Wherever you lay your hat, that’s your home. Home is where the heart is. As long as you’ve got family, you’ve got a home.
You’re always hearing things like that. As a child, you believe home is the place you go after you’re done with school. The place with the bed, and dinner, and mum. And the tv. Then as you’re older, you realise home can be some place you make your own. Later still, you conclude that home needn’t be a place. It can be a person, a feeling of being safe; it can mean anything that makes you feel like it’s okay. And if it is not okay, it will be.
Home is anywhere that makes you stop running.
For the longest time I ran away from uneasy questions to do with my growing up. The questions bored me, made me fidgety, made me feel awkward and even claustrophobic. I answered in monosyllables when I could and shrugged when words could be avoided. Then I met someone that made me feel like we had grown up together. I met someone that reminded me of my childhood that I’d never had.
I met her, this pretend childhood friend when I was 27; when I was younger, stupider, less patient and had a little more pepper than salt on my head.
We climbed trees and fell from them. We ran shrieking through fields, imaginary snakes at our heels. Our arms were brown and our faces freckled with sunscreen ignorance. We lost teeth together and discussed the ludicrity of tooth fairies with equal parts triumph and disappointment. Our knees were scabbed with the goodness of summertime and I did not bite my nails anymore.
We had silly haircuts and had our nits taken out together. We swapped lunches and skipped class to watch tadpoles spawn and eat rose petals from her dad’s carelessly cultivated bushes. She entered our house only through the kitchen and picked up something to eat on her way in. My mother went looking for me in her house and dinnertime often meant the phone ringing with her mum asking if she was eating at home, or with us as usual.
I’d throw pebbles against her bedroom window panes on the nights I couldn’t sleep. She would sit with me on the veranda dozing into her folded arms until I could do the same.
The thing is, we never did really grow up together. She is Goan, wild as the sea and bright as the sand at noon. I grew up in the heart of South East Asia amidst concrete and durian fruit. I wrote poems about her when we first met. I was young, like I said, and not very good at poetry. But I tried. I had to make the moment stay and this was the way I knew how. When I tell her we grew up together, she laughs at me and says, you’re crazy, man.
One day she asked if I really believed that. You know, I really do, I said. Good, she said quietly, because I think I do too.
We have nothing in common except the idea that in some perhaps parallel universe we saw each other through the guileless eyes of children. My childhood friend whom I didn’t grow up with is more beautiful than there are stories in the world. And for some funny reason, I am hers. She sings songs you’ve never heard and makes them beautiful. And unforgettable.
Through the years we didn’t see each other she kept my terrible poems. I kept her letters. Her careful hand. That tender render. Every drop of ink shed for my sake, I kept.
You’ve heard of imaginary friends. You’ve heard of childhood friends. But an imagined childhood with a real friend? I have one. She is as real as day and as difficult to keep as the night. She lets me believe I was once a child. And I was happy. Her name is Kadambari.
When people say they have no stories, it’s never true. People are stories. You can imagine them into existence and they can give you joy.