The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
It is time to close another chapter. I leave Jonny on the water and take a train south to the centre of London, reversing our long river journey in just thirty minutes. The woman sitting opposite me is reading Chimamanda Adichie's new novel. I struggle through the Underground with my bags, share a relieved smile with a man who just makes it through the doors as we pull away from Euston. At St Pancras I change onto the high-speed line for the last time this year.
I have made this journey many times. On this muggy summer afternoon I find myself thinking about the frozen winter months when our love was very new and the nights were always long. Everything changed this year, because of that.
I catch the bus from the station, using my bus pass which is out of date, and when I turn my key in the front door of our three-storey terraced house in the little cul-de-sac, only Les is home to greet me. The house is scrubbed clean, the walls are bare. It smells of what I recognise now as independence and contentment and excitement and Shakespeare. I climb the stairs to my attic bedroom, warm and bright and unreachable without effort, and I know very well that I do not want to leave.
I wake a lot in the night. My room feels unlike my room. The next morning I spend time packing up my things into big cardboard boxes and blue suitcases. Along with the world map posters and the long row of photography books at the end of my bed, I know I am boxing away big parts of myself. I can't take any of this to California. My bedroom is a nest made from everything which makes me - or, at least, who I am at the moment. I will have to leave pieces of it behind when I fly in September. Starting anew is so exhausting.
I leave the house and go for a walk. It is overcast and there are no students in town. On one of the cobbled backstreets I find this window, filled with plants, and investigate it for a little while. An indoor jungle. Even though it is boxed up, enclosed, the light seeps in unseen and it grows, pushing back against the glass. I think about the student mind on show.
I take the lanes along the back of the cathedral. Even here, it is formidable. It is lucky and lovely that a place which holds such intimidating history and ritual and cultural importance is also a place where I can go and sit for a few quiet hours to revise Shakespeare. I suppose it is for me what it wasn't for Becket: a safe haven. (Though second year undergraduate exams are a less deadly foe than murderous palace knights…) In a couple of years I will graduate in these cloisters. I think about going in now - with my student ID card the stewards will admit me for free - but it isn't raining yet and I'd like to walk some more.
Tourists flock the town centre, where I dodge between crowds along the high street using polite French and German. The tearooms are all full; the sky is threatening rain. At the top of town a cyclist emerges under the Westgate Towers and I give some change to the homeless man who sits under there. On the other side, the gardens are in bloom along the river and a young man in a straw boater is hawking punt rides.
I cross the bridge as a bus arrives around the corner, and sprint the last stretch with my camera at my hip. I have books to return to the library and a friend to meet on campus. The driver doesn't notice - or mind - that my pass is out of date. We climb the hill slowly in the summer traffic. I am nostalgic for a place I have yet to leave. I feel half-gone already - from Canterbury, from England. I think about a summer spent packing boxes, an autumn travelling with strangers.
I have maybe twelve hours left in this room. I sit on my bed, under the sloping ceiling which taught me not to sit up in the middle of the night and the fairy lights which cast bright constellations under my eyelids after staring at them in the dark. I look at all the things I need to give up now. There are love letters from Jonny and birthday cards and handwritten letters and maps of the world. There is the bunting Kim made me for my birthday and a timeline of Shakespeare plays and origami roses in a glass by my fruit bowl, and postcards of Steve McCurry photographs and a painting from Swaziland and all the poems I typed up this year from thumb-cornered books, just to see what it was like to write something that good. This is my room, my womb, my safe haven, my canvas: a public display of my private world. Home.
Above my desk, where my laptop sits, where my eyes land when my mind wanders, is a print of a beautiful illustration. I don't know it now, as I sit on my bed and think about home, but between this room and my other I am going to lose that print. In a couple of months I will be climbing ladders in the garage to find the cardboard boxes I have filled with this room, I will be turning out drawers and emptying shelves in my hunt for it. I will get on a plane thinking about what is not in my suitcase and I will unpack that suitcase in a new room, in a new city, in a new country, and I will not have it.
These are things I have to pack away inside myself now. All those photography books, all those poems and prints and letters and maps. They will fold down until they are postage stamps on my skin, sealed with my lips, sewn into the insides of my dresses to mark them as mine. I am strong enough to carry these things with me wherever it is I am going soon.
This is what I will remind myself as my plane takes wing on a wet September evening. I am a mirror of these things: the public display of my private world. I live in their image, even if their image is lost somewhere in cardboard boxes. Under the sloped ceiling of my skull, in the ache the presses my ribcage, I carry them with me.