From above, Johannesburg in January was green. Greener than I’ve ever seen it. I stared out the window as we descended, watching as farmland gave way to villages, small towns. Wait, one more farm. Another town. The city builds from the outside in. In me, a familiar feeling built, too. A weight in my belly that bubbled into my chest and fizzed down my arms and legs.
Home. I’m home.
The greenery up close – a picnic with friends at Emmarentia Dam, January 2022
I haven’t been living in London long, and coming back to South Africa for Christmas was a bit of a luxury. But “head south” is Matt’s winter mantra and, despite Omicron-induced drama, we made it back. We had a few weeks in Cape Town with friends and family before Matt had to return to the UK for work.
I stayed in South Africa for another three weeks, a period that included 10 days in Joburg – my home for the better part of 35 years. I should have anticipated the sense of homecoming I would feel, but when I went for a run through the streets of Westdene and Melville on my first morning there, the emotion gripped my chest like a fist.
Westdene and Melville’s deeply familiar streets
I lived an entire life in these streets, and there were ghosts of the girl I was and the woman I am wherever I looked. I could see myself at 10 years old, my mom and I going for walks with our Staffie in the late afternoons, the sun dappled at our feet. I could see myself at 16, Natasha by my side, walking to Melville to spend our afternoons at the public pool or at the Mugg & Bean that used to be next to Scala to eat quesadillas.
I could see myself at 33, accepting the keys to my very own Westdene home, not knowing then that, within 10 months, the world would end and it would house Matt and I through a pandemic.
The view from my Westdene home
I could hear the echoes of conversations, too. My mom and I talking about which high school I should go to, which university. The endless counsel she offered through shifts in friendships, two painful break-ups, the life that comes with love and its loss. I could hear all the conversations that happened in my head, too. All the processing I did as I ran through the early summer light, the jacaranda purples, the winter leaves that crunched underfoot.
I could see and hear Matt and I during lockdown. Our countless, endless walks. Our countless, endless conversations. They led us to where we are now – to a life together.
I lived an entire life in these streets.
It’s Home. Home with a capital H.
On one of our last walks before we said goodbye to Westdene, March 2021 – one month into marriage
Immigration has been hard. Hard in ways I did and didn’t expect. In ways I didn’t even know to expect. At times, it has felt like a great unmooring. And it has also been, absolutely and without a doubt, the right decision.
This feeling meant that, by the end of my holiday, I was ready to come home to London and to Matt.
My flight, unfortunately, was horrific. I picked up a stomach bag and was physically sick an hour before we took off. Over the next 11 hours, the waves of nausea and diarrhoea I experienced at 33,000 feet had me wishing for death. Our descent into Heathrow, my void stomach left further behind with every foot of altitude lost, was nothing short of harrowing – for me, and for the woman next to me, who kept looking at the open sick bag I had on my lap with abject (and justified) panic.
But walking into Heathrow, shaky and relieved, I realised I was home. Home with Matt. I felt it again walking through the front door of our London flat.
Home. Home with a capital H.
There can be more than one.
Greenwich Park, September 2021