I am home.
This is home.
It’s all just the same as I left it.
Of course, there is more furniture now and he has repositioned the furniture but it’s the same.
It smells the same. There is that hint of verbena in the air and I know every time I sniff verbena somewhere, anywhere, it will immediately teleport me to this apartment here in the heart of Frankfurt sitting high on the fourth floor of a beautiful street in the banking quarter. The apartment is perfect. White, warm, welcoming, I feel that it smiles when I enter, and I am happy to be the perfect housewife there ever was here.
We unpack and I know just where everything goes and how to organise things. This house, too, is overflowing with clothes and books as if in reassurance. It’s all so the same. It’s like I never left. As we are cleaning, we listen to the same old playlists and sing and hum and smile at each other thinking of our memories of the past year. I know this smiling together and working in perfect harmony will be another memory when I go back to my other world and my other life and my other home some seven thousand odd miles from here.
We decide to walk and buy groceries and I see the clean streets are washed by the rain. Last year, this time, the sun was harsh, white, piercing and had boiled away my face so much so that I had lost all interest in taking pictures. Later it became about not dwelling on previous baggage and showing a finger to the future and only experiencing the present, living in the moment. This year, though, I want to document our life and times together here. I want something tangible and sharable to take to the other life. Also, I think maybe someday it might explain something.
The city has not changed. I remember all the streets, their names come back to me, and the trees that had become favourites, shimmer at me as we walk past talking desultorily. It’s a beautiful, urban landscape full of lush green trees amidst towering skyscrapers. In the mild rain, like in the sun, it’s glorious and romantic. It helps that the rain is at bay now and only a whipping, cold wind reminds us that it could rain later again and we must be quick. The people too are the same. Bouncy, lithe, tall, lean, and friendly only once you get to know them. I smile at them anyway because smiling costs nothing. Yet it works.
I am wearing heels and that’s different from last time. I feel better, as if I have levelled the playing field. I feel more visible in heels amidst these tall mostly skinny people. For once, I feel rightly dressed. But the wind teases and even under the heat technology t-shirt and the billowing asymmetrical top I wear, my nipples harden. How easily this city seduces me back! That too is the same as last time. I wonder idly why I panicked about coming back again and why I stressed about the holiday so much.
I crave filter coffee now as I know we are walking close to the only good South Indian restaurant in the city, and especially because summer seems to be evading the city still. I crave heat and warmth and reassurance of knowing one’s place in the world. It’s a tall order for just a cup of coffee and he rightly laughs at me and mocks me for being fickle. I had insisted that this time we would not eat or drink at restaurants and cook at home.
The showers start and hide my sheepishness. We have eaten well – idli vada and pooris and I have had a satisfying cup of hot filter coffee. The rain plunges the city into gloom and the grey is the indifference of strangers. For a moment I panic again. Who am I? Why am I here so far away from home? And who are all these people? But just as suddenly, and just as we near the Alte Oper square, the sun shines again piercing the rain. We try in vain to capture this sexual dalliance of the sun and the rain on camera and fail. Our selfie shows us as red, tired, and happy people. The photo taking bores me again and I decide to soak in the moment and enjoy this beautiful opera we are seeing around us. We linger, laugh, plan the rest of the day.
I think just how happy I am sitting by the fountain at the square. And even as I think it, it fades and guilt and worry replaces it. Did I really need to go on a holiday now? I worry about her health and his. It’s so hard to be truly happy for long. But here, like last year, I have understood the import of the word Felicity. It’s not just a word that made sense in Jane Austen. That word describes exactly how I feel about life and the world when I live here. I stare directly at the sun and smile away the discomfort. The sun is always reassuring, even if here, the sun is hot, white, and blinding, unlike in India where it is ochre, demanding, and scorching. The sun increases the bounce in everyone’s steps and makes people smile more easily.
A stranger says hello to us. At the supermarket another stranger recommends a good wine as we stare at the wine bottles unable to decide. Is it a special occasion the stranger asks him. I smile at this exchange which is a rare occurrence he tells me later, as people in Frankfurt, especially, are not so upfront and forthcoming or even curious. I can tell why. It’s our first day together and we are being kind and solicitous towards each other. We are oozing friendliness, enjoyment, and contentment. We are shining red in this weather and our eyes are kind. We buy the recommended wine and walk home.
A friend comes by for a drink and we talk wistfully about Berlin and other cities. The recommended wine is a hit. Talking comes easily here, and here wanting and getting great conversation is easy. But as we are chatting, I slink lower into the covers; the bed is familiar, unchanged, and shapes itself to my body welcoming me in. Warm, exhausted, even the endorphins I am swimming in aren’t enough to keep me awake. We are listening to the best techno music I have ever heard, coming to us straight from Berlin; Germany has just won a football match against Italy and there are celebrations on the street below. The music is intense but cathartic in a way that’s hard to explain. It lulls me into a meditative state. It’s the best homecoming ever. I am home. This is home.