Where is home when you’re away from it?
In my hometown of Pretoria, South Africa the streets all have new names. It’s been 21 years. New government. New era. New names. Charles Street is now Justice Mohamed. Duncan is Jan Shoba. Queen Wilhelmina has changed to Florence Ribiero but it’s still long and familiar. You cannot get from there to here without crossing it… no matter what it’s called. I don’t know why it was ever Queen Wilhelmina in the first place.
The hadedas call good morning before 7am. The African sun glows gently. It lights the whole sky from the inside. A car honks outside. Irreverent in the early quiet. For a few moments the hadedas wage a shrill war with the car. The sun climbs higher. The sky is brighter. The car moves on. The hadedas settle down.
The meat thaws on the counter. Somebody’s been up before me. Chops and steak gleam purply-red through the tight saran sheath. A faint smudge of frost clings to the plastic. Drops of water pool on the counter, as the meat softens in the warm kitchen. Coils of boerewors – literally “farmer’s sausage” – slowly defrost. So much wrapped up in those faintly spicy spirals.
There will be hot, crusty rolls. A crisp, green salad. Cabbage finely shredded and doused with sweet, tangy vinegar. Potato salad for sure. Homemade pickles. Cold beer and all kinds of soda. The meat is at the heart of it.
We will eat with towels wrapped around our swimsuit-clad bodies, water dripping from our hair onto our plates. We won’t care what the grown-ups are talking about and we won’t remember to say please or thank you. Not even when we ask for seconds. The meat will sizzle on the braai (barbecue) and everywhere will smell like smoke (the good kind) and chlorine. We will shoo away the lazy flies and pesky bees, and the grass will tickle my bum and make it itch.
Charles Street is still Charles and you always make a right at Duncan. This is the way from here to there.
We will swim some more and make up dances and tell our parents they have to watch us perform on the patio. Why wouldn’t they? We are their stars, shining with promise and bellies full of smoky boerewors and potato salad. There’s nowhere like home and even though their conversation is full of apartheid and Israel and Houston and Sydney, home is where we are and we are here.
We will have bright yellow mangoes and granadillas for dessert, meringues and something custardy. “Maybe there’s a bag of kosher marshmallows in the pantry…” someone will wonder.
Tea with milk and sugar. Plain “minute” cake. Or a rich, dark chocolate decorated with cherries and chocolate sprinkles. We will lie on the bedroom floor and play rummikub. So happy and easy together. As if we’ve been doing this forever and we have.
Years later, separated by vast oceans and complicated time zones, we will find our way back to each other time and again. Forever will come with us and the decades before and after will always be gently smudged with yesterday’s memories and tomorrow’s desires. But for now there is now. So happy and easy together. We will do this forever.
The sun will start to sink and the light will change. Woodsmoke, charred meat and jasmine will fill the air and wherever in the world my home becomes, the smell of fire outside will always make me ache with homesickness.
One day I will leave. Home will be where the foghorns are much louder than the hadedas, where the streets roll up and down the hilly city. They are long and will become just as familiar. The weekends will smell like smoky meat on the braai because my children love boerewors as much as I do. But we won’t have granadillas.
Charles Street is no longer Charles. But even after 17 years, you still turn right to get from there to here.
This post was inspired by the prompt “Food & Comfort” from the online Winter Joy Writing Retreat I’m currently enjoying. Hosted by Jena Schwartz and Cigdem Kobu of The Inky Path, the theme of the retreat is Edible Memories. It’s astounding, enriching and a little scary to discover where our food memories take us!
This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt is, “What I’m really trying to say is…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Mardra of Mardra Sikora and Vidya of Vidya Sury. What I’m really trying to say is, so many things make home home. Even if they’re not there anymore.