By Chiara, University “Federico II”, Italy
When I went to the airport with my friend, a couple of nights ago, I later took a taxi to go back home. It was six in the morning and not at all near dawn, and the car followed the same route of the taxi that got me home for the first time, five months ago. I remember my past self looking out of the window and wondering whether my new house would look the same as the ones I was seeing passing by, all red bricks and round edges.
A month before that, I was looking at the city on a map, trying to imagine what my life – what everything would be like. It all feels like centuries have passed, as if I were a completely different person from when I began.
To be honest, I think I am. And that’s what makes going home so scary now.
Will I be the same as I am now? Will I go back to being what I was before? Will I remember the important things this city has taught me? Will I forget?
Here in Manchester I’ve done things I never thought I could. I’ve been braver than I imagined I could be. Here I was confronted with life, unfiltered, for what I think was the very first time. Here I found the best friends I’ve ever had, the ones I hope to be able to see again no matter the country.
Two days later I’m saying goodbye. Five of these friends stay with me for our last dinner together, four until four in the morning, helping me packing and laughing as if it’s not the end of the world. Two of them stay in Manchester, the city that adopted me and stole my heart, two are coming to the airport with me. One comes back to the same city as me. We left together, we come back together. We had our ups and downs, and I loved each of them, and I’m glad this girl (who always lived in the same city as me but only became my friend in a different country) lives so close. If I had no one to understand me, no one to remind me that what we lived for five months was real, I think I’d go insane.
I am the last one to come out of our house, the last one to lock the door. The moment I let go of the keys, I realise it’s over. To be quite honest, I’ve known for days, and at the same time I’m still not sure it’s real. What’s real right now is that we can’t go back, we can’t walk through that door anymore, that my room is empty and everything I own fits in three suitcases. Everything that made me call that house ‘home’ is packed and ready to go.
My mind has forced me to say goodbye to every tiny thing, in a somewhat obsessive way. “This is the last time you go to the library”, “this is the last time you go through the University Archway”, “this is the last time you ride a double-decker bus” (I’m pretty proud of the fact that I never fell down the stairs). It’s surely not healthy, but it’s not something I could stop.
On the contrary, when it comes to actually saying goodbye to my friends, I still can’t believe I won’t see them this weekend. I would love to write about them, but I doubt I could make them justice in a few lines. Of these six people I’ve seen the best, and of some of them the worst (and I liked them nonetheless); with them I’ve had some of the deepest conversations in my life, and opened up like never before, and with these same people I’ve played stupid board games and laughed like only adults pretending to be children can. Among us I’ve seen contrast as stark as black and white, differences I thought impossible to overcome, and I’ve seen acceptance and openness like I would have never wished for. We were as young as 20 and as old as 28, studying different things and having classes together, speaking different languages and trying to learn each other’s. We all came from different places, and heading towards different goals, but we all came together in a way that is still unclear to me to this day, but I know we owe to Manchester. We were strangers for the most part, yet we trusted each other with our lives. I know I did.
When I said goodbye, I wanted to say thank you, because it’s them who made my stay in Manchester the time of my life. But I haven’t and I don’t think I ever will, because it makes it seem like the end.
Is it the end when I hop on the ladder that will take me to the plane, and my feet leave Manchester’s ground? Is it the end when I see the coast of England drifting away through the clouds? Is it the end when my friend and I go through all of our emotional songs, and stay on the verge of crying for the entire flight?
When is the end? Is it when you land, when you empty your suitcases, when you call a new place ‘home’? Is it when you miss a city you’ve only lived in for a few months and realise you’re not going back? Does it ever end, after all? Or does the person you’ve become shape your future life in such a way that nothing ever ends, not really?
I hope I’m right about this last one.
I now have a lot of things to do in my old city, and an hexagon-shaped bracelet to remind me of the city of bees. I am surrounded by people asking me if it’s over, if I’m finally staying here. I try to smile, and say that yes, I’m staying here, for now, but I know it’s never over. I may be heartbroken, and feeling out of place, and only want to sleep until I wake up in Manchester again, but if there is anything this experience has taught me is that it’s up to me to make things better. It’s up to me to go out and do things and make decisions and live my life to the fullest. If I stop now, I’ve learned nothing.
I want to meet my friends in months or years and be able to tell them of all the things I’ve done and seen, and to go back to Manchester knowing that I’ve changed again from the last time I’ve been there, and that it’s a good thing.
Last week I found a quotation, which I think belongs to David Bowie, which kept me going through my last days there, and through my first days here. And this is how I want to end this blog, hoping it has made you want to explore and dare a bit more, just like the city of Manchester has done with me.
“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”