I go for a walk everyday, down the footpath by the beach front, surrounded by a tunnel of Eucalyptus and Acacia trees. Dappled golden light filters through, and everything is soft and gentle. Or sometimes high up in the mountains, down rocky paths and past tall spindly trees and wriggly streams.
One afternoon in the mountains my papa and I set off in search of calm and a nearby waterfall. A small bird darts ahead, stopping and looking back every now and again, as if showing us the way.
The rocks we walk over are 92 million years old. I wonder about how much life they must have seen, how many feet and paws clambered over them. There are no other humans on the trail, and I dream about being alone, naked and submerged in the rushing water.
The way back up is steep and I feel vitality rushing through me, in the mountain air my lungs shovel in so deeply it hits the back of my throat, in the sweat running down my forehead and the burn in my muscles. I splash water from the stream onto my face and then drink from it and it’s thrillingly cold and refreshing.
In the city there are pieces of art painted on the walls of the streets – one is a mural of blooming flowers, and in the middle a real plant bursts out of the wall and into real life. An auntie picks sweet peas from her garden and hands them to me when I arrive to tuck into my hair.
Family I haven’t seen for years immediately wrap me up in the warmth of unconditional love, like no time has passed between the last time we saw each other. I meet a new member of the family, who instantly becomes a soul sister. We both love the sun and the sea, and she tells me she’s been going for a swim in the ocean everyday, in every season and every weather, since 2005. Her name is Diana, the Roman version of Artemis.
There is an open-heartedness and a generosity in the people here. It’s in the old friends who welcome us into their homes like family and their neighbour who turns up with home-cooked snacks and upon meeting us for the first time immediately runs back home to bring us some home-made Zivania to take back to England with us. It’s in his exuberant, booming voice that regales everyone with funny stories, and the familiarity with which he touches my dads arm as they laugh together. It’s in my auntie who has more oranges growing in her garden than she can pick, and invites the construction workers building a tall block of flats next door to come and take as many as they would like. It’s in the new friend who hugs me and cups my face as we say goodbye and promise to call each other when I’m back in town.
It’s even by the roadside, in the abundance of orange trees and prickly pears that belong to no one and everyone, and the brown sign with yellow letters on the motorway that reads “The forest belongs to everyone. It brings us life.”
The sun and sea water, mountain air and ocean breeze clear up my skin. In the past few years I’ve developed an allergy to cats, but when I can’t help petting a friendly stray, though I wait for it, the sneezing and the itching never comes. Even my hair, normally brown, regains its original copper tinge after a couple of days in the sun. New plans for my dreams to become reality erupt out of me, and everything is tinged with opportunity. My journal fills with pages of ideas, concepts, plans. Now I’m out of the cage my wings have room to spread.
My body is happy here. My mind is happy here. I am happy here. All my senses and instincts tell me I have found home. And I will never go back into the cage.
The day before travelling always carries a poignant weight with it. Everything feels at once slightly surreal and more lucid than usual. I watch the sunset from the balcony of the flat, two stories up. It is golden and pink and purple and watching it I am reminded that really the sun never sets and never rises. We are on a spinning planet and everything on it, all life, has their own natural cycles of life and death, abundance and scarcity. Fred has been slipping further away over the past few days, and I’ve been carrying the weight of the distance between us heavily. The planet turns away from the sun; long, pink shadows stretch across the wall. The fading light seems to hold a promise, if only I would trust in it. So I do, and at the same time, I let him go. I can no longer see the sun, but the pink and purple still paint the sky.
All the things I brought over for my new home are now stored away in a wardrobe. They fit neatly onto one shelf and I look at them, wondering who I’ll be when I next open these doors and pull these things down from the shelf. Will I be on my own or with someone new? Will I have a new life growing in me by then? I close the doors, knowing that whoever I become, she’ll find her way back here when it is time. For now, another land calls.