When you leave a city, no one bothers to tell you when your childhood home is torn down to make room for a new, better building. One with elevators and fire escapes. When you visit, you just walk through new streets, new people, skyscrapers you used to think were only possible in dreams. But if you stretch your fingers out to the sky, you can still cover the glass windows with a single finger tip.
In the neighborhood you grew up in, there is one building standing, not yet demolished to make way for a modern apartment complex. It sways with the wind, bamboo framework barely held together by crumbling concrete. It is an island in an ocean of planned rubble. It is midday and the sun shines upon it like a spotlight.
Inside is the ghost of a woman you once knew, when you lived here. She has aged and so have you, but you still drink afternoon tea together, reminisce about little boys and girls playing in mosquito-ridden courtyards. You have lived ten years without speaking your mother tongue, and there is a part of you that never wants to leave this little shack.
But you are being eaten alive by gnats, and your hair is going frizzy, and your skin is sticky from sweat and water vapor and jasmine tea. This woman, who has seen more change in her world than you ever will smiles at you, puts her hands, soft and furrowed with age, onto yours. She gives you a blessing, then sends you off with a bag of garden-grown fruit.
When you leave a city, you will never not miss the sunsets. Once upon a time, you were there and could grasp each falling ray. Once upon a time you could’ve stayed, lived every day and learned every new neighborhood name. But there is a white picket fence fourteen hours and an ocean away that you will return to. You think about your son who will never see the city like you have. He will see a testament to human industrialism in development while you will see your grandmother’s floating hands in every old lady selling vegetables on the sidewalk.
Grief gives you a suffocating embrace during the red-eye back home. Let another ten years pass, let yourself forget the taste of jasmine tea, cover old memories with a blackened tarp.