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Where Is My Home? - A Short Story

It was raining again. I hated the rain. I watched the raindrops race each other down the smeared bus window. Outside the sea of umbrellas blended into one dark grey tone with the city lights behind them. Only a group of tourists stood out from the crowd with its bright red flag fluttering in the wind.

Thirteen years ago, I had been part of this group too. When first visiting London, I was amazed to see such a big city buzzing with life. Coming from a small town in the south of Spain, having so much to see and do was new to me. Looking back, my first few months here were filled with visiting everything the city had to offer: The London Eye, the tower, the museums, … But what most struck me about London was how people from so many different backgrounds worked together and built this accepting community. This bus already was packed with people with different cultural and social backgrounds: A fifty-something white well-dressed businessman, a mother comforting her child in a language I didn’t understand, two girls whose features and colouring matched those of some variety of Latina; probably Central or South American, … In London everyone is different and that made it easy for me to integrate as a half Chinese, half Spanish woman. This was not always the case, as prejudice and stereotypes were well spread around the globe.

I was transported back to the bus when a young lady sat down next to me. “I’ll be home in about half an hour.”, she murmured into her mobile phone. Home: a concept I didn’t understand and was so hard to put into words. Was it a place, a feeling, or both at the same time? Given my mixed background, I had often asked myself where home is. I looked around the bus questioning if anyone else here was confronted with the same question… I was so lost in my thoughts and almost missed my stop.

Walking down the narrow streets with the red brick houses lined one by one the sound of raindrops hitting the cement soothed me. Then with a loud splash, I stepped directly into a huge puddle. I looked down at my now drenched sneakers and saw my reflection in the moving water. Black dishevelled hair, a button nose, and big hazel eyes looking back at me. I had attributes both from my Chinese father and my Spanish mother. It was near to impossible for a stranger to correctly guess my origin. Sometimes I didn’t even know it myself.

I lay in my bed and immediately dozed off. The last thing I heard was the sound of raindrops pattering on the windowpane, cars driving past my apartment, a single chime of a church bell, dogs barking in the distance, and then silence.

I slowly opened my eyes to discover I was sitting on a dilapidated bench, the paint already peeling off, looking over the Thames. I didn’t recognise the city, usually overflowing with sights, smells, and sounds. The moving water reflected the bright city lights. It was glinting with little sparkles, like a million diamonds spread out on a blue satin fabric. The streets rested in lifeless silence. Only a few lampposts placed at each street corner lit them with their warm flickering light. The leaves of the trees made a calming rustling noise, and I could hear the water sloshing hitting the shore. Everything was at peace.

All of a sudden, I heard somebody cough next to me. I looked to my right and was startled to find an elderly woman dressed in black sitting next to me. Had she been sitting here all this time? She was silent and was staring into the distance. Just before I wanted to address her, her head turned towards me. In the dim light I couldn’t make out much at first, but when my eyes had accustomed to the lighting I was shocked to see, that she was not old at all but a young girl. I knew I had seen her before. It took me some seconds to properly place her: She was the girl I had met yesterday on the bus. Before I could continue thinking about it her thin lips opened and out came the words “Where is your home?”.

I wanted to leave running but some power made me sit still. She repeated her question but much louder now. As I looked behind me, I comprehended this was not because she raised her voice, but because a crowd of people had surrounded us chanting the question as well. I finally got hold of the power over my body again and started to run, the fastest I’d ever run.

I saw the nearest bridge and decided to dash towards it. The breeze had developed into a strong wind making the trees bow from one side to the other. The horror of the situation was only heightened by the sound of the wind howling. I continued running, seeing the bridge coming nearer and nearer. I didn’t dare look back, but I heard the chants still. I was sprinting for dear life. I ran towards the bridge as if it was my only salvation, my single chance of survival. The river had transformed into a wild and merciless animal, devouring everything it could get hold of. I hadn’t even noticed the tears flowing down my cheeks. I was out of breath, but I couldn’t stop running. I heard the sickening roars of the crowd, the slashing of the water, and the howls of the wind getting louder and louder. The glaring city lights blinded my eyes. I clenched onto the binding of the bridge and tried to hold my ears to block out the deafening sounds, but it was useless. The chanting: “Where is your home, where is your home” wouldn’t stop. I looked towards the bright lights and shouted: “I don’t know”. Water splashing. Wind howling. Trees hushing. Silence.

Hastily, I sat up. My clothes were drenched in sweat and my whole body was shaking. With wide-open eyes, I stared straight ahead. Whilst trying to breathe calmly, my heart raced at a tremendous speed. The sound of the crowd just wouldn’t go out of my head. It was like a broken tape repeating and repeating itself. I looked at my alarm clock: 3:40 am. I was too upset to go back to sleep again, though. Where-is-home. How did these three little words cause me such a great amount of emotional distress? I grabbed my laptop and dove into searching definitions of home.

Home: The place where one lives permanently”. That would make London my home, but I had never really felt this way. Even after living here for more than ten years I still didn’t understand British jokes or enjoyed spending an evening at the pub: drinking warm beer and playing darts. I wasn’t English!

Home: The district or country where one was born” After this definition, I’d be Chinese. As I was born in Jian, in the west of China. Although a great part of my family lives there and visiting them does make me feel welcome, I never truly feel at home there. The biggest factor probably being that I am not proficient in Mandarin and not being familiar with all the cultural rules they had there. I wasn’t Chinese!

Home: The place where one has lived the longest” So I am Spanish? I was brought up in Madrid and speak the language fluently. I went to school and university there, but I couldn’t settle for Madrid being my home… All those years I’d lived there I never felt truly welcome. It wasn’t unusual to be spoken to in English at a café, as a waiter wouldn’t expect me to speak Spanish, most were surprised when I started talking. I wasn’t Spanish!

Home: The place where one feels they belong” Well to be honest I didn’t know where I belonged. I wasn’t English, I wasn’t Chinese, I wasn’t Spanish, I was a mixture of all, I was nothing at all. This feeling of not belonging hit me as if it had been hiding inside me these past few years, only sensing for a moment to overwhelm me, to drown me in a flood of doubts and fear. I had heard stories of homesickness and wanting to belong, but that had never been me. I was happy traveling around the globe, having no permanent home. But maybe all this traveling was only fun if one had a home to go back to.

So many people had envied me for speaking more than two languages, had envied me for having travelled the world, had envied me for having experienced different cultures: and yet all I wanted was to be like them: Knowing where home is! With this in mind, I slowly fell asleep again. The next morning, I prepared for work. The gloomy weather made it feel like afternoon already.

It was raining again. I hated the rain. I watched the raindrops race each other down the smeared bus window. I saw the tourist group again and it was at that moment I realised: I was a tourist myself, a tourist of the world.


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