Visiting home

After circling Essex like a metaphorical drain in the sky, the plane finally landed at Heathrow. I looked out at the dark, the rain – home at last. I didn’t know if I was very tired or very awake, and in fact the only thing I could be really certain of was that I needed the toilet.

At baggage reclaim I sat on a trolley and watched the suitcases nose their way up onto the conveyor belt and snake their way around the carousel. I thought about the slaughterhouse I went to in Shanghai and all the channels for cows, people, blood, meat, all flowing with the same lumbering grace of Heathrow’s baggage reclaim. I tried to remember what my suitcase looked like. Black? Rectangular? Possibly with a handle? I wondered if I would be too tired to do anything if it didn’t show up.

Case in hand, I headed out into Heathrow, scanning the waiting faces in case anyone had come to meet me, trying not to feel hopeful. Oh. No. Okay. It’s fine. It’s what I was expecting. I need the loo anyway.

Everything felt so…. normal, like I didn’t live 10,000 miles away in another continent, in another language, with another font, in another colour scheme. Oh look, Marks & Spencer! I dragged my case down to the metro – no! It’s the tube! Tube, tube, tube, not a metro. My card worked, I felt like a local, the local I am or was or would be or should be or I don’t even know anymore.

Why are the seats fabric? Why is everything so familiar? Why are the announcements al in English? Why are there so few Chinese people? Can I stare at people? Should I do the laowai nod to other white people? Why doesn’t my phone work underground? Why are we only at Hounslow? Why does this feel so incredibly normal?

My life in Shanghai felt so normal until suddenly I’m not there and now this is normal, but Shanghai is normal too, and I wonder how many people I really am. Kaleidoscopic me, thousands of eyes and faces and hair (the thickest my hair will ever look) and limbs and suitcases.

Visiting home is so normal, so abnormal, so confusing.