I’m at the port, watching the ships sail in and out. I watch them tear the sea open, like splitting a seam, sending waves crashing against the rocks and rippling out to the shore, making children scream before they reach the beach, with a whoosh, and froth, and draw back, shimmering, as they mix with the silvery sand.
They blow their whistles, sometimes briefly, sometimes prolonged. Sometimes not at all. Hello, goodbye. I’m here! I’m leaving. I’m gone. In and out. Bringing people, taking people away. Taking them back. For me, once a summertime guest, the direction of travel has been reversed: when the boat glides into the port, now, it’s always bringing me back. When the jagged edges of the island first appear, when its dark shape looms at night, gaining in substance as we get closer and dots of light start to grow and spell out villages, shops still open, homes still occupied by those, like me, who stay, I understand what they mean by homecoming. There’s nothing epic about it; it’s not like that. It’s just a gliding in, a slotting into place. A small click that only you can hear, the click that means that, after years of pushing yourself into the jagged edges of other shores, you found the part that fits. Like a ship that doesn’t need to blow its whistle as it drifts into the port: you just slip back into place.
When I step onto the jetty, it’s the same: a moment for shoe to connect with soil, for girl to connect with island, a breathing out of other places, and then nothing. Almost nothing. No fanfare and no one to greet me, no one to say welcome as if my presence here is remarkable. I drift past the wives and husbands, children if it’s not too late, taxi drivers and maybe one or two hotel owners holding up signs. I wind my way through, sure on my feet because my feet know the way. I slip past, almost unnoticed, and it’s in that that I understand what I have found: it’s in the nods of those, like me, who stay. A tuck of the chin, a tilt of the head, a hand half-raised, a smile. A quiet welcome back, acknowledging my unremarkable presence. It’s in the fact that, when the ships sail out again, the seam closes after them before long. Whether they blow their whistle in goodbye, whether they drift out quietly: before long, it’s like they were never there. And I stay. It’s in the pleasure that gives me, it’s in the comfort I draw from the sight of that unbroken sea, that empty horizon, that I understand what they mean by home.
This is work in progress. An excerpt from what might become my next book – tentatively titled We’ll still be here when you are gone. Or maybe not… I’ll be posting bits and pieces as they get written; sign up below if you’d like to get them by email.