When they tell you that the older you become, the faster time flies, you don't believe it.
Because you are too busy counting down from twelve, the last few seconds of the worn out year dripping between your lips. The heavy weight of waiting resting on your shoulder blades, the brightness of new possibilities like the glittering confetti ready to burst on the streets. Maybe it’s a little over-rated, the brash and bold hype over this tiny frame of time ultimately meaningless. But you can’t help but let the excitement of change fizz in your chest like the sneaky flute of champagne you sipped whilst your father looked the other way. Before you know it, you’ve hit zero. A clock strikes, people cheer and there are booms and bursts in the distance. Arms wrap around you and you finally feel like you can breathe. You close your eyes to let it all sink in, time and weight and gravity, and hope the moments mull into gold.
When you open them, you're halfway through what they call the ‘most important exams you'll have taken so far’. The barren walls of the examination hall are colder than the face of your teachers when you scraped a pass in one of the practice tests that now seem so far away. All you can concentrate on is that tick tick tick, drumming through your skull until all of those sleepless, anxiety soaked nights catch up to you. You are amongst rows upon rows of identical classmates, clones all vying for the same success. Pencils scratch against pristine paper. A rough voice asks for some tissue. Table legs rattle as you can’t help but fidget in a desperate attempt to relieve the indescribable tension that's pulling every cell in your body apart. The question paper glares at you, harsh black against clean white, and you pray that something comes to mind. And they somehow do, the thoughts flow from the pools in your brain, forcing knowledge out of your fingertips as if they were magic.
When you look up, the sun’s in your face and the salty scent of street food and sunscreen is thick on your skin. A breeze weighed down by humidity brush against your bare shoulders as you bathe in the sweet glow of freedom and sloth. School has passed. Your mind has switched off. You are done. There is an art of tuning out any sense of thought after the kneading and battering of exams and you relish in it. Bells jingle as you stroll past, the streaming melody of a language you don’t understand filling the afternoon air with colour. There are little lanes that criss cross like the bracelets you and your friends made last weekend, vibrant keychains and knick-knacks matching the paint on your toenails they picked for you. You breathe in deeply and let the golden taste of the wind fill your lungs till they can't expand anymore.
Just as you release your breath, you realise that summer is gone. You're on a plane, halfway across oceans and mountains, to a place that you have only read in stories. In front of you sits a monochromatic palette of beige food that fails to entice even your own ravenous appetite. Your mother sleeps noiselessly on one side, a stranger sobbing to a period movie a touch too loudly on the other. Wrestling in your tiny allocated space, you dream of what the other side will hold. Will the songs do it justice or will it all just be a facade? It seems like you’ve only just found a comfortable enough position when the plane jolts to a stop. Like luggage, you are ushered and hoarded out of the aircraft and into the biting air. Your feet itch to explore, to find out what this new home will be like, as the black taxi you've been waiting for barely stops and you pull open the door to rush into its warmth.
But when you enter, you're met with a thousand new faces, a thousand new set of eyes that you must grow to know. It's worse than diving into icy water because at least the cold prevents you from feeling, from remembering the warmth of home, the past, the known. Here, they do everything slightly strange. As if everything in your house has shifted two inches to the left; eerily familiar until your hip rams into the side of the dining table and your entire being floods with pain. Everything you took for granted is suddenly drawn to the surface and you are left staring at the homework you don’t understand, your phone with no new messages, the food on your plate that doesn’t taste like what you expected.
But it gets better. You get used to the eyes- befriend four of them (who’s counting though), despise a pair of them, fall for another. The food becomes enjoyable once you categorise it as its own cuisine and the wintery storms are undeniably prettier than the thunderous, tropical rain. Sunsets here are more beautiful than anything you can describe and the dainty, pearly white townhouses make you forget that you’re not a character on a movie set. New rituals are established, like buying overpriced juice at the cafe down the road after school every Thursday, and new shoes are broken into until the unfamiliar becomes conventional. Foreign becomes normal.
And here you are again, counting down from twelve. You’re not quite sure where all those seconds and minutes and hours went but you are back where you started. The same bubbling of excitement in your chest, except in a new city; the same clock striking, except different strangers cheering. But most importantly you- who has changed from the gift of twelve seconds ago yet who feels inexplicably the same. Wondering how fast time will fly this time. Ready to do it all again.