Calum McSwiggan

A Small Piece of Home

In Eat on July 24, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Gibraltar By Night

‘How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.’

– William Faulkner

The rich Spanish man sat opposite me, his feet perched on the desk, and a lit cigar balanced between two of his fingers. He spoke quickly and passionately, filling the air with thick smoke, before clapping his hands together and nodding suggestively towards my bag. This moment had been a long time coming, and as I reached down and withdrew the largest wad of cash I’d ever had, I knew that just like that, I finally had a home.

It had all started on that first day in Thailand when I’d arrived at the temple gates with a colossal case of food poisoning. Still dizzy and nauseated, I stood in the doorway of a dark spider infested room, watching the lodging pigeons flapping their wings in wild panic, and wondering what on earth I’d signed up for. A few meditation mats lay scattered across the floor, the window was a mere hole in the wall, and thick cobwebs hung from the ceiling. It wasn’t much, but it’d be my room for the next five weeks.

Carefully sweeping the arachnid nests from the wall, I uncovered a list of advice that had been left there to help the next volunteer get through the month. Scrawled in the insane handwriting of my predecessor, the guidance was as follows:

Lizards and spiders are your friends, they eat mosquitoes
Don’t watch porn, the monks will check your browser history
Leave powder under the door to stop fire ants getting in
Watch out for scorpions

I laughed as I read these rules aloud but ceased destroying the homes of my spider friends immediately and wasted absolutely no time in sprinkling talcum powder under the door and eradicating the pornography from my search history. Like it or not, this was going to be my home for the next month, and I might as well have made the most of it.

Stacking the meditation mats together to make myself an improvised bed, I gave myself a wide berth from my friends scuttling along the walls, and hung my red and gold mosquito net in the centre of the room. I had bought it in Khan Market in India, and for the next few weeks the only time I’d feel safe would be when I was wrapped up in the safety of its cocoon.

I took a trip into town and bought some cushions and a blanket, lit some citronella candles to keep away the critters, and even found an old abandoned writing desk that I cleaned up and placed in the corner. It’s been no secret that for the past year I’ve been looking for somewhere to call my home, and oddly, fixing up this small infested room began to quickly inspire those very feelings.

I may have squealed in terror at night as unseen creatures skittered across my body, I may not have been able to sleep in the unbearable unrelenting heat, and the room may have flooded every time it rained, but none of that mattered. To me, this was a small piece of home.

Having new friends sleeping in the same squalor is what kept us all sane. The living conditions were beyond dreadful, but by ridiculing the hilarity of the situation, we managed to sugar coat the whole experience. A scorpion attacked me in the shower today, one of us would laugh, and then a tarantula dived onto my head while I was brushing my teeth. We compared stories at the end of each day, and it became almost a competition of who’d had it worse. That’s nothing, someone would cry, a cobra chased me to the temple this morning, and a buffalo kicked my door down last night.

We became a little family, scrounging together food scraps to throw together a meal, staying up late to play forbidden card games,  and sneaking down into Tiger Canyon after dark to indulge in midnight horror films. Stripping everything down to basics with the companionship of new friends made me realise that this is what I’d been searching for all along.

The thought of having to go back to my real job, and again impose upon my parent’s guest bedroom, terrified me more than any scorpion infested shower ever could. Every day that passed only concreted more and more for me what I had to do. Like a broken record, I kept everyone up at night mulling over my options, talking and talking and talking. It became more and more apparent that if I left things how they were, I’d wind up desperately unhappy. Something had to change.

I thought about that wish I’d made on my birthday, I’d wished for summer romance. It was something that, no matter how badly I wanted it, was never going to happen in the situation I was in. I happened upon the idea of having my own place by the beach in Spain, and having friends from all over the world come to visit, and before I could even think it all through, I’d made up my mind.

I was going to move into that dream apartment by the beach, and ask for a pay rise to pay for it. I would set up a life in Spain and spend the rest of the year spending afternoons lazing on the beach, drinking wine, and gorging myself on tapas. I set my plan in motion the moment the plane touched down on the runway, and only one week later, I’d gotten the raise I wanted and was handing over that fat wad of cash for my new apartment.

The rich Spanish man took my money and handed me the keys, and before I’d even moved in, I started booking friends in to visit. It was an incredible feeling as I stepped over the threshold and unpacked my bags for the first time in over a year. This would be it, I thought, climbing into bed on the first night and staring out of the window at the magnificently lit Rock of Gibraltar. This is what I’ve been waiting for. 

I lay still for a few moments before getting up and going to stand on the balcony. I listened to the Spanish celebrating in the streets below, and sucked in the cool sea air as I watched a topless man perched on his window ledge across the street. The yellow glow from his bedroom light drew me in as he took sips from his glass of wine and gave me a small nod. This would do just perfectly, I thought, smiling back at him. This would be my new home.

Oh how wrong I was.

  1. This is my favorite post. It’s very humorous and I love your writing style. You definitely bring us into what your experiencing and feeling 🙂

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