It had been twenty-four years since she'd last seen it, but the place looked the same. She couldn't believe it had been that long since she had visited it. That thought made her contrite.
Was it that she had been too busy? Or that she had avoided going there all these years?
Nadia stood in front of her old neighborhood. The one where she had been raised. She was only eleven when she had been sent to a boarding school, and she hadn't returned ever since. Thoughts and memories floated in front of her eyes, refusing to leave, but she did not tell anybody.
A week ago, Nadia had come to her home country on a business trip. She had stayed indoors in the city, working day and night. Now that she had completed all her work, she had paid a visit to her old neighborhood. She missed the old days.
Coming here had taken a lot of courage. Nadia didn't like to admit it, but facing the past made her uneasy. This was the place where her earliest memories lingered. It was where she had spent the sweetest part of her life.
She stood outside the neighborhood, her steps weighing her. She carried only a hand-bag by her side and a bottle of water.
Don't waver, she told herself, stand straight and face it.
She looked at the arrow pointing inwards, which read 'Lake hollow community'. It had been there ever since she remembered .
The afternoon was hot, reminding her of her childhood summers. The temperature was never this high where she lived right now. She wondered how her younger-self had managed through the sweltering climate.
Nadia began walking, pausing when she was inside. The similarities were striking. None of the houses had been rebuilt; they were standing strong, their sloping roofs absorbing the heat. Few people were outside. Only a few children squealing and playing in the park. An elderly woman walking across the road greeted Nadia with a nod and a smile. Nadia wasted no time in returning it. Strangely, the woman looked familiar.
The place wasn't too big. Just a few rows of houses aligned together, a couple of stores, the park, and seats put up for travelers. Yet, the people were self-sufficient and neighborly, willing to help others.
The hardest place to visit would be her childhood home, and Nadia was aware of that. Yet, that was the place she had spent many a merry time in, and she would not let her fear conquer her.
She would go there first.
Blind to the dusty roads and the rising heat surrounding her, she weaved through the streets, remembering the route with accuracy. A few moments later, she was standing in front of one of the oldest houses in the community, looking at the structure with admiration.
No one lived there now. All her family members, one by one, had migrated to larger cities, or other countries. They had left behind many of their belongings. The house itself had been forgotten, standing still against the shadows, alone and abandoned. Nadia felt a pang of nostalgia. Why hadn't she come before?
The front door was partly open, pushed by the wind's will. People hadn't noticed someone was standing inside the property. Did anyone here remember her? She didn't think so. She herself had recognized several faces but did not dare to start a conversation with them, in fear of being unfamiliar to them. Nothing here had changed, but she was afraid it was otherwise with her. Though she could deny it all she wanted, she was no longer the same.
Nadia realized no one would care whether she went. This property was, for all it mattered, public now. She held her breath, got her phone out, and used its light to guide herself inwards.
This house was built like any other from the 1900s. It was majestic and grand, meant to withstand several decades. It's lost splendor made Nadia sad. She would have done anything right then, to have it brought back to its old glory.
The first thing she saw was a grand staircase, twisting its way upstairs. She seldom used the stairs when she was young. Sliding down its strong wooden banister had been her first joyride. It had felt like a roller coaster to her. Of course, she had hurt herself occasionally in her hurry, but it too, it taught her to be careful.
The stairway was the classical twisted kind, which reminded Nadia of her youth. She began climbing the steps, holding the banister. She knew it would be far too long before she came back, if she ever could. She wanted to remember this day with all her heart.
She came upon the first-floor landing. There were four rooms, two on each side. One of them was her room. Distinctly, she could reminisce precise details. The way the walls sloped. The scenery on a rainy day. Her favorite corner.
She opened the door slowly. Had her own room fared well against the test of time?
A calm lull had set over the atmosphere when she entered. The sunlight shone illuminated the room. To anyone else, it would have been an ordinary old part of a building, wilting away in the darkness, but to Nadia, this place held some of her dearest memories.
