Where Sarah lives, the weather is unpredictable and unwavering, although the people of her city would veritably disagree with that description. Her city has a rather flattering reputation for pleasant weather all year around. Personally, she loves the soft sunshine, slightly breezy weather and this city does deliver that, more noticeably, on Sunday early afternoons. On such days, she is inevitably transported to a fantasy she has held close for the longest time – “new city, new me”. It has only grown stronger with time, drifting further away from a fantasy and getting closer to plausible reality.
As a 14 year old, Sarah vicariously experienced living independently in a new city. On a Friday night, when the world was fast asleep, she lay awake staring out of her window trying to catch a clear sight of all the airplanes carrying dreams of moving to a new city and going back to an old one. That night, for the very first time, she felt devoured by this fantasy.
For years leading to her adulthood, people asked where is this new city? “Where do you want to go, Sarah?” her mother too asked one evening. “I don’t know ma, I just want to go”, she responded, irritated. This constant badgering had her second guessing what she felt on that Friday night, years go. Did she really want to leave this city? Did she want to move away from her parents? Was this an escape, and if so, from what?
Now, 10 years older than she was that Friday, watching airplanes take off and land dreams, it was time for her fantasy to take off into reality. It was proven to be a dreadful journey, moving to a new city, living alone. “You will feel lonely. You have to be strong to survive let alone live all by yourself. You will miss home. Your family. Your friends. You will have to cook, clean, earn, and pay bills.” Everyone from the city to relatives thousands of miles away advised her. And of course, the most used, as though to subtly discredit one’s journey, “it is not how they show in movies.” She patiently nodded along to all and after too many conversations with the anxious voice in her head on countless nights, she decided to board this plane after all.
After a long flight, she arrived with a painful jet lag to her new city. She was rather quick to call it home. She found her way to her apartment. It was slightly distant from the noisy part of the city, on a quiet street, a one-storeyed building. She is absolutely exhausted at this point, carrying more bags than she can manage, yet has the brightest smile take up her full face. “Welcome home, Sarah.” she greets herself, as she finds a dusty, old, not so well furnished as she was told, apartment. But there was no time for feeling crestfallen.
She worked at the University as a research scholar/teacher and spent early evenings at the library or a cafe she managed to call her own a few blocks from the University. She would walk as much as she could, everywhere. On some evenings when she feels particularly confident or adventurous, she joins her colleagues at the bar. By now, she has a couple of good friends, has met a friendly neighbor and teaches a bunch of avid students. She calls home every now and then and her mother ends every call with something she used to never say before, “Miss you Sarah.” After innumerable homesick days and being terrified of whether she made a mistake, Sarah had now become good at missing home and creating a new one at the same time.
For months now, her apartment has looked disturbingly chaotic. On some days, on her way back from work, she would buy some lilies or sunflowers or tulips and put them in a vase on a dusty table in the foyer to light up the place. Apart from the occasional flowers, the apartment was poorly kept. Finally, on a long weekend, she decided to sort this out. She spent days after that asking her waiter-friend at the cafe, her colleagues, her class, her friends, the florist, the checkout employees at the grocery store, where she would find curtains, cushions, quilts, duvets, utensils, cutlery, some pleasing artifacts, maybe a flea market for archaic collections, what she should hang on the wall, paint samples, the best internet connection, and more. Sarah has a history of planning more than doing and after an effective intervention from her friends from home, she simply set out to set up her new home. Weeks later, she still felt like there were a few items missing but all in all, a cozy, comfortable, pleasing home was built.
Her first six months in the new city turned out to be exactly and nothing like how she imagined it would be and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. 14 year old Sarah is taken aback to discover who Sarah is now. She eats by herself at restaurants and cafes. She sings at open mics on Fridays in her favorite music store. She is part of a writer’s club and they gather every second Wednesday of the month to discuss and exchange what they’ve worked on. She lets men buy her drinks and serenade her with flowers, their cooking skills and occasional sex. She loves her job and she is an excellent teacher. She has trouble paying bills and maintaining relationships with men for a significant time but it doesn’t bother her too much. She lives life as it comes.
Every Saturday, she decides to walk aimlessly and discover a new part of the city. She is lucky on some and on others slightly frightened that she is lost. Regardless, it keeps her going. Sundays are usually spent waking up late, spending most of the day in bed and wondering if she is becoming boring and not fun and speculating why she isn’t earning more or is still single. Her friends back home are still receiving i’m-all-over-the-place-i-made-a-huge-mistake-i’m-so-scared calls every now and then. Not entirely different from the Sarah she was back home.
During spring break, Sarah decides to visit her first home for a couple of weeks and is surprisingly excited and a little downcast to leave. When she is back, her parents and friends make sure she forgets about her 6 months old home.
On a Sunday afternoon, she is having brunch with friends she has had since school and realizes how deeply she misses them. She has come a full circle, from sharing what seemed like a silly desire to live alone in a new city when she was a teenager with these friends to sharing stories of people and places from her new home with them. “I’m failing to articulate how I feel when I’m there but I can sense a revolution emerging from within.” she tells her friends. They let her go on. “It feels like I’ve given my younger self what she lacked for the longest time – the space to be who and how she wants to be, without judgement or fear. It is exactly that. I feel fearless. I am not afraid of myself, of what I think, of who I am, of my judgments, of my stupidity, of who I love, of my insecurity, of my inevitable failure. Today, I feel okay. I feel okay knowing that throughout this journey, if I fall and break or rise and shine, I will be okay through it all.” That night Sarah comes to a rather unsettling conclusion, she feels the same way about herself in her old city and new, around people old and new.
The following week, she is back to her six months old home. She spends the next two years in this city, falling, rising, breaking and shining. Making mistakes, making love. Discovering herself on Saturday afternoons and reflecting on Sunday nights. She has found more than one cafe she calls her own. She knows multiple florists in different parts of the city. She has studied, earned, hustled, read, written, sang, cried, laughed, drank, cooked, eaten, slept more than ever before. She has also tried her hand at pottery, gardening, and painting.
On one Thursday afternoon, when she is studying at the library after work, she comes across a new book in one of the shelves she hasn’t had a chance to look at before. She spends the rest of the evening, enjoying this book. She pauses in between, decides to read more the next day and heads back home. On her way, she buys a bunch of sunflowers, says goodnight to her friendly old neighbor, puts the flowers in the vase kept on the table in her foyer and cooks herself some dinner.
The next morning, 21 year old Sarah wakes up half asleep tired from staring at airplanes in the night sky but still devouring the dream she just had. In 7 years, her fantasy has slipped into her subconscious multiple times but today she realizes that her fantasy is tied more to herself than to a new city. It is a reminder that she wants to escape not from where she lives, or whom she is around, but from how she feels about herself. Sarah now knows that old cities and familiar people have enough to offer to be who she wants to be as much as a new city and unknown people do.