As I'm walking the streets of Paris on my way to school or some other destination, sometimes I'm so light that I almost lift off the ground. My toes start to point as the heels hover above the pavement, and I grin because if it wasn't for the heavy bag of books and ideas, I'd probably float away.
When I left home and all of its comfort, I thought loneliness would take its place. It was a price I was willing to pay for the opportunity to live, study and work in the city of lights. I sternly grasped myself by the shoulders and elicited resolve. Friends and familiarity will come. Comfort will grow. I mustn't be impatient or homesick.
The thing I never realised is that far from being alone, I'm utterly surrounded.
I hear B in every new phoneme I learn, and speech pattern I analyse. I see N in every chic navy and white striped jumper. When I'm trying a new recipe not one, but three foodie girlfriends jostle behind me, guiding my hands and chattering as the onions brown, giggling when my wild experiments fail. ATG bounds past me with a wink and a grin several times a day, with every “ca va?” I receive and deliver. Captain Pockets and I swagger down the street in our gangsta kicks.
My derby league (all 90 odd of them) admire the marzipan-smooth pavements that run uninterrupted through the city as they walk with me to the RER. And we all feast our eyes on wheels and boots as the Paris Roller Girls, so quick to embrace me, arrive at Nanterre Université, where we sweat it out together.
Walking home from the Metro in the evening, I feel the Treehousebuilder's hand on my shoulder and my eyes drift upwards, to the top-floor windows catching the late glow. Together we frame photos in our minds eye. Other past lovers get a look in sometimes too, in the eyes or set of some stranger's shoulders.
Reflective surfaces are a blessing. There are my brothers faces; both of them, eerily like my own, made up of my Dad's eyes and Mum's smile. I draw on their strength and character when I feel put upon or used. Grandpa makes an appearance when I get tired; the slightly lazy right eyebrow I used to resent, I now see as a precious link to someone gone for so long. I'm lucky enough to have Granny in my life still, and the cheeky twinkle I sometimes get in my eye is wholly hers.
People I thought I had forgotten suddenly stand before me, in the title of a book or the name of a place, demanding recollection. Pieces of a puzzle that I started when I was five shift into place. As I learn the tricks of the trade myself, teachers who will forever be linked to childhood sounds and smells of the bush come into sharp focus once again. I now see how subtly they guided me, helping me mould the person I have become.
Every time a familiar face materialises in the crowd, a small pocket of happy forms beside me and I get a little lift, and smile a secret smile. I weave through hoards of people on the Metro, yet somehow the trail of iridescent balloons that bob and float behind me don't get tangled in other peoples shoulder straps or worries.
Students, perfect strangers really, invite me to their houses. I have no relatives in Paris! No friends! No home! Their urge to nourish and protect me warms my heart, but what they can't know is that the girl they see as vulnerable, thousands of miles from home and all alone, is OK. Really.
She's tougher than she looks, and far from alone.