Picasso paining

I’m standing at the end of the passage. Shadows of night flicker across the wall, breathing life into the desolation of pervading darkness. Evidence of a world unseen, lurking on the periphery of consciousness. A slight pressure in my abdomen lassos my wandering thoughts, reminding me of the reason I’ve been ejected from the comfort of my bed at the witching hour and yet my feet propel me in the opposite direction. I’d learned to tread quietly – ball before heel – many passage adventures ago, and the wooden floorboards pay me no mind as my weight transfers politely over their temperamental surface, a symptom of age rather than personality. One foot at a time, instinct guiding the safest path. To where? I don’t even know. I allow my body jurisdiction—down, down down. The white and clear stained-glass foliage of the moonlit front door overtakes my vision, like I am walking into the great beyond, but my body veers right before I can pinch myself out of eternity and into the now. Gently, I  swing open the lounge doors, treading carefully on the carpet ever so slightly relaxing the ball-before-heel action. A slight shiver, a breeze—real or other. Books. The study. That’s where I’m going. My body veers left as my soul gropes for the words and worlds encased in spines of plenty…

…essentially, nothing has ever changed in my life; only now I have my own hoard of books, like the ones piled up in my grandpa’s house, along the passage in my aunty’s house and in the study at my house. My old house. A childhood home that lives on as a dream, vague in moments but vivid in others—a memory kept alive only through the repetition of the narrative that roots it in my soul; a bookmark inserting my being into place and time.

There’s something; an obsession, a physical addiction—an unconditional love that a child has for a first home, be it house or country. Perhaps both. And the further removed one is, the rosier the shade.

My first home had wooden floors. It was almost 100 years old when we moved into it, in 1989. I wasn’t allowed to clomp down the passage in my dress-up heels because they’d ruin the wood with careless indentations. The ceilings were high, so high—and pressed. On Saturday mornings, I’d lie on the floor staring up; revelling in the light and space as the base of Springsteen’s Born in the USA reverberated through my core. This was dad. At other times, it was Vivaldi’s Spring Time and ladies called Violet and Scarlett in puffed sleeves and corsets would dance around me as I stared up at the brass chandelier and decorative squares above. This was mom. The gentle spill of Lego on the carpet—three children piling brick on brick and then throwing brick after brick. Shouting, fighting, crying… friends again. Until next time. This was us—me and the boys.

The more the house knew us, the more it revealed—becoming castle, comfort and confidante as I grew; the laughter, the hurt, the pain and play absorbed into the walls of a century’s worth.

We left the house. Long ago. Now, what once was space has become a fence, hidden – shackled in foliage. In my dreams, I visit. Returning to what once was—the fence is gone and the two giant palms stand tall and regal as they did. I open the front door, as if I have a right to be there, a claim to that which shaped me, and yet I read cautiously, as an intruder, as I step in. But it’s not the same. It’s all messed up. Fragmented. Shadows of the past appear – my cat, a neighbour, friends, a moment – but the rooms are all wrong. My bedroom isn’t my bedroom. My cat is the wrong colour and the wooden floors are tiles. My brothers are grown and then they’re not. I’m me but then I’m not.

What is this place?

Where am I?

Who am I?

It’s home but not.

I’m home but not.


Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.

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