2 min read

The Return (a short poem)

After the war

and a lifetime of waiting

he returns to the village he grew up in
sniffs a whiff of salty air and dried fish at the markets
and that mountain of memories starts erupting

but there are new smells too – engine fumes, burning rubber, stagnant greywater
the old house has been heavily renovated
more concrete
less room for fruit trees
the ornate gate his late father installed still swings smoothly on its hinges
but a different family lives here now

the winding laneway – the shortcut to his aunty’s house
looks the same
but she left 20 years ago

in town
the famous cafe he once enjoyed showing to visitors is long-gone
the tuktuk drivers have never even heard of it
they offer to take him to another cafe if he wants
but what would be the point?

after he left
his closest friends and relatives all moved away too
so now, instead of long-lost loved ones
he visits third cousins whose names he barely remembers
offers awkward small-talk
tries to explain what his life is like on the other side of the world
in a mother-tongue that now feels clumsy

like his village
the language has changed while he was away
new vocab and a new shopping centre

hearing his strange, archaic turns of phrase
some youngsters ask where he’s from
“from right here,” he says
“this is my village – that was my street”

but their scepticism doesn’t hurt as much as you might think

he knows the village he grew up in is long gone
and this one offers only partial, distorted resemblances

a fogged-up mirror

a wind-rippled lake surface

everything familiar mutated by time and the war

this place was your home


but not anymore...

it’s not home anymore.

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