In twenty-three years of existence, I’ve lived in three cities.
One, the city of my birth, is a city I love and hate in equal measure. It is a city that is slow to change; her people content to bide their time. They keep to the old ways and are suspicious of the new. They believe boys and girls are dangerous to each other if kept in close quarters, they are more apt to be shocked by bare legs than by cleavage and they still think the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is reserved for young men who are doctors and engineers and young women who give up their lives to be somebody’s wife and mother at the appointed hour. The city of my birth has been many things but it has never been home. Growing up here, I felt a deep and abiding discomfort with who I am, the way I look, the ambitions I hold close and the choices I seek to make. I was at once both more and less, better than the rabble and yet unable to live up to its insidious expectations. So when the time came to leave, I left.
Two is the one I lived in third. It is a city I write about often and dream of rarely, because the waking up is too difficult to bear. It is a city I miss, every day that I wake up somewhere else, because it is the only city that ever felt like home. I have been my happiest, best self here; I have been loved here and wanted, missed and feted, befriended by people on the street and forgotten by people I saw everyday. I close my eyes now and I still see her skyline, dark and dour against the winter sky; her gardens without an inch to spare in the short summertime sunshine; I close my eyes and I smell hot, flaky pies and stinging apple cider, the sweat-and-vomit stink of Saturday night binges and the clean, sweet smells of grass and flowers and mud, the peculiar aroma of pub toilets and cheap cologne. It is a city I love: unreservedly, boundlessly, forever. It is a city that made me love me and for that, I will never stop being grateful.
The second city I lived in occupied prime position on my list of favourite cities in the world for a long time. It was a city of eternal summer holidays; of my grandmother’s shining smile and my grandfather’s gruff but well-meaning manner. A city I came to three times a year, to do exactly the same things: museum-art gallery-bookstore-seaface-aquarium. Bewildering, loud, windy and littered with the human rubbish of decades, I loved the city but I was afraid of her nonetheless. The thrumming, throbbing energy of Bombay scared me as a child but it is what I love about the city today. I came to live here at fifteen, terrified of most things in the world, especially my own potential to be more than I was. I was thrust headlong into a wholly different world from the one I had known, and I held on to the only things that stayed the same: words, arranged neatly on a page, making sense out of the chaos all around. I learned, in my two years here, just how much words can save you and heal you and give your fragile sense of self some ballast.
Maybe that’s why I came back here.
After two years of nostalgia, creeping lethargy and depression, I moved out. I packed my bags and my not inconsiderable library and moved here, to see if I could make it as a teacher. To see if I could make kids see just how many mountains words can move.
It has been three whole weeks since that first, breathless moment of mid-air exhilaration, when the aircraft made its leap into the sky and I knew, in the pit of my stomach, that I was doing what Elphaba had exhorted me to do for so long. I was defying gravity, at long fucking last.
And can I say something that, for the first time in two-and-a-half years, isn’t tinged with regret or self-indulgence or wishful fancy?
I. am. so. incredibly. happy.