We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
Inspired by Jay Antani’s The Leaving of Things
When you leave, you leave everything. Not just the place where your husband has worked for three years and you’ve once again played the role of expat wife – you leave everything.
You leave the cold stone floors of your apartment which you’ve covered with Afghan carpets so your babies wouldn’t hurt themselves when they were learning to crawl and walk.
You leave the British High Commission playgroup, where the mothers gathered around to help you change your screaming four-month-old babies when your babies’ reaction to new people and places was an assault on the senses.
You leave the terrace where your infant boys raced up and down on the bikes you gave them for their first birthday.
You leave the bedroom that you’d always planned to share with your husband, but which instead he’s slept in alone while you’ve tended to the all-night needs of your twin boys.
You leave the hundreds of plants on the terrace that have been nurtured by a housekeeper who loves them as much as you do, and who makes your kids smile by touching their little heads every time he walks past them.
You leave the club to which you were able to escape sometimes when your boys turned two and were finally happy to let you go off on your own occasionally.
You leave the nannies who’ve allowed your children to soak their beautiful shalwar kameez with the hose, just for the sheer joy of hearing them laugh, the same nannies who regularly cry at the thought of saying goodbye to your kids.
You leave the man who has cooked your meals for you, toning down the spices so that your toddlers could share your food, and cooking pork for you though he would never let it pass his own lips.
You leave the street where the tradesmen sit hopefully from one day to the next, displaying the tools of their trade and laughing with one another while silently praying that today someone might need them.
You leave the markets which are quiet in the heat of the day, but which you know are heaving with people when the hot sun descends and you’re safely tucked up at home with your babies, whose sleep is enabled by routine.
You leave the constant presence of the Marghalla Hills, which have always been a compass point to guide you home, and which you’ve occasionally ascended to enjoy an overview of your city.
You leave the thousands of strangers who’ve tweaked your boys’ cheeks and taken their photos and asked if they were twins and tried to pick them up if ever your back was turned.
You leave the women who’ve attended the playgroup you’ve hosted every week, whose warmth and openness and generosity of spirit have kept you sane, and whose children have grown from babies to infants to toddlers alongside yours.
You leave the kitchen where you’ve discovered for the first time in your life that you love baking, and where your two-year-olds recently stunned you by reciting the ingredients of banana cake when you asked for their help in making one.
You leave the woman who was first introduced to you as a neighbour, fellow Australian and wife of your husband’s colleague, and who became a firm friend, keeping you afloat with her humour and intelligence and shared enjoyment of the odd glass of wine.
You leave the bed in which you were occasionally able to sit quietly with the coffee your husband brought to you every morning, as you listened to the sounds of your boys playing with their dad before they waved him off to the office from the front window and played peekaboo with the guard.
You leave the surprisingly verdant streets that you walked with your camera, documenting the people and places as you saw them and feeling yourself morph slowly back into a semblance of the person you were before your babies were born.
You leave the person you have become and wonder about the person you’re about to turn into as your new home slowly but surely reveals its wondrous face.