The trees were frozen on the way here. White claws against the blue sky. Next to the road a river disappeared beneath a cushion of snow and I wondered if I’d ever feel warm here. We crept down out of the mountains and the roads widened as we got closer to the place I would now call home. Each mile gained changed my ideas about what it might look like once we got there. A flickering image like those old movie reels where you can’t quite make out the shape of what’s coming.
We get there and it’s everything and nothing like I imagined. Countryside but by a city. Snowy mountains nearby but the pavements aren’t icy. We eat long crusty bread and I put Marmite on it.
The cold night here lit up with stars.
Like talking to your friends on Zoom, a video can’t capture what it’s like to walk in this house. Breathe the air of it, know how it feels under your feet. In our old flat, I knew the way our wooden flooring would moan as if it were stretching when the heating came on. I was lulled by the nearby shush of the traffic, not even hearing the incessant beeping of the crossing I’d hated when we first moved there. I don’t know the sounds of this place yet. How it feels to sleep and wake here until I reach for the light switch without looking.
In the morning the shutters make it so dark it could be dawn or full sunlight and I’d have no idea. I have to keep my watch by the bed so I can tell my body whether it is rested or not when it shuffles into consciousness.
Shutters always make me think of period dramas or ghost stories. Let’s hope I’m not walking into either of those…
Yesterday we went to the park. I wanted to do something recognisable in this different place. We were the only people there. The only people anywhere. Even in Tier 5 lockdown, North London has its flow of people, buses, the Tube rumbling under your feet. Here it felt like the houses were empty, or watching us, and I’ve never heard so much birdsong.
When we went there again today two girls were running around, industrious make-believe centred on the slide. They heard us talking and stopped. I looked over and they were open-mouthed, silent. It’s been a while since I’ve been a foreigner. They asked me about my girl and had an ear-whispered conversation at my response. My strange voice, my accented words. I’m also more visible – my lack of snow boots and over-bright coloured clothing a mark of my difference.
I also only just discovered that holly acquires its prickles. Seems to fit with this unsteady time.
These are the early days. The weeks when I will take too many photos because everything is new. The time when going into a shop and speaking another language is scary until it isn’t anymore. The phase where I’m the new foreigner before I become someone they have stories to tell about.
Tonight the wind shouts at the window and I feel loosened from the earth. Unstable, unfixed, unsteady. I will try to float in this shifting time, to lessen my grasp on the things behind while not reaching too desperately for what may be ahead.
It is home. It is no place like home. It is, like me, not yet fully arrived.
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