As she got out of the train station, the raindrops hit her face and the wind made her hair stick to her red lips. “My bad,” she thought, “to believe the weather would be on my side this time.” She ran across the street to reach the bus stop for cover, but the five seconds were merciless. Her feet were wet inside of her ankle boots, and her carefully chosen top was stuck to her skin. She sunk onto the bench in the stall and quickly glanced to the screen announcing the next bus. Even after six years, she still could find her way blindfolded around the city. Her city. She looked around and saw that, even though many things seemed to have changed, little things hadn’t. There was the food stall where her brother and her always bought waffles after (or before) those long train rides. She recognized the old woman pouring a generous amount of chocolate syrup on the next customer’s order. For a second, she could have sworn that she was looking at her, but she quickly realized that there was no way that she could remember her.

The stall had been moved, she noticed. The only thing that could give away the existence of the old stall was a stale bench. If she closed her eyes, she could see herself, quite vividly, sitting next to her grandmother, waiting for this same bus. If she made an effort, she could hear her childish voice talking excitedly and the melodic laughter in response. She could feel the gentle touch on her skin along with the raindrops. Suddenly, the loud sound of a bus approaching shook her out of her memory. She quickly blinked the tears away, gripped her backpack and stepped on the vehicle.

She saw the city slide in front of her eyes. They passed the parks, now empty, but with an echo of laughter hanging in the air. The old and majestic buildings recalled a time when she dreamed of kings and queens and princes and princesses who lived there. She had always found it funny how oddly yet balanced new and old were in the city. How a beautiful 500-year old cathedral could be surrounded by modern shops, how a fashionable bar could exist between two ancient buildings. She always told her new friends about the charming little city she came from, the place where she picked up the accent they all considered so cute, but she could never transmit the way her heart warmed even though it was freezing. She couldn’t tell them how its apparent chaos made sense once you started roaming its streets. They wouldn’t understand how the sound of the rain on the river’s water was soothing.

After six years she had learned how to be a big city girl, she really had. She had her favourite park, her established shopping route, the library where she did all her studying and the coffee shop she religiously visited every morning.

But when she stepped out of the bus, it all came back to her. Even though it was physically impossible, she could have found the way back to the place where she had her first curry just by its smell. She greeted the man in the souvenir shop in the corner like an old friend. She smiled at the empty square, knowing that it would fill up with stands selling the craziest and yet most amazing things to celebrate any holiday. She looked around and saw she was alone, so she started jumping to avoid the puddles. One would have said she was crazy, seeing a young lady jumping and laughing like she was five years old, but nobody could know that was how she felt. She felt free and happy, she couldn’t remember any worries.

She continued walking, remembering both big and little moments: her brother’s christening, the day she visited the medieval exhibition, the day she got her dearest teddy bear, the day she found (and adopted) her kitten… She got to the medieval square, where she made a little curtsy, all giggly, in front of the life-sized statues by the castle.

She didn’t know for sure, but she felt like being a child and being creative came easier to her when she was there than when she was surrounded by tall skyscrapers. She understood the magic of modern life. One felt like everything was possible, inspired by all the advanced technology. But here, home, she felt like she was in the setting of a fairy-tale. She could practically see the dragon hidden in the dungeon of the castle in front of her, even more so thanks to the dim watery light that managed to make its way until the ground.

When she turned around, she saw the tram approaching and the spell was broken. Even though she felt like walking to the outskirts of town to get to her final destination of the day, she knew that she would never get there on time, so she started running down the street to get to the stop, where she just managed to jump on it, out of breath.

The tram was packed with mothers and their children coming back from school, university students coming back from the library or their exams, some young people coming back from a wet day of shopping in the city. This was another thing that she had always loved about her hometown, and she certainly appreciated the fact that her parents had picked a similar place to move to. She loved the diversity of cultures and lifestyles, of activities and places to go to. One thing people always wondered about her previous life was if she never got bored, but she assured them that she didn’t. Even though it was on a smaller scale, this didn’t have anything to be jealous of the bigger cities around the world.

While being immersed in thoughts, she was startled that she had reached her stop. She ran to the door and jumped onto the wet pavement, avoiding the slippery step. She looked around and her heart skipped a beat. This was it. This was the place where all her childhood memories took place. These were the streets she had walked every day, here were the parks where she made friends as a toddler. Her school was minutes away, the grocery stores were around the corner. She had noticed several changes in the city, just like she had expected. No city stayed exactly the same for six years, no matter how much she wanted time to freeze. But here, in the place where people actually lived, raised a family, fell in love, studied… things had barely changed. She jumped over the same hole filled with pebbles where she had seen so many people trip, the flowers on the display window of the hairdressers were still the same pink roses as always, she recognized the faces of the restaurant owners and the same Tuesday evening customers. It was as if time had really stopped the moment they left.  

She walked along the dark alley until she got to the big steel bars keeping intruders outside when needed, but which were completely open, as if someone was waiting for her. She felt the sandwich she ate on the train move inside her stomach, her heart rate picked up and her breaths became more frequent but shallow. She started feeling dizzy. “Come on, be brave”. She didn’t really know who was talking inside her mind. “Just go by and say hello.”

Without her consent, her legs started to carry her to the last place she wanted to be. Her steps were incredibly loud compared to the silence surrounding her, and her mind was in a battle: part of her wanted to get to the end of the path, the other one knew what was waiting and didn’t want to continue. Before she could make up her mind, she got to the pillar with all the names. She hadn’t noticed, but she suddenly heard herself sobbing, trying to come up with words.

“Hi, grandma.” Her words were met with silence. “It’s me. I’m sorry I haven’t been here in such a long time but… you know, it was pretty far.” She chuckled sadly. “Grandpa is doing fine. So are mum and dad, and my sister and my brother. Well, I guess you know, right? You must be keeping an eye on us, don’t you?” She fondled the nameplate, getting the raindrops out of the way. “With love, to the best wife, sister, mother and grandmother”. “I’m quite sure you’re there all the time. It would just be nice if you could show me sometime.” She stood there, looking to the grassland. After what could have been five minutes as well as an hour, she ran out of tears and words to say, so she turned around.

The storm was over, and a big rainbow filled the blueing sky. And then, she knew she had got the sign she had asked for.  

August 23, 2019 18:30

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