I had a bag carefully packed and weighed, a ticket for an aeroplane, a reflexive check for my passport every few minutes, patting down my pockets to make sure it was still there. I had all this, but I still I couldn’t think of going as going away. I left rain-washed Oxford with my coat zipped up to my neck and waved green and grey goodbye at the airport as England shrank beneath the trembling, hurtling metal climbing into the air. I slept and I read, and as we got closer, I watched the flight map on the small TV screen that floated a few rows ahead of me, counting off the European cities as we sped south through their skies. As we descended, I pressed my face to the window and let the excitement climb from my stomach into my shoulders, stopping it just short of the smile I was saving for the runway tarmac.
The evening was warm as I walked down the metal steps from the plane; the kind of springtime heat that whispers a prelude to summer’s inescapable shout. Everything was as I remembered – a collision of comforting familiarity and the novelty of a place so recently added to my story. My colleagues – more deeply and importantly my friends – met me in Arrivals and whisked me into the blue-toned dusk outside, my languages getting confused somewhere between my brain and my throat as we drove towards Martil.
In town, skeletons of buildings had been fleshed out in seaside blue and white since autumn, and the strings of lights outside shops and restaurants danced in the breeze. We went to our usual haunt, eating handfuls of hot chips as our main meals cooked and snatches of conversations from the kitchen and the tables outside drifted into ours. Later, we dragged my luggage up the stairs to a different apartment in our familiar complex on the seafront, and I settled myself among crisp white and richly yellow walls, a lantern throwing specks of light at my bedclothes as the traffic rumbled outside. I slept until the swallows flitting through the courtyard grew too loud to ignore, then ate breakfast with the lithe, wary cats who wind around the tables and chairs at a cafe on the street, and occasionally, grudgingly, permit fuss from the men with their cigarettes and newspapers and scraps of egg and cheese.
The day passed with documents and discussions; the paperwork of conservation that few people ever see. In the evening, birdwatching led us outside despite the dark clouds gathering overhead, and we walked through Laguna Smir with the wind whipping at us in indignant gusts, wondering at our insolence. Pochards and purple herons and gallinules appeared among the reeds, hovering in our binoculars as the grey sky pressed in and we noted them, excitedly, in our bird book. We left them alone before nightfall, letting them roost in peace, and drove back to town as the day let go of its grip on the sky. The next day would bring monkeys, if the weather was fine, and I could feel the forest waiting there in the distance, hanging at the happy edges of my mind. The roads and buildings smiled their memories at me as we passed them by; thoughts of other things I’ve seen and done in this place that is a home, as much as it is ‘away’.
In the clouds that rest on top of the mountains, the solemn waterways running through the town, the wildlife that lives in every corner, the people I know and the strangers walking down the bright and crowded streets, coming here is not going away. It is going home, somewhere else.