"Dance like no one is watching."I've always liked this sentiment, although of late the internet has turned it into some pithy Hallmark ideal meant to express our inner butterflies or some such. At any rate, I never dance like this. I'm either dancing like everyone is staring at me and I'm dreadfully uncomfortable with it, or I'm dancing like I Do Not Give A Fuck, which is exactly what I did in the Melbourne International Airport baggage hall, next to carousel 7, while we waited for our backpacks to appear amid the suitcases and boxes. It's the exuberance that comes from finishing 28 hours of flying and 1 and a half years abroad. It's the only home-coming dance that matters. (Internal soundtrack provided by Beyoncé and All the Single Ladies.)
Being in this room, at this desk, surrounded by these things, is surreal and bemusing. All these things. I remember each item, but the placement surprises me. Why is there half a bottle of cooking sake on my bookshelf? Why do I have so many boxes of stuff? All these clothes, what are they for? Do I really need these stacks of paper on my desk? I don't remember where these figurines came from. This box is a mystery. The contents of these drawers are unfamiliar.
This is the room of another person, yet I'm comfortable in it, and I'm comfortable using it, and the soundscape that slipped in the window at night was more home than any of these items.
No one knew what to expect of Sam. How does a dog react when his human, who has moved in and out of his home sporadically during his life, is missing for a year and a half? Would he even recognise me?
He didn't greet me as a stranger, there was no hesitation or trepidation in his approach. He and Sophie were all bounces and leaps and tailwags, as they always are. Yet he was confused, a little unsure. In fact, I'd go as far as to say he was blanking me for most of the day. I'd reach for him and he'd suddenly be distracted by something on the other side of the room that needed his attention immediately. J got more attention out of him than I did. However, when I crashed out and went to collapse on my bed – my bed! – he came with me, curled up beside me, and it was as if the intervening nights apart had never happened. He lunges at possums outside and out of reach and I scratch his belly in the morning.
Noisy mynahs in the eucalypts down the side of the house, being noisy. A flock of cockatoos has taken up residence down in the valley and were absent-mindedly raucous during the evening. A magpie warbled as I stood on the back verandah with a cup of tea in my hand and breathed that home air. The lorikeets morning chorus was slept through and I'm looking forward to the evening session.
I looked down on Australia as we flew over the red centre, which was lines of dunes and dust to the horizon, giving way to fields flattened by generations of ploughing, a lake whose water level was low and yet higher than I expected, and a colour palette that spoke of thirst and dry hearts and a heat-beaten brown I didn't know I could miss. In all the countries we've visited there was a wealth of water beyond our comprehension. Still, I cannot in good conscious waste water. Showers are not for loitering in. Don't flush on a number 1. The grass in the backyard is green, but as patchy as mange. Summer has not been kind.
There's a new fridge in the kitchen. I find I don't know where to look.
Hours spent talking with mum and my brother. Just talking. Just stuff. The internet, for all the damage it does to social dynamics, is a miracle and boon for those people far apart. I have not been out of touch with my people for all this time, yet nothing beats chatting about nothing while doing nothing. It's wonderful what has changed, and what hasn't changed at all.
I think I'm done for now. J has had his fill as well. We've put our bags down with the express intention of not picking them up again for a very long time. Every day for the past couple of months has been the unknown and unfamiliar. Every day learning how to cope with undrinkable tap water, how to best open the window to deal with an over-enthusiastic heater, what sign language is universal when attempting to identify meat at a restaurant, whether beer or wine is cheapest in this country. It's wonderful and confusing and frustrating and hilarious. It's adventuring small and large.
And now we are ready to be where we know the streets and where the best tea and pho is, we can drink the tap water and know what mixers are available and can send a shoutout to meet any number of friends at short notice and we know Melbourne, we know it and we don't have to think about it.
It is strange to be home.
I can't stop smiling.