The apartment was still, as usual. The house’s subtle changes could only be felt if you moved. A shift on the mattress, the shuffling of feet to the bathroom, the water that ran in the sink. Small ripples in an empty apartment. You found some sort of comfort in talking to yourself, like an echo of your internal thoughts might keep you from feeling so alone. It was hard not to think of home, where each and every room was filled with waves and conversations.
You don’t mind it so much, the empty apartment. You only feel out of place in it, like you were never allowed this amount of silence or you never knew how little noise you made. It was shocking to enter the apartment after spending the day on campus. Only late at night, when your roommate got home, did the apartment explode with sound; but only because they would talk with someone on the phone. A quick nod and they would duck into their room, only to be seen again to eat or shower.
As comfortable as you tried to feel, the apartment would always seem cold. Like