What It Means to Be Home - 3rd Prize Winner, LittleStar CISB Short Story Competition ‘HOME’
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HOME
You stare at the dull gray table.
You feel the officer’s eyes staring into you like that of a ghost. He was the one that came when the store called the police. With a small glimpse, he was around thirty, fair-skinned with dark brown eyes.
His lips are curled into a frown, his arms crossed against his chest.
“Why did you do it?” He asks flatly, his voice breaking the thick silence.
“Do what?” You ask back lazily, your eyes flickering over him.
“Steal.” He bites. “Why did you steal?”
You let out a shrug. “Don’t know. I was bored.”
“Bored?” He raises a brow, his hands now clasped together on the table as he leans in slightly. “I’ve heard lots of excuses, but ‘bored’ is a rare one.”
You only shrug again.
“Where are your parents?” He asks after a heartbeat and your jaw tightens.
“They died.” Your tone is crisp and short.
“Sixteen.” He shakes his head and leans back. “Being young and without parents is no excuse to steal.”
“How about you lock me in jail?” You nod at him, your eyes dull and empty. “I’m looking for a place to stay anyway.”
“What happened to your parents?” He asks, ignoring your statement, and you roll your eyes at him.
“They died.” You repeat, a bit firmer, and he nods.
“I heard that the first time.” He shakes his head. “I meant, how did they die?”
Your lips purse into a tight line. “A fire. Our house burned down. They didn’t make it. I was lucky.”
He nods, understanding. But you stare at him, a bit fiercer. No, he doesn’t understand. He didn’t lose his parents in a fire. “What happened to you afterwards?”
“I was taken to an orphanage.” You answer. “But it sucked, so I ran away.”
“You should go back.” He tells you, his tone a bit softer.
“I didn’t run away to get taken back.” You snap. “Well? Take me to jail. I’d rather go to jail than be with other pitiful children like me.”
He shakes his head again, this time sadly. His eyes keep telling you, “how sad, you poor, poor soul.” You grit your teeth and look away.
“Here,” he says. “I’ll go call someone I know to take you away. She’s nice. I’ll deal with the rest of your case. You’ll probably get fined and—”
“Just take me to jail already.” You almost beg.
“So you’re the one that was caught stealing underage.” The foreign voice makes you look up to see a young woman hovering over you with a smile.
“You’re the one that the officer called.” You say and her smile widens. Without a word, she takes a seat next to you.
“How’s life?” She asks, her tone light with slight humor.
You wonder if she’s joking. “Terrible.”
She nods. “That was a stupid question, wasn’t it.” Then she let’s out a soft laugh, like she found the entire situation funny.
You stay silent. Her presence is strangely soothing, and you notice the small details. How she is wearing a gold bracelet on her right wrist that twirled together as if it was alive. How she smelled faintly of lavender. How her hair was not fully dark but consisted of small strands that glows red or gold when hit with the right light.
You close your eyes.
Then you feel a sense of sorrow. Something that you lost ever since you cried your heart out in front of black ashes and scarlet flames.
“I just…” You start softly, barely a whisper. From the corner of your eyes you see her pink lips curl up into a smile. “I just wanted to go home.”
“Then go home.” She tells you and you shake your head, your head dipping lower.
“I have no home.” You finally say. “Nowhere to return to.”
“Then make a new one.” She stands up abruptly and holds out her hand for you, expecting you to take it. She raises a brow when you hesitate.
“What are you doing?” You ask her, your hair standing on end.
She rolls her eyes, but her smile doesn’t waver. “Taking you home, of course.”
“Do you like it here?” Her name is Kashi Gray, which you find very ironic. Kashi, which means light, against the dullness of Gray.
You poke at your scrambled eggs and nod slightly, not sure how to answer.
She leans forward, resting her chin on her interlocked hands, almost dreamily. She smiles again.
“Do you want to live here?” She asks slowly, eyes trained on you like a hypnotizing spell. “With me?”
“…I don’t know what you mean.” You answer after a pause and she leans back again, letting out a soft laugh.
“I want to adopt you.” She says and you snap up at her, questionably, wondering if you heard her wrong.
“If you agree, that is.” She looks at you expectantly. Her eyes are shining and her hair looks almost golden under the sunlight streaming in from the stainless windows. You look around the room. Beautiful. Peaceful. A faint smell of lavender lingers in the air. It would be nice to live here, you think. But you stay silent.
“Here,” she sits up a little straighter and her smile melts into something softer, if possible. “Let me tell you a story, and you can decide after that.”
You nod and wait for her to speak. You feel her take a deep breath, letting out a sigh. “You know? I’m also an orphan.” You cock your head at her confession. She still has the same smile plastered on, but her eyes look faraway as she reminiscences old memories. “I remember I was about your age. Sixteen. Maybe even younger. You see, how my parents died isn’t important. I grew up too fast. I worked hard. The end.” She let’s out a long sigh.
“But life isn’t as easy as stories make it seem.” She looks at you again and this time, her smile is gone. “For a very long time, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore, what to do with my life.” She shakes her head. “I was trying so hard to find my home; a place where I belonged. I went round and round, like a carousel.”
“How did you get out?” You ask, raising an eyebrow. She tilts her head, allowing her dark hair to fall over her shoulder, a soft tug on her lips as she remembers. She reaches across the round table and takes your hand in her warm ones. You hear the soft clanking of gold against wood as her bracelet caresses the surface. You let her just squeeze your hand. Like a mother would. “Then one day, I was looking through my belongings. The few things I still had. I found this,” she lifts her wrist up slightly, showing you her bracelet. “My mother gave it to me. I stared at it and ran my thumb over the smooth surface and it felt so nostalgic. It was a memory of her. And it just clicked. Like pieces of my life fitting together into a perfect puzzle. Like I finally found the key to the lock I was desperate to open.”
She pauses and you wait patiently. Her brows furrows together as she tries to find the correct words, how to phrase her thoughts properly. She wants to tell you her story, and she wants to tell it right.
“You see,” she starts slowly. “Home is not a place. It isn’t the house you’ve been living in since you were young or the familiar people around you. It isn’t a thing. If anything, home is memory. It’s the memory of being happy and comfortable and safe. You see. So you can’t just look for your home. You have to build it yourself. It’s all in your head.” She taps her slender finger against her temple for emphasis. “If you believe you have nowhere to go, it becomes true. If you believe that this is your home, it is.”
Six months later I was officially adopted. It was a weird transition, from calling her ‘Kashi’ to ‘mom.’ It felt a little awkward, calling her my mom when I clearly remembered my own. But it was not unpleasant.
“It’s all in your head.” You remember her telling you. They say home is where the heart is. It’s all in your head.
You smile. Pushing the door open, you place your shoes on the shoe rack neatly, and set your bag down on the chair like it’s the most natural thing in the world. You are greeted by the soft aroma of hot chocolate mixed in the usual fragrance of lavender and a smile that you most certainly will remember. “I’m home,” you call.
By Kamilah Wong,
Grade 11 Student at Shanghai Community International School, Hongqiao Campus
(Source: Little Star, What It Means to Be Home - 3rd Prize Winner, LittleStar CISB Short Story Competition ‘HOME’ | April 28, 2017 | )