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Not Quite Home

A traditional folk song floats out from the balcony above us. The hypnotic melody plucked from the strings of a Turkish saz emits from a kitchen radio and drifts along the current of the cool September breeze.

The July and August near triple-digit heat has finally broken. The residents of every home along this dead-end street have all tumbled out of their houses this afternoon, grateful for a change in weather.

The milkman’s wife rearranges the garland of peppers strung up across the outside of her window. The shades of red that form a festive wreath will soon be dry enough to boil into a paste and jarred for the coming winter months. She checks on her apricots dehydrating in large pans in the sun, too.

A beat-up soccer ball bounces by our gate and lands in the middle of a cocklebur bush. A group of kids scream and run after the ball, kicking up a cloud of dust as they pass by.

My daughter and I sit on the concrete steps leading up to the entrance of our apartment building. She shrieks as I blow a lazy stream of bubbles into the air. The sun’s still-strong rays push through the trumpet vines wrapped around the arbor, causing me to squint into the sky as I follow the bubbles.

This morning the yeasty scent of fresh bread hung heavy from the neighborhood bakery down the road. Now the smell of burning wood from a neighbor one block away fills the air, reminiscent of campfires at the end of a day on a Minnesota lake. I swear I hear the familiar, eerie tremolo of a loon but I know it’s the somber call of the mourning dove who’s perched deep in the Mediterranean cypress.

Bigger kids ride bikes up and down the street, shouting back and forth to each other. One girl plays her plastic recorder while others gather around her vying for a turn. Grandmothers sit on the steps outside their buildings, wearing crocheted vests and embroidered head scarves, and gossiping while passing around a bag of sunflower seeds. A baby cries from a balcony and its father, weary from a day of work, shrugs off his sport coat and softly pats the infant’s backside. They glide together, back and forth, across the balcony.

I watch the little bubbles gently float from the wand like the wishing seeds of a blown dandelion towards the balcony playing music. They are at the mercy of only the direction of the wind. I brace myself for the inevitable pop, throwing a sideways glance at my two-year-old who is shaking with pent-up energy, trying to catch the bubbles. Like fireworks fading against a twilight sky, bubbles have always seemed a little depressing. Both are beautiful and mesmerizing—if only for a fleeting instant.

And yet my daughter doesn’t seem to care about the short life of the bubble. She doesn’t even notice when it pops and disappears. And who can blame her? The iridescent bubbles floating above our heads are striking, reflecting light and color as they hang in the air for a moment. But the bubbles don’t break her heart as they do mine.

Our landlord’s daughter-in-law pulls up in a car and asks if she can borrow our stroller again to take downtown for the evening. I understand every third word or so and help her fold it up while my daughter eyes her son uneasily from behind my legs.

There are times I wish I could kick and claw my way out of here—this place where I’m still very much a foreigner, a stranger on the outside looking in.

I dream of one day being able to drift above the clouds in an airplane with my whole family next to me, over borders and across oceans, to a place with much more stability, to a life beyond here. Because always lurking in the back of my mind is a sense that the ground on which we built this life is not ours.

This isn’t home for us.

We’ve now moved on from blowing bubbles, and my daughter drags me by the hand out into the sun to play Ring Around the Rosie. We slowly spin in a circle and I begin to sing the nursery rhyme. She anticipates the last line of the song, swinging her arms up and down in excitement and bouncing on the balls of her feet. When I get to “…and we all fall down,” she drops to the ground, landing squarely on her backside, squealing with happiness.

Our singing and laughing add to the rest of the chaotic noise outside—our little melody complementing the neighborhood’s symphony. This isn’t home for us, but I offer our own little line to the greater song, anyway.

The two of us spin in a circle some more, and my singing—which embarrassingly echoes off the concrete—catches the attention of one of the girls who lives a few houses down. She slowly approaches our gate, curious. Not wanting to scare her off, we twirl and fall a few more times before I call her over in the little Turkish I know. She gives a small shake of her head to my invitation and instead offers a grin revealing two missing front teeth. After a bit, she wanders off to join her friends.

I might use another word for ‘home’ to describe where we are right now, but the answer to where I am is shaping who I am.

Regardless of what I call this place, it is a part of a larger story. This house on a dead-end street in a town in the middle of a foreign land is but one thread to a bigger, more colorful tapestry.

Although being here won’t last forever, there is beauty to be found. It is beautiful because of its brevity, not despite it. Like the bubbles, there is joy right here if only we’d stop to savor it.

Chicken simmers in sauces and the scent of fried onions drift from open windows as mothers lean out, calling in their children for dinner. The folk music has been turned off and is now replaced with the careful clink of plates and the scrape of chairs across tile. Slowly the happy chaos outside dwindles as intergenerational families gather inside around tables to share a meal.

Leaning over our front gate I look for the source of singing that has caught my ears and spot the curious girl form earlier holding hands and spinning in a circle with her friends. They chant a rhyme in Turkish—unfamiliar to me, but a slow smile spreads across my face when I realize what they are doing. In unison, they sing until they get to the end of the song where they each fall onto the ground in a heap of giggles, only to get back up and start again.  

4 thoughts on “Not Quite Home”

  1. Sarah, you have a great talent for writing. I read the words and felt like I was sitting on your steps watching the sights, smelling the bread (yum) and hearing the shrieks of the happy children playing. As a grandma our favorite game when the kiddos were little was “ring-around-the rosie’ …and we all fall DOWN! and we screamed as we fell to the ground. You taught the children, your neighbors, that fun game in their language, just the “all fall down part” is universal. I’m still waiting for the day you publish all your writings. Blessings, kay

    Liked by 1 person

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