As you step out into the departures hall at the Sydney Airport, you are greeted by banners hanging from the ceiling, and they say: Welcome home. It was the furthest I could go without shooting up into the space – thousands of miles and hundreds of euros worth of a plane ticket between this home and that.
I lived fast and slow at the same time. I didn’t count the days that flew past without me as much as lazily grabbing after them. They melted together into a twirl of reading in parks and roaming around bookshops with no money or aim. Three uneventful days became one, but in this country on the wrong side of the tracks it didn’t matter.
There were nights when I sat out alone, with the quiet chirping of crickets and an occasional scream of a cockatoo or perhaps a fox, with the lights of the main house turned off and just darkness embracing me. By then I had loved in secret and lost my mind a few times. I had crashed off my high horse, thinking that travelling to the other side of the planet would change me. It was hard to swallow when I realized it hadn’t; that I was still a little bit shy, a little bit lonely.
Those nights I looked up at the unfamiliar sky where nothing reminded me of home and felt as if I had fallen through a canvas between two worlds. I looked at the strange constellations and felt empty, as if I had lain a piece of my heart on a pavement outside some noisy city club and forgotten it there. It wasn’t homesickness as I knew it – it was a deeper, hungrier yearning, a primitive plea rising from the inside to make this place my home. It was the place where I had broken my heart time after time, and filled it up again; it was the place where the sky was upside down and sunsets were the colour of fire; it was the place where I shed my childish skin and stumbled towards adulthood.
Now I’m back to the other side of the stars. Most days I can go without the sweet dreams haunting me. But when I hear of someone else travelling to that wonderful country I get jealous as a madman who has just found a rival courting her lover. In my mind that place belongs to me. It is ludicrous, of course, how could I demand a country of twenty million people to be mine, but to me she is the boy that got away; the job that was taken from me; the rug that was pulled from under my feet. And for – or despite – all these faults I still love her. The littlest word can remind me of her. I close my eyes, and I have returned.
How cruel is irony. A million miles from the place I was born, I finally got close to home.