three years ago. I am finally going back this year and the boys are coming with me. I am going to show them all the places I still remember – the streets, the beach, the famous hotels, the restaurants (those which are still there), the trees, my school and high school, the Natural Art museum…but most of all we will go and see my house together, for it is still standing. And when I see it I know I will be overwhelmed by that same emotion I felt so many years ago when I left it. I know for sure I will cry my heart out but then I feel this is something I have to do. And then maybe, only maybe this wound will heal – or maybe not.

 

Anyway, I’ll only know for sure when I get back to Mozambique, my homeland, after all these years.

Out of Africa

The hotel

Brussels

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