It’s a Sunday morning on Rundle Street and the cafes are all lit up. I don’t even know how enough people are out of bed this early to fill the footpaths and the outdoor tables, but out they come, and as I trail my way to work the chink of glasses and slow throb of morning conversation laps at my ears. It’s summer here, and hazy. My city is brimming with the excitement of the Fringe, and carnival rides dot the parks that normally gather still on the edges of suburbia. My old life is a bed I left unmade. Fresh with the scent of foreign countries and skin that craves the cold, I stand swaying at the foot of it, sleeves rolled up to my elbows. I swap heavy coats for cardigans. I climb back in. 

We all know how it feels to come back to Adelaide. Well, us Adelaideans do at least. For those of you who don’t know, who have never so much as dipped a toe into my corner of the ocean, it goes like this. Strange, stifling. A plane landing or a car turning into a city intersection. Everything changing promptly. We’ve been places, we know places, sometimes very far away, yet all it takes is that first Southern shard of sunlight hitting you square between the eyes. And you’re back. Buildings jump out of your open arms like the pages of a pop-up book. Your lungs cave, and so does the outside world. You’re back. You’re back. There are familiar faces dotting the outdoor seats at The Exeter. And no matter how freely you denounced it from the other side of the world, your little old hometown lures you back with magnets. You see now that you never left. How could you have? You memorise your passport stamps as every other place becomes a river that you followed home.

This is, of course, a tragedy. Who wants to jump back into this city with its office buildings and multiple story car parks? We probably realise around the time our teenage years loom in front of us that it is passé to like Adelaide. Unthinkable to love it. If only we were from those impossible, sprawling metropolises. New York, my god. Wouldn’t life be fancy in New York? Every time a friend leaves, we fawn in envy. Their life has begun. There is a delicate chalk line drawn through the collection of events we call becoming, and it is as tremendous and Before and After Christ. Every year a new bundle of acquaintances graduate and migrate in swarms to Melbourne. Sydney will suffice, though it’s rather expensive and not quite a comfortable driving distance. I say this critically, but it’s all a façade, because I ran off too. But now that I’m home, I’m starting to see the underlying drip that spurred it all. My life overseas was bursting with excitement, but that’s not what made me drop everything and skip the country. I felt like a protagonist over there. The streets of England rose up to greet me like a stranger, with the cheery care of a first-time introduction. My own streets, on the other hand, are weary of me. After all, as I grew up I wore the concrete down. The footpaths have kissed my feet for years, and they’re tired of it.   

It’s quite possible that Brighton doesn’t remember me. Scotland might, though. We went there just before I left, a week stolen while there were still weeks left to steal. The overnight coach from London to Glasgow only cost a tenner. We paid though, in seats that creaked and aisles that smelt and crying babies waking you up from the smallest shifts of broken sleep. But from the moment we arrived, I loved it. It was bucketing down like the Scots invented rain, and to be honest, they probably did. The accents were so lush, jumping out of strange mouths with a shape and form that just begged to be grabbed onto. Everything was husky and deep. Even commonplace things that people say all the time. I rugged up in my warmest and ran through everything a little frantic. The museums with taxidermy wildlife. The Glasgow bars. The green parks littered with kickable leaves. The spires and towers of Edinburgh lined up so perfect that the skylines sliced straight through you with clean scissor cuts, seeping deep into your crevices to hold council with your royal heart. We climbed Arthur’s Seat, me in a white fur coat and a mini skirt. Unprepared for everything. My boots got all muddy from hiking around a loch and I couldn’t bring myself to wash it off, even on my way to the airport a week later. I lied on my Customs form when it asked about foreign dirt. Have you been exposed to remote outdoor areas recently? Good mud? Farm animals? No, I said, no. Let me be filthy with everything I’ve done, let old experiences crack when they dry on my clothes. Let the smell never fade, though the photos will. I walked into my family’s arms with traces of other worlds smeared invisible on my skin, thinking I’d won. But by then it was already over.     

So I’m home. So it’s raining through the sunshine and I sit in the soft light of bus corners. Is that it? Did the trail of all my findings follow me back here? I wear countries exposed on my ribcage and hope they don’t wear off. People don’t realise how important that is. They stop me in the streets, and it’s strange to be recognised by your own again after being shrouded so deeply in the act of being anonymous. People comment on my hair and find me slightly more interesting than they did before. They listen to my stories with glazed-over eyes. I am now one of the others, my otherness being a direct result of picking up a life elsewhere then deciding to put it back down again. A girl I met one night while downing beer jugs at a table of strangers asked me whether my friendships were the same after a year away, and I told her they weren’t. Nothing was awry, but sometimes things shift in subtle ways. And people are like tectonic plates. Always shifting.     

So just like that, I present you with an ending. Even though it’s not the end. Though I’ll force my daydreams into syntax and my people into characters wherever I am in the world. I’ve left a breadcrumb trail behind me because I want to be followed and found.  I’ve jumped between hearts like stepping stones, not for fear of the river, but because there’s a slow-burning thrill in leaving a trail of watery footprints behind you. In always being the one who leaves at all. Without pause or fail.

But I expected worse, you know. And it’s strange how in the midst of what I thought would be the great calamity of my life, I’ve found myself unwillingly enthusiastic and at ease with everything. I thought that when I came home, everything would be over. The thrill. My strange quasi-bohemian life abroad. I thought my bones would shatter the minute I stepped off that plane and my days would stretch into mediocrity, into empty streets and television static and fake conversations with people I’d rather duck my head down than acknowledge in passing. I poised myself, ready for the onslaught. I prepared for misery like an Olympic athlete stretching boldly on the starting line. 

But instead the sun thawed me. I feel balanced, safe, determined. It was so unexpected to come back to this beautiful mish mash of a summer as it trails away, letting me enjoy the last of it. I have luxuries and privileges back that I chose to disregard for the sake of chasing stories. I work a little, read a lot. I go packing off to University again and sit amongst the crowds. It feels nice to let them swallow me. Sometimes I fantasise that everyone has forgotten me, that I am like the man who left his town for a day and came back to find a hundred years had passed. I wear what I please and treat my hair like a mood ring, but I still cling to the feeling of anonymity that came with plunging into great cities, walking around alone, knowing no one when you arrive and everyone when you leave.

This place has changed in little ways, so I find it easy. I slip between buildings and disappear.  

little city, old life


  1. It's frightening to think about where I will end up because I always imagine moving on, going some place else. What will be the last of those places and who will follow me there?



    1. I don't know for sure if places are final, only that people never are.