When life gives you lemons… you make lemonade. Or so they say.
January 2016: My days went by smoothly. I spent some quality time with my grandparents in my childhood home in the countryside and was about to hand in my final thesis, I’d made plans to travel and reunite with my best friends. Each morning, I took my dog for a walk after breakfast. The air was cold but refreshing. On some days it rained, on others it snowed. Eventually, the sun came out.
I was at an exciting crossroad, intimidated by the uncertainty of an unknown future but excited about the possibilities that it promised. Just when I started to feel comfortable life took some swift and palpable turns. Like I woke up one morning only to realise that someone else had taken over my body while I was asleep, messing with the physics of the world I had so carefully constructed. Heartbroken, confused and irritated with myself and the world I spiralled. Further down the rabbit hole. What had made perfect sense before only raised new questions then. I dreaded the decisions I knew I would inevitably have to make and indulged in a few days of pure misery.
Then I booked my flight.
Not to America but to Cape Town.
A strangely familiar scent poured through the open window of the bus that brought me closer towards Table Mountain. Majestically, it rose behind the city I had not seen in four years, guarding and protecting it in a way that sparked a sense of contentment in me, flooding me with the delicate warmth of reuniting with a long-lost friend.
At the Civic Centre I contemplated catching another bus but decided to walk when I was hit by yet another sense of déjà vu. The streets I had not walked in years were the same. I halfway expected to find familiar stores around street corners and behind bus stations, and there they were. My smile grew bigger when I reached Long Street and found that it still looked much the same even though some of my favourite bars and restaurants seemed to have been replaced by others. Overcome by a wave of nostalgia, I walked past the old entrance of the hostel I used to work at. The kiosk was gone. So was the bar next door. Large red letters informed me that the building was now home to an advertising school.
The best part about coming back, I realised over a glass of wine that night, was not seeing how much the city had changed during the four years of my absence, but seeing how much I had changed. I sat on the balcony when nightfall came. Downstairs, the music picked up. Cars honked. People laughed and shouted names. A few times I thought I spotted a younger version of myself in the hustle of the crowds downstairs. Their hunger for experiences was palpable. It would keep them going and make them feel restless, a potent high that never allowed them to hesitate or calm down. Four years ago, I would have with them. Rushing past strangers and consuming the night as if there was no tomorrow. Greedy puppets that danced until the sun came up while the Mother City pulled the strings.
I went to the beach often. On most days, the wind picked up in the afternoon while the waves crashed onto the shore with steady force. I’d close my eyes and wait for my thoughts to get carried away with the breeze. Not seldom did the sand start flying. Only when the peeling got too rough I would move. From the rocks I watched the surfers. Their bodies looked fragile as they paddled into the break swiftly. I felt their excitement as they rode the waves until they crashed and waited in anticipation for them to be spit out of the whitewash. White spray glistened in the sun as if an invisible hand had thrown a thousand little diamonds up in the air. I leaned against the wind and screamed.
Not knowing what to do until a situation prompted a sudden response was liberating. Effortlessly, I floated for weeks. I made no plans that couldn’t be changed but relied on my life to sort itself out. I ate great food and wrote in my journal, never going anywhere without it. I allowed myself to feel lonely and miserable, grateful and jubilant.
During my last night in Cape Town I watched how Table Mountain faded into darkness, and I realised that I was no longer drowning. I had reached the surface and I was breathing. As the sky turned dark and the lights turned on, I felt the city smile at me. Cape Town had taken me under its wings once more but I no longer needed protection. I had grown to be my own person. And I realised that the city had brought out the best in me and the worst. It has shown me my selfish side and my passion for life. It’s pushed me forward until life itself became blurry. It’s left me sleep-deprived and insatiably hungry. This time around it gave me back my appetite.