Does it ever happen to you that you just wake up homesick? It happens to me, sometimes, especially on a Sunday. I wake up homesick, and it manifests itself as hunger: I wake up and want stodgy, glorious, British food – you know the kind of thing. Steak and kidney pie, perhaps, or toad-in-the-hole or a roast chicken. What I do when that happens, and I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, is: I have a glass of wine instead of a cup of coffee to get me going for the day. Red wine numbs you, it takes the edge off of your hunger.
I hate how you’re not allowed to admit you’re homesick, when you’re a foreigner. You have to always be on best behaviour, smiling gratefully, like a Miss World contestant, grateful and bland, pretending you love Currywurst and Erdnussflips. It’s often said, by both Brits and Germans, that we’re not “allowed” to be patriotic anymore – but I think you’re allowed to be more patriotic than homesick. People sneer at homesickness – if you don’t like it here, they sneer, like judgemental racoons, then why don’t you go home? It’s even worse for the Turks and Arabs than it is for “us”, of course – at least most Germans secretly think England/America/Australia are a bit better than Germany – for a Turk or an Arab to admit homesickness is tantamount to treason.
So, this morning, I woke up homesick. Homesick for England, homesick for the easiness with which you can live in your own country, the jokes you can have with strangers, the lightness of it. I lay in bed and clutched my belly – I’m getting my period, it’s all swollen and grotesque – and I thought about all the places I’ve lived in in Berlin.
Well, I arrived in Berlin aged 20, my first flat was on Kantstraße, 500 marks for three rooms. The landlord used to let himself in and change the furniture while we were at work. Then I moved to Skalitzer Straße. My old flatmate is dead famous now, but I was in love with his friend, who played cello. Nobody had DVDs yet, so I used to watch videos in German – I watched Erin Brockovitch three times hintereinander. Then I moved in with my Palestinian boyfriend to this tiny flat in Friedenau. We lived together, me, him, and his brother, I was 21 years old and I thought it was time I lived together with a man, properly. He was a Bad Boyfriend, though, the Palestinian – he used to lock me on the balcony and take my EC-Karte and go and get lots of money out without my permission. But I was a kid, and I thought I was in love.
I moved back to England for a bit, had an abortion, the Palestinian gave up drugs. I was back in Berlin when the Queen Mum died, we watched the funeral together in a flat in Wedding, we both got a really bad cold or maybe flu and the Palestinian made me eat a whole garlic. Summer 2002, we moved to a bedsit in Schöneberg, we lived together with him and about eight mates in a room, it was a bit stressful, really. We were waiting for my inheritance from my Indian grandma to come through. And then we moved to a tiny flat in Schöneberg, fuck, flats were cheap back then – €120 a month, one room, no shower, loo in the Treppenhaus. You had to wash in the kitchen sink like it was the Olden Days. The Palestinian boy and me, we spent all my grandma’s inheritance and then we got thrown out the flat coz while I’d been in England he’d been having wild parties. So we split up and I moved in with my friend Christiane.
It was kind of like living in a WG, except I slept in her bed, and I didn’t have to pay rent, I just took her kids to school for her. She threw me out when she got a new boyfriend, I left a vibrator at hers, I can never walk past Schlesisches Tor without wondering about that vibrator. I’d hardly used it, I don’t even like vibrators.
I moved in with Ryan’s dad, God, flats were cheap in those days. €180 a month, no shower, a toilet in the Treppenhaus. I got pregnant here, I needed to pee all the time, and couldn’t bear the walk down the stairs at night, so I’d piss in a bucket in the kitchen. Whenever I think of all the reasons why things didn’t work out between me and Ryan’s dad, I always think: well, he did watch you shit while you gave birth and listen to you pee in a bucket when pregnant, what chance did you have?
So, we moved to a three-room-flat in Pankow. It wasn’t that expensive, it was nice enough. It had all been painted a nice turquoise colour. Ryan’s dad was having a nervous breakdown, though. I think I’ve forgiven him for everything that happened, but I probably haven’t. I moved into a Frauenhaus when Ryan was five weeks old, God, I loved living in the Frauenhaus. I was happy there. Once men aren’t around, I really enjoy spending time with other women – but especially working-class women and their kids. It was really raucous and joyous there, although some girls’ stories were really sad. The thing I hated was the smoke – there was no way I could protect Ryan from the smoke – I remember once saying something about how worried I was about him breathing in all the smoke to a Turkish lady, and she put a cloth over his face. Which, you know, was considerate of her, really. At night I’d lie awake, listening to the sound of him breathing, coz of SIDS and that. I hated the smoke.
When he was six months old, we moved to Friedrichshain. My flat was too cold, but Friedrichshain is a great place to live with kids, and the men are really good-looking round there, much better looking than in other Bezirks. I was friends with all my neighbours, although I never found out which one of them it was that reported me to the Jugendamt. My flat got too expensive, though, and five years ago I moved in with my Then-Boyfriend Peter (PUKE) to Neukölln. I think this is the place I have been the happiest in all my life although ever since Peter (PUKE) left I have kind of felt like somebody has kicked me in the heart with a pair of Doc Martin boots on and left this huge gaping hole where my heart used to be. Like a lorry would make if it tore through a primary school.
So, today I woke up homesick and phoned up my friend Dennis. He is the only friend I phone up, I’m a very bad person at phoning people.
“I feel homesick for the life I had with Peter,” I said.
“No, you don’t,” he said, dismissively. “You didn’t even like or respect him that much, in the end. You’re just pissed off he left you first.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “I loved him. I would’ve loved him forever.” I chewed the inside bit of my mouth. I couldn’t decide whether I was right or Dennis was right. I think maybe we’re both right. I would’ve loved Peter forever, if he’d let me – but I lost all respect for him in the end, coz I knew he wasn’t going to let me. Also, he did snore very loudly. The whole flat vibrated.
“I’m gonna stay in this flat forever,” I told Dennis. “When I leave, they’re gonna have to excavate me out? You know like they do with fat Americans?”
“Ach, Jacinta,” said Dennis. “You’ll leave Germany one day. You won’t stay here forever.”
And then I shivered, because the thought of leaving Germany, it kind of makes me feel – homesick.