The ride pulls out of the bus stop at about quarter to seven.
It’s a cold and moody morning in the city of flamingos. Am hungry and tired. And cranky. I haven’t had anything that may be classified as sleep in the last thirty or so hours.
Am still high on the energy drinks I pumped into my system the previous night. Kept me up all night. Contemplating the meaning of life and the inevitability of death – and everything in between.
It’s Thursday and am headed on a hunt whose success I already doubt. But am a boy. A big boy. And where I come from, that’s what boys do. Hunt and gather, and collect. So am off to a town two hundred kilometers west, to haggle with a constipated client who thinks the job I do should be paid in gratitude rather than real currency.
Am seated at the farthest end of the ten-sitter shuttle, sandwiched between a moody lady, and a woman the age of my mother. Lady Moods looks like she is in her very early thirties. In a little while, the motherly passenger will lean in my direction and ask what am doing on the road that early. And because this is Africa, I will have to give her a proper answer – well, not necessarily proper. Because that is just how we were raised. You talk to your elders with respect and reverence – unless they don’t deserve it.
‘Home…” I will tell her in a voice that betrays my impatience. Am not exactly in the mood to entertain chit-chat.
“What’s home?” She will ask, and I will give her a half-assed answer. Then she will lean on to her side of the window, and nod off to sleep. I will plug in my headphones and listen to a bit of Christopher Martin, and Cecile, and Don Williams. And Mary J Blige, and Alan Jackson. All the while I will be pondering her question. At some point, I will look up at the other passengers. Trying to figure out what’s going on in their heads. And why they would choose to travel that early.
A seat away to my right, in the row immediately in front of me is a young man. About twenty one or twenty two. He is sobbing. Ever so slightly. Going for a funeral, I suspect. Or maybe he is nursing a heartbreak. He looks genuinely sad and hurt. So I settle on the funeral. Must have been very close to the deceased. So for him, home has to be where the pain is. Where there will be sadness and tears, and dried up throats, and sore eyes from all the crying. I mumble a prayer to God to keep him safe, and to lessen his pain. Because boys don’t just cry for no reason, and because I can relate to the pain of loss.
Near the sobbing boy is a man who looks like he is in his forties. He is seriously involved in the paper he is reading. Pointing with his fingers and mouthing the words as he moves along the tiny printed paragraphs. He reminds me of my primary school desk mate who used to read with a pencil, underlining the phrases as he moved along. The man has no pencil. He looks calm and easy. For him home must be where the peace is. Where there is an abundance of love, and where future shines bright. And where the cows moo with grace as they feed on green grass.
Because I cannot see many of the other passengers without standing up, I look to my left. To the lady in her thirties. She is composed, but still moody. Staring ahead as though she is intent on helping the driver navigate the A104 highway. Her composure makes it hard to read what home holds for her. So I circle back to myself and think what home may hold for me.
Home is where the old books I read in primary school, and the files of my test scores are kept. Some as old as 25 years. In one of the report cards from November 1994 when I was still in nursery school, Teacher Anne wrote:
“Kennedy is too playful. May need to be given closer attention at home.”
I don’t think the intended recipient ever took that seriously because I don’t recall receiving any special attention. Though I did develop an attention disorder that still bugs me to date. I cannot, for the life of me, stick to any course of action for long. I get bored quickly, and I move on even when I should not even be trying to. So, anyway, for me, home is where the books are kept, and the bad reviews are tucked away.
For me, home is also where the smell of familiarity is. Where I am always welcome, but where I would rather not be. Home is where the warmth of properly cooked meals, laced with the obvious judgment for my poor choices dwell. Home is where the memories of my childhood are found, and where the recollections of the good times are kept. Home is where I can go any time, but where I would rather not. Because the child in me died a long while ago.
Finally, home is where the end is for me. Where I will one day be shipped back, in a small rectangular box with a tiny square glass window. To be planted into the soil, as my soul rises to wherever it shall go. Home is where I will be laid to rest with my dreams and hopes and failures and little triumphs.
Home is where I came from. And home is where I will return at the end of the day…
So, what’s home for you?