I was surprised to hear that my mother had been getting the same familiar questions. “Where is she now, and most importantly, when is she coming home?”
Apparently her response is a shrug of the shoulders and “Well, first of all, I’m not sure this is home anymore, and second of all, I don’t think even Lily knows the answer to that one”.
She’s right on both counts, and yet it was home I was looking for when I stumbled up the 7 flights of stairs to 17 Nou de la Rambla, Barcelona. I’d been on the road almost 8 months, non-stop, and was in dire need of some familiar surroundings. Continuous travelling builds important connections, but it is also invariably a constant re-hash of stories and events, a re-building of your identity with every new meeting.
My sister had moved into her new flat no less than a day before my arrival, so when her sweaty, cycle-touring hermana scrambled through the door – bike and all – it was with some explanation to the new housemates.
I was welcomed with unwavering hospitality into an amazingly beautiful, though modest, Spanish Apartment. Big bay windows, a colourful paintjob and fairytale wall-poetry filled the rooms. Mosaic tables and floors, archways leading to the bathroom and renaissance style chairs – it was a dreamy delight.
The first week or two I couch-surfed around, trying hard not to overstay my welcome anywhere. I met as many bike fanatics as I could, saw gigs and cabarets, drank copious amounts of tea and went looking for friends.
Pretty soon, I settled down. Not quite the 9-5-husband-and-kids scenario, but I did get myself a phone, go to the same local store everyday for my mandatory baguette and even began paying rent for the first time in 3 years, when a room in my sisters place became available.
I’m not really in love with Barcelona, and I doubt I ever will be… but I grew very fond of her. She became the meeting point of almost all the dear friends I’d made through my journeys in Europe and there was rarely a night spent alone. The 1 euro Pakistani cervezas, bike lanes along the beach, street festivals and amazing little tea corners made the days pass swiftly. This city would prove to be my last before setting sail across the ocean, and I used my time wisely, taking my own space when I needed it.
It’s true it had been several years since I’d had a room I could stand up in, but it had been almost double that since Ella and I had shared a city. My sister and I have always been close, despite our seemingly vast differences, but neither of us could have imagined how much we would need each other over the next couple of months.
We listened to one-another for long hours, gossiped over red wine, lent a shoulder or two and supported each other into sanity. On weekdays we would lunch together, on weekends, party together. I remembered our similarities. I remembered her optimism and level-headedness. I remembered how fun she was to dance away the night with and I remembered her humble questioning to seek the truth. She reminded me of my old self and eagerly discovered my new. She taught me forgotten lessons and together we developed unrelenting respect for the bonds of sisterhood.
The sun and the city helped… the friends, old and new, built the foundations… but really, it was Ella who brought me home.