This is Home — For Now
Fresh off the plane, a trail across the world left on the maps, I walk through the picturesque German town I have chosen as the location for my future stories. I’ll walk these streets past bright coloured houses with wooden shutters as I fight to earn that expensive piece of paper in endless hours of studies.
I enter the administration office, one of the many cornerstones of bureaucratic Germany. A thick line on the floor warns me to not take another step. Good citizen that I am, I halt right in front and maintain discretion as requested. The room smells like a stuffy office that has never heard laughter. Three clerks sit behind their narrow desks and stare at flickering screens from the early 2000s.
One of them raises her voice to explain a line of incomprehensible instructions in the type of administrative German even natives have trouble understanding. Her client stares back in confusion. I sigh and stare at the shiny literature given out by the government to make sense of the many hoops and never-ending forms that frame German life. This is the third time I’m here, waiting for another form to fill out for my landlord amidst snarky comments from the staff regarding my incomplete pile of documents.
As her last client passes me by, a document smelling of fresh ink in hand, a clerk waves me over. I sit down as her fingers dig into the keyboard. She doesn’t look up.
“What can I help you with?” she says in a monotone voice.
“I’d like to register my residence,” I reply.
“Do you have the certificate of tenement provision filled out?”
“Yup”, I say. Now we’re talking.
“Your identification papers?”
I hand her my folder of documents and wait in silence as she examines them.
“Please be patient for a moment, Miss,” she says and starts punching the keys again, asking questions occasionally.
As I endure the procedure, I observe the clerk at work, wondering what she might do in her free time.
Before I know what is happening, she draws a long ruler out of nowhere, places it over the name of my birthplace on my passport and crosses it out with a fat marker. I lose my breath. What did she just do?!
There is no chance to ask what’s going on. She already works to thoroughly wet a stamp in a black ink pad and slams the ugly crest of my new place of residence next to the line that just cancelled my former life off the books.
“Welcome to town,” she says, forcing an insincere smile and handing me the defiled passport and papers.
I manage a silent “thanks” through my teeth.
“That’s all,” she informs me and dismisses me as she gives her attention to the screen again. I pack my documents away and slowly step back on the cobbled streets of what is now officially the place I live.
A sense of loss overcomes me. That line, it feels, didn’t just cross out my childhood, but in an even more detrimental motion, permanently ended the last years of travel, of flexibility, of being there today and gone tomorrow. The city underneath that line was my base through all my adventures, never demanding me to stay.
Guess I am here now. Permanently.
I look around and wonder whether I thought this though at all. Do I even want to be here? I’m tempted to check my phone for the cheapest flight to anywhere. With a sting I think of that page with the line.
Every little decision I’ve made brought me to this place. Were those informed decisions though? I didn’t really consider what my choices would amount to. I didn’t know I was binding myself to these streets. I didn’t know I was choosing away my freedom
The moment of shock has me question all these little choices. Am I ready to move here and make this place home after tasting a vagabond life?
A little walk starts to remind me of the advantages that might lie beyond that line. Not worrying where I’ll sleep tomorrow, for one. Reading books too heavy for carry-on. Friendships that are steady. A kitchen to get cooking in. Reasonably priced coffee – in comparison to the expensive cup of liquid regret they sell at airports around the globe.
As I walk to my empty flat with its white walls I wish to paint with moments of laughter and tears, creativity and uni-workloads, smells of good food and lines for fresh poems, I see that even though this is a new beginning, I still have to take time to grieve the traveller’s life I’m leaving behind and let go of what I’ll surely miss about it. Beside all the little choices, I decide that I will celebrate the highs and the lows of the years underneath that line so I can truly savour those beyond it.
Photos by the author