From Home to ‘Nam and back again
by Jim Parker
Jim has always been interested in writing and has been promising the world a novel since he was 14. Not a word of the novel has been put down on paper. Yet. He lives in England and enjoys travelling to far flung places.
In the past year I have re-discovered the importance of home. I left England because I had met somebody very special. It was that feeling when something sparks from out of the darkness and near-drudgery of everyday life and you just have to grab it. It would’ve been much easier and simpler to have done nothing, to have stayed where I was. But my thoughts and actions would’ve been a whirlpool circling around a giant ‘what if…’ at its centre if I had remained still, so I moved across the world to live with her in Vietnam. Enveloped by that initial enthralling feeling of love I simply sold everything I could sell, muttered some laconic goodbyes, and left with the calm optimism that everything would eventually fall into its right place. I never gave the idea of what home meant a second thought.
I moved to a city called Haiphong. To be reasonable, and even though it’s one of Vietnam’s major cities, it is what I would call a passing place. It’s a nowhere, but also a somewhere you have to go through in order to get somewhere better. Both physically to beautiful Cat Ba Island and mentally to who knows where. Haiphong was full of English teachers from many nationalities, and after getting to know them I felt they had all ended up there for the same reason. This was no better illustrated by drunken bonding in weekly parties, which I would imagine are just like the ones at home. We would close the shutters; lock the gate using a big chain like an anchor that had a falling, rattling laugh when it scraped against the metal.
I lived in No.94 down a street called Ngo Gia Tu. It was a big purple house, a pocket of dull light amongst the ramshackle buildings and the throat grazing 2-stroke motorbike fumes. The house had 5 floors, 2 roof balconies but its most un-nerving feature was the hollow staircase. Voices in this space wouldn’t echo, but would thud against the walls making sentences overwhelming. A word that shouldn’t have been important was unnecessarily amplified. When you opened up a door to the outside, the noise of the street would come flooding in, unwelcome, like a sickly illness.
After a while, it became clear to me that No.94 was never going to be my home. I was permanently restless, sleep was unsettled and I would wake in the middle of the night just so I could absorb myself in the sound of nothing. My love had moved to Vietnam to better herself, to find her confidence and reignite that light inside her that she thought she had lost. I was an invader in her home, of course loved, but at this point essentially unwelcome. Bad timing I guess.
The relationship ended soon after I moved to Hanoi. It was as all those tensions between us were gradually filling that empty hollow space at the centre of No.94 and had become too big, pushing the walls apart until the structures surrounding us caved in on themselves.
I came back to England, pulled out half born from something I still cannot describe and probably never will be able to. The weather was typically British. It was cold, relentlessly wet and the skies were murky. The clouds were the same ones that leered over Hanoi for a month: grey and ambiguous. The mud I collected on my boots and the bottoms of my trousers walking down familiar welcoming paths was ubiquitous. I returned back the house coated in the stuff. My arms were sodden from my sleeves being licked by the tongues of leaves that lined the paths.
It’s about to rain again; I’m going to get my boots and coat on. Walk those paths many have walked for centuries, plod through the mud, my mind will be trying to balance important and ridiculous thoughts. But, I know that I will walk up the driveway, the gravel crunching and see the house. Before I know it I will be sitting down, my boots slung off, my coat half hanging on a hook ready to slither down the others and onto the floor. That I think is the importance of home. Knowing.
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