I’m home. But the rain is pounding on the roof. The dehumidifier runs constantly, trying somehow to keep the muggy damp out, the smell that creeps into our neatly folded clothes and our pillowcases. The moths flap feebly against the windows, hungry for the shelter hidden indoors. This is summer, the wettest I have ever seen it.
Our arrival home happened in a haze of teary embraces and shocked faces, so surprised were our families at having us home. I hid in my mothers’ garden on a Friday afternoon in mid December. I felt like a fugitive as I crouched there, breathing in the sweet sun warmed air, listening to the rustle of plants around us as they lifted to the sun. It was so strange to think that just a day before we had been in Paris, wrapped in scarves and gloves and jackets, drinking chocolat chaud under the Eiffel Tower.
My sister and her husband went in first, the only accomplices to our plan. And when I lifted the rusty latch on the wooden gate I heard the moment my mother saw me through the window, and the shout of disbelief that rose from my stepfather.
I had planned to say something witty as I walked towards them, but my voice disappeared as soon as I saw their faces, and I just laughed through the tears, feeling overly dramatic and so happy to see my family again.
A bottle of bubbles was produced from somewhere, and then it took a while before the shaky hugs and breathless laughter died down. It took a few weeks longer before I stopped exclaiming at how friendly everyone was, in shops, restaurants, on the street, in lines. And I think it will take even longer before I get used to the green again. Everything is green. Luscious and bright, the fields, the hills, even the sides of the road, everything is a vibrant, waving green. I keep proclaiming to my sisters that they should open their eyes, that everything here is beautiful. They think that maybe travelling made me a little crazy.
The week of Christmas came and went. I surprised my father and stepmother too, and was greeted with a shout of ‘What are you doing here!?’. On Christmas day the sun shone hot but unsure behind the thin clouds. Inside the lounge was a symphony of red, green and white; mountains of ripped wrapping paper. Flies wafted in and out of the open doors with the summer air, while outside freshly mown green grass baked brown under the heat.
Everyone laughed and called to each other, hysterical stress threatening to break through the high voices of the chefs, already stretched to breaking point. Someone’s grandmother sat under the verandah at the head of the table, pulling a cardigan closer around her shoulders, complaining to anyone who would listen about the cool breeze. The table groaned under joints of meat, lamb, turkey, chicken, a glazed ham, all brought from somewhere. Outside our puppy Sasha wolfed a kidney within seconds, a glorious castoff from the meal.
I didn’t know any of those people. There was another family there and their jokes were strange and sharp in our midst. They had different cheekbones, different hair, unfamiliar glasses. They had two dogs – stringy whippets – and soon our puppy was locked away in her kennel, dark eyes pleading as she watched the foreign animals range across her land, their sharp noses sniffing out her hidden bones. I furtively let her out again.
The meal took place in a flurry of photos and embarrassing jokes, bright sunlight and shutters clicking, while hundreds of different sauces were passed and drizzled and spilled on the white tablecloth. I smiled secretly at my sisters, and we giggled silently at the effort of it all, rendered blasé and amused by the many flutes of bubbles on the table.
Then the rain came. It came on Boxing Day, and it has been raining since. The grass is unbelievably long, shooting towards the sky, spurred on by the fleeting pockets of sunlight between the torrential rain. On New Years Eve we lit fireworks through the drizzle, and they sputtered and fizzed, exploding light against the blue dark. I imagined all those people at the many summer festivals around the country, dancing in plastic ponchos and knee high mud, undeterred by the rain that ran down their smiling faces.
We had a hangi in early January, smoky and delicious, everything infused with that unmistakable earthy flavour. We caught fresh kingfish out at sea up in Mangawhai, and ate it at home an hour later, first as sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi, then as fresh steaks, while the rest was smoked with manuka woodchips. We went wake boarding on Lake Whakamaru last week, and the water was warm and green against the cool air, like carving on glass when you were out from the wake. I smiled the entire time I was up, until I face planted into the smooth water. Summer has begun.
I am writing again now, and the tap of the keys feels good under my fingertips. There is still so much to write about my travels, so many cities and landscapes that we flew through on trains and in metros. There are so many photos to sort, and a million memories to write about, to record. They will keep the itchy feet at bay for a while.
The sun is out again now, and in the burst of happy sunlight I hear a Tui sing quickly, as though to capture the moment. It may be raining, but it is warm. The clouds will move come these next few weeks, and we will all be drenched in blinding summer sun. Our dub and reggae bands will tour the old iconic pubs of the country, and my short shorts will come back out of storage again. We will play backyard cricket and drink Steinlager Pure and eat freshly caught crayfish.
I love New Zealand summer. It’s good to be home.