For most people, most of the time, coming home is an inevitable part of going away. But it still feels weird. That feeling of being homeward bound always catches me by surprise. It’s the feeling of excitement to be seeing friends and loved ones, familiar places, combined with pleasant nostalgia for where you have been, and yet muted by regret for things you might have missed out on. Or maybe that’s just the way you feel after watching four consecutive romantic comedies on an in-flight entertainment system.
A few weeks ago my wife and I really were taken by surprise by the feeling of heading home. We had been living in the UK — Africa before that — and had just finished our final days of work and packed up our flat. The plan was to fly from London to New York, then down to St Lucia for a couple of months working holiday. I had taken to playing Calypso music in the kitchen and reading Derrick Walcott. And then my wife’s mum got sick. The family back home insisted that we shouldn’t come back, but we got the impression they didn’t mean it. So we changed our tickets. And 48 hours later we were watching romantic comedies on a Qantas flight to Melbourne. Surprise. We had been away for a year and half.
So we’re at Tullamarine Airport at 5am. Practically empty. Large posters announce that Border Security is being filmed today, but there are no cameras to be seen. Just bleary eyed travelers clutching travel wallets and reeking of 25 hour flight sweat. A customs official once told my father the reason why everyone looks awful in their passport photo is because this is how you actually look after a long haul flight. The lady behind the desk gives me a warm grin and says “G’day love. Do you mind if I have a sticky at your passport?” Home again, home again.
We emerge from the famous wailing wall, scene of so many family reunions, so much emotion, but at this hour things are relatively subdued. There is no one to greet us. Our lift is late. When he arrives he has a handmade sign with our names on it. He tells us he is late because he spent so long making the sign. It was a nice thought.
Driving home in the drizzle, everything seems greener than it was when we left. Everything still seems flat and brown compared to where we have come from. It occurs to me that the day before we decided to come home I put my winter coat in a charity bin.
And then we are home. Just like that.
When you return from a long trip you get about two days of being a minor celebrity. Everybody is excited to see you. People hear you are at the pub and change their plans to come and say hello. It’s a shame really, because for those two days you are usually knackered with jetlag and feeling guilty about not making the time to visit your grandma in the old folk’s home. But then, emphatically, it is back to normal. Life goes on. After a couple of weeks you are so back into the swing of things that you bump into people you haven’t seen for a year and half and you forget to act excited to see them. It’s not a bad thing — actually it’s great. Slipping into your old friendships and life like you never missed a beat. But of course you need a job and a place to live and….
And after that it’s not really suitable for a travel blog anymore is it?