Speechless, she moved towards a rickety old table set against the wall. The wallpaper was peeling off, and the wooden table was feeble with age. Timeworn picture frames, a rusted metallic clock, and a sheaf of papers lay on the table. Nadia watched each object, her thoughts running and old memories resurfacing again. The alarm clock had served her faithfully, being the very first thing she used to hear every morning. How she used to detest it all those years ago!
The origami papers had been gifted to her, given to her fascination with origami when she was young. She'd always regretted not taking along those papers when she went to boarding school.
Looking at those fading pictures from the 1980s reminded Nadia of her childhood, her family, and the life she used to lead. Nadia had selected some of her favorite photographs, put them in frames, and had arranged them on her table. Even after all these years, she smiled to herself when her gaze moved over each picture.
It seemed a terrible waste to have them lying like this. Nadia took a few and slipped them into her handbag. She wanted to gather every last one of them lying around, but stopped herself. She felt it would be better to leave them undisturbed, just the way they had been all this while. She knew no matter what she did, they would always remain etched in her mind.
She moved towards the window and peered outside. Certainly, the ages of dust made it almost impossible for her to have a clear view, yet, she was content with what she had. The sun was gradually making its descent down the skies, the weather turning cooler as time ticked by.
After examining the room, and collecting a few chosen toys and games to show her daughters, Nadia went downstairs. Having seen her room, she felt a sense of satisfaction.
Each step made her memories more alive. She visited each room downstairs and spent a few moments looking around in awe. There was the kitchen, with the stove and appliances still intact, buried under soot. A cat family had made its home there. When Nadia strolled into the alcove, a few of the kittens bounded towards her. Looking at their white fur with dark spots, she was struck with the memory of their old family cat, which had looked the same. She had adored the cat but did not know what had happened to it once she left for her boarding school. She'd assumed that it had continued living at home.
It had been almost two and a half decades, but she had a strange feeling that their family cat and these litter of kittens could be related, sort of like a family lineage.
In many of the rooms she visited, she could vividly see in front of her eyes, her childhood-self laughing and playing and having the time of her life. She thought it would have been wonderful if her family members were still in touch, but they had left their old life behind. They had moved on like her.
She longed to be a young child again, living in harmony, but it was all wishful thinking. Nadia wasn't going to throw the present away by mooning over what had happened in the past.
When she had looked at everything, she stepped out through the back door. The skies had darkened, drops of rain descending from the clouds. The climate was cool, unlike the scorching heat of the afternoon. It was almost four now, the usual time for early evening rain showers.
Nadia took out her umbrella and moved into the open where she stood, the rain hammering all around. It was pure rain, without any lightning or thunder.
She could see her elementary school a few blocks away. It was sturdy even after all these years. Young children flocked out of the building, racing with one another. Many jumped in puddles, and the others stood facing the rain. They were playing games in the ground, all the while keeping loud chatter. These were the things she had done herself. Now as an adult, she smiled in remembrance. She would have loved to have a closer look at the school, but she was aware it wouldn't be possible. She couldn't afford to lose herself too long; her flight was scheduled at seven in the evening. She would have to leave by five at the latest.
Nadia took a long walk around the community, stopping at familiar places. By half-past four, the rain had reduced to a drizzle. It was when she knew she had to go.
Her gaze hovered over the entire vicinity one last time before leaving. It looked mesmerizing. This was a place where the hurry of life had vanished and time seemed to have stopped completely.
As she took the path leading away from the neighborhood, Nadia gave a thought on the day she had spent. If not fortunate, she was happy that she had decided to come here. She remembered how she had initially been a little anxious about facing her past. She wasn't so nervous now. Coming back had helped her relive her childhood and experience her early years once again.
The past experiences were more active than ever, skipping across her mind. But she was no longer perturbed by it. She would always look to these memories with joy.
She was certain she would never forget her childhood, no matter what happened, and that was all that mattered.