It starts with the realisation that you won’t see your youngest brother for two and a half years, if all goes to plan. You are due back in the UK in June, a full year since you last visited, but Ricco will be away travelling, a final foreign fling before buckling down and finding a graduate role in London. After that, you have no plans to return until Christmas 2016 at the earliest, because you want to spend your savings and your annual leave on the places you haven’t been: Indonesia and Malaysia and New Caledonia and New Zealand and the Philippines.
How strange, you think. You were 28 when you last saw Ricco; you’ll be 31 the next time you set eyes on him. A lot of time to pass, when time is the only thing we all wish we had more of.
Your parents visit at the end of November. They see a play at the Opera House, wander through the Botanical Gardens, take photos of the Harbour Bridge, catch a ferry to Manly, people watch at Bondi. Together you travel to the Whitsundays, where you spend a week on boats and sun loungers, surrounded by improbably perfect scenery.
One morning, you meet them for breakfast at Bronte, your favourite beach. You sit under the shade of a palm eating bacon and egg rolls, watching families playing in the surf under a perfect blue sky. When you finish, you wander along the coastal path back to Bondi. At its highest point you stop and sit down, the vast stretch of Bondi to your left, the coves of Tama and Bronte to your right, the rolling waves of the Tasman Sea out in front. It’s blustery up here, high above the rocks; Dad holds onto his hat to prevent it blowing away. “I can see why you moved here,” he says. “The lifestyle…it’s something else.”
When you came to Australia last September, you had a defined plan. You would be here for one year and then you would return home; your lengthy visa documents told you so. And then came sponsorship, and with it an extension until 2018 and the possibility of permanent residency and citizenship, and suddenly you don’t have a plan anymore; you’re winging it.
The sense of melancholy grows as Christmas approaches, your first without your family, only your second away from your family home. Traditionally your three brothers and you return home for at least a week, tired and puffy and hungover from a month of excess. You barely get out of your pyjamas; you sit and eat and drink and laugh, and by the time you return to London a week later, in time for New Years, you are a fully functioning human again, soothed by the balm of your family.
This year, you and nine other orphans are going to Abi’s for roast pork and salads and Secret Santa and $700 worth of alcohol. “It should be fun,” you tell Matt. “I mean, I’m terrified for Boxing Day Ellen, but it should be fun.”
“You’ll have as much fun as you want to,” he replies.
“I know,” you nod. “And I will have fun. I’m just a bit sad, I guess.”
“What do you want to do about your flat?” asks Dad, at dinner on your final night in the Whitsundays.
“I’m not really sure,” you reply. “I hadn’t really thought about it. As long as the rent keeps covering the mortgage, I guess it’s fine for now.”
“Well, every week you hang onto it, it goes up in value, so I’d probably only suggest selling if you wanted a cash injection so you could put down a deposit over here.”
Buying somewhere in Sydney? you think. That would be quite a statement.
A few weeks after you move to Australia, you have a drunken Whatsapp conversation with Cressida and you tell her that you’re slightly homesick. “Just think of it as having two homes,” she says. “And you have people who love you in both, so you’ll always be at home, wherever you are. Don’t be sad, little one.”
And you take her advice, and you commit to your new life in Australia; you meet people and you make friends and you move to Bondi and you take up yoga and you sleep deeply and on more mornings than not you watch the sun rise over the ocean as you run along the beach, and you’ve never been happier.
But slowly it becomes harder to mesh your two lives together; you spend so little time at home that you find it hard to find the time to FaceTime your friends and family, and before you know it, it’s been one week, four weeks, two months since you spoke to them for any longer than a rushed Whatsapp conversation on the way to work.
A friend tells you that they’re upset that you’re not making more of an effort, so you try harder. “I know I’ve been lame,” you say, “but I’ve got a plan. I’m going to call you on my way to work and if you can pick up, great. If you can’t, no worries – I’ll just try again the next day.”
And that plan works for a little while, until life gets in the way, and you know, deep down, that these relationships will never be the same until you return to the UK for good.
And where before there was only blind instinct that you were doing the right thing, now there are doubts, about your relationships and your career and life in a country where spiders as big as your hand just appear in your house and it’s up to you, as the ‘practical’ housemate, to dispose of them.
“I don’t know,” you say to Matt. “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know if this is just temporary homesickness because I’m not home for Christmas, or whether it’s time to chalk this up as an amazing experience and come home.”
“Is this the same girl who once told me not to make any rash decisions, because life has a funny old way of working out for the best?”
“Then I’d take your own advice on this one.”
And for want of any other options, you do.