A sense of belonging is something we’re all in pursuit of. We don’t particularly know what that feels like or where we’ll find it. It makes life seem like some kind of never-ending treasure hunt. Maybe it is and we never realise it. We’re given clues from the very beginning, one after another, some of us get it and some of us get it later. It’s one such game where you can never be the loser. Interestingly, we go in all sorts of circles, we’ll go as far as we can from where we began but one day we find that we’re back where we started. Some of us never want to leave and others no matter where they go keep returning to familiarity.
A month before I turned 18, I left home, towards my dreams and tried to make a home out of a new place. I thought that was a mark of being an adult. At the time it felt like that was all I wanted, an escape. I left my house bag in hand and didn’t look over my shoulder. I remember I tried to swallow my tears in vain when my parents helped me move in and that’s when it hit me that the training wheels were off. All summer I was absorbed in dreaming of my new room, my new life, the graduation from uniforms to my own clothes. But as I stood there waving to my Mum I was terrified, it was like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water in my face.
I was in a new place, I didn’t know anybody, unlike in school, I couldn’t get on a bus and go home, it was two and a half-hours away by flight. I could barely speak the local language, the weather was terrible and my room was nothing compared to my room at home. Another thought struck me that I was going to have roommates. I had only shared a room with my sister and still fought with her over the washroom. I had a budget, something I never had to worry about before. My finances were limited to bus fares and snacks when going to get something to eat with friends after school. I wanted to run downstairs and tell my Mum to take me back home.
But three years went by and the time came to move farther away from home. This time I changed continents. To say the least, it was nerve-wracking. Three suitcases and me in a stranger’s land where the laws were different and I didn’t even have my parents to help me move in. The first night when I did my groceries I slept without brushing my teeth because I forgot to buy toothpaste. I recalled the time my parents helped me move in, they both me supplies for a month before they left. But in this new country, I knew they were more worried about me than I was. So, of course, I told them on the phone that I had everything. I ate an airport sandwich for dinner that night because I was too tired to cook. I had never done my own laundry, and cooked three meals for myself.
But no matter where I went, I took a piece of home with me, photos, a little idol of a God at my Mum’s insistence and my diaries starting from the one I wrote when I was eleven. No matter how much I tried I could never make those places my home. Maybe it’s because my parents pamper me at home. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to worry about finances at home or maybe it’s because I grew up there. As much as I love the independence and wouldn’t give it up for the world, whenever I come home I feel a sense of relief. It’s like I suddenly turn into a child again and my parents never change. They still treat me like a child. I think it’s their way of feeling important in my life.
When I came back home for the gap year, it was the first time that my homecoming wasn’t a happy one. At the outset, I used my home as a shield from the world. The same world I wanted to get lost in four years ago, became my biggest fear. Home remains home, loving and protective. But now it makes me feel like I am hiding from something and I don’t know what it is. Everywhere I went, I craved home. When I am at home I want to be elsewhere. I think it’s because I never felt like I belonged and still don’t.
Right from the start, I felt like an outsider, my family with their different interests, the school where I was an outlier till the very end, in college because I built high walls around myself and I carried that feeling with me in a suitcase to a new country. When I left for home I remember telling the counsellor at my university, “I just don’t feel like I belong” But for the life of me I did not know why I felt like that. I just wanted to run, away from what and towards what I don’t know.
All my life I have been wandering searching for home, and even though I have a house where I will always be welcome, it’s not home. I know that’s a terrible thing to say and I am grateful I have never been someone without a roof over my head. But everyone has that one place where they feel most like themselves, the one place where there’s no pretense, no shields, no doubts. I used to find it in a library as a teenager, then it became my college on weekends when students and professors were not on campus, and then it became my room in London. But they were all temporary. I am still on a quest for permanence, a place to call my own. I know it might be in vain, but I am not ready to quit just yet.