I returned home, and everything looked smaller.
It was peculiar. It was as if the suburban houses had sunk a few inches to the ground, cowering lower than I remembered.
My little sister’s hair had grown longer, and there was a coat of new white paint on the ceiling. My parents looked older. The card board boxes that housed all the belongings I didn’t carry on my back were far less numerous as I had remembered.
I had been away for nine months, not for the first time, but this time something about home was different.
For years, I had rapidly been growing out of my home town; like growing out of an old favourite shirt but at the same time growing tired of it, all the tassles and the tuft starting to seem childish and immature. And every time I came back after travelling, I had found that same sweater neatly folded in my closet, as if hoping for me to pull it on again. I always took it for granted that I had grown too big for my town, but I never thought the town might catch up with me.
When I returned, bolder and braver than ever, the town seemed smaller. But underneath it sparkled and spit with a new kind of energy. Six years ago people were talking about the death of the city centre, as business after business closed down or moved their premises to the brand new malls on the outskirts of the city centre. The only business that seemed to be flourishing were the half a dozen nightclubs that were always packed full.
Now most of them have shut their doors. Instead, a few new cozy cafes have popped up on the block. The central market has erected permanent stalls, cute and colourful, for the vendors that come sell their product on Saturday morning markets. New houses are being built by the river, and the old wooden ones that have been falling apart for years are finally being repaired. There are street food festivals and even a colourful mural painted on one of the grey high-rises by the market square.
These tiny changes whisper about the shifts in the town’s character, and I can see that it, too, has finally started to grow out of itself. It didn’t make me want to stay. My home town is still too small, still too uninspired, for me to dream of living there again. But now I could respect it for what it has become.
I walked the town looking around like meeting someone for the first time, viewing old haunts with new eyes. It felt like a swan song and a greeting at the same time. Before, I had returned with a mixed sense of duty and irrelevant nostalgia for a little girl that grew up riding her bike on these streets. Now I returned for the first time since moving out of Finland. Perhaps my old disdain for the town had surfaced from the feeling of still being tied to it somehow; but now, severed and separated from the nest that nursed me, I could finally appreciate it for what it was. Two versions of the town exist for me: the one of dreadful boredom that a little girl couldn’t dream to leave fast enough, and one of regeneration just starting to blossom. Much like me, for the first time truly and irrevocably grown up.
They say that at the rate that human cells regenerate, we change who we are every seven years. Maybe the same is true for cities, too.
As I left, I felt as if I was saying goodbye to the town I’d grown up in, and bidding farewell to one I was just getting to know. As I passed it by, we cordially nodded to each other.
I had arrived home and everything seemed smaller, but in truth it was just different.