There’s a moment right after passengers have been told to “put your seatbacks in the upright position, stow your tray tables and fasten your seatbelts” and before the landing gear comes down when my heart starts to race at the anticipation of being home again.
First comes the weather: hot, dry, sunshine. Then the visuals: sky – big, warm blue, streaked with light, white cloud. Veld – golden, dry and a haze of heat. Smells of dust, fires, taxis, and the cologne of a welcoming embrace. The sound of family all yelling at once as they spot us coming through customs, “Here, look, there they are! Guys, guys, over here! Run, run to them – it’s ok, go!” Bone-crushing hugs. Salty tears. Smiles. Big, white smiles buried in a brother’s little dark, black face, behind a dad’s graying beard, beneath a mom’s cobalt, blue eyes. So many smiles. I feel them in my toes. Delicious.
Hair gel, lots of hair gel still shaping another brother’s do. He runs his fingers through it as we stand and look at each other, grin, shuffle feet and renew.
Relationships have to be nurtured to survive. They require close contact to thrive. Long-distance is the antithesis to family ties. Each homecoming is a rebirth of an old relationship. It takes effort. It’s a commitment. It’s rewarded by two boys who feel themselves at home in a country they visit only once or so a year.
Screaming hugs and highways that arch and lurch exactly as I remember them. Dad’s driving that my brother still tries to correct. Hawkers who launch themselves at our car whenever the light turns red. A steep, steep driveway over a carpet of jacaranda petals that leads up to the house. And more hugs. And tea and koeksisters, melktert and rusks. Home is where people feed you what you’ve missed before you ask for it. Home is a small cottage that sits side-by-side next to my parents’ house. Home is an old dog and two raggedy cats long since passed on. But their memories, their memories launch themselves at me as we walk through the door. An old ox yoke hangs on the wall. Steps lead up and words unfold themselves above each stair, words I can repeat in my sleep from a thousand times climbing those stairs, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Family pictures line the walls. My name, my husband’s, proudly on the family tree, our sons – wait, one still must be added. Our family tree has grown since I was last home. Flowers, pots of flowers in the kitchen soaking in the sink. And in the lounge a kudu head inappropriately perfect for the room looks down on the scene of suitcases scattered about, clothes unfolding, gifts unpacked and exchanged. Shrieks of delight, of laughter, of joy, of the first fights between the littlest kids reunited. A red guitar for one a green guitar for another. Rockstars are born. Parents have misgivings about the gifts.
More food, supper. Pap ‘n wors, sauces, mushrooms, mealies, cauliflower, samp, salads – oh the salads – a riot of color and texture and taste. Prickly pears for dessert. My dad demonstrates how to cut them open and peel out the sweet and juicy fruit. A whole box of litchis for one friend. A carton of nectarines for me because my dad knows I don’t like peaches. Five Roses tea for some, Rooibos for others. Amarula for everyone.
The familiar, nightly chorus of frogs begins. You can easily forget how loud they are. They almost overpower the jasmine. Almost. Because nothing can outdo the rich, heavy jasmine in full bloom on a summer night in Pretoria. Nothing.
And on a first night back home all that is left to do is stare at the stars. Because as if all the rest isn’t enough, the stars for definite will reassure you that you’re back in the Southern Hemisphere.