He arrived at the airport with plenty of time remaining, checked-in with no issues, and made his way into the departure gates. It was nearly 2 years ago that he was in this same place, getting ready to leave what was, to him, his home. Not the place he’d grown up in, not the place he was born in – but the place he felt he should have been born in; the place he felt he’d grown up in.
The past week had been a whirlwind on the road. Moving from place to place every few days, never in one place too long. Long days and nights of walking and exploring, chatting and eating. All good things, but they took their toll on him, as he given himself no time to be alone; to be peaceful. But this place he was in gave him energy. It recharged him, revitalised him. The sights, the smells, the people, the food; the colours, the sounds. All at once; not overwhelming the senses but uplifting them. There was never a day that went by that he didn’t appreciated it all. Everything around him. He knew where this was where he wanted to be. In all the days he’d been here, there was never a place he regretted going; never did this place make him feel like an outsider, even though that’s exactly what he was. It simply felt like home.
Now inside the departure gates, he was surrounded by shops and people. Some on their way out of this country. Some on their way into this country. Everyone had their own place to go, their own things to do. Except him. He just stood there for a few seconds, taking in everything. Taking in where he was. And he thought “it’s time to eat that lunchbox I bought”. He’d bought it at the train station right before getting on the bus. Knowing it was his last meal from this place for at least a long while, he had been determined to get a meal which meant something to him; a meal which he had eaten in many different places, a meal which never once tasted the same; a single meal which sometimes had sustained him an entire day. A meal which from the last time he’d been here and learnt so much.
As he wandered into the waiting area with lounges arranged in S-shapes, he spotted a seat at the end of a curve. This was where he was going to have his last meal, and he knew this as soon as he saw it. Settling into the seat, he put down his backpack which weighed down on his body, at once both part of him and a burden; it contained all his memories. Sights he’d seen, places he’d been. He unpacked his lunchbox, and took a bite.
It was then that the tears started welling up in his eyes. Suddenly, he felt so alone. So alone in all of this airport. This city. This country. This world. He didn’t want to go back. It wasn’t his home, he’d never felt like he belonged there at all. Most people around him hadn’t considered these questions; for him, it weighed on his mind every day. He pulled his cap lower to cover his eyes, and continued eating his lunchbox. Mouthfuls of food inbetween sniffles and tears dripping down his face. The food wasn’t this salty the last time he’d had it. But that’s probably also because he wasn’t feeling this way the last time he was eating it either.
Questions ran through his mind non-stop. “What am I leaving behind here? Why do I have to go? Why can’t I just stay? Can I just leave the airport again? How long will it be before I can come back? Will it all be different? Will the roads I walked be the same, will the stores still be there, will the people I met still be around?” There was nothing he could do to stem the flow of tears and thoughts, both pouring as out as one. It had been a long time since he last cried, or even felt an outburst of emotion such as this. He just let it keep going, and he kept eating at the same time. It probably looked pretty silly, if anyone was watching. Crying and eating. Nobody cares, anyway.
As the tears dried up, so the lunchbox ran out too. And then, he felt peaceful. No, it wasn’t all right now. But he knew that he had work to do. Dreams to achieve. And going back was going to help him achieve those dreams. And one of those dreams was to come to this place again. This place which held his imagination, this place which occupied his mind, this place which had captured his soul since he was just a young boy – and had never let go.
Photo credits: skyline at 五分埔, 台北，台灣 (Wu Fen Pu Wholesale Markets, Taipei, Taiwan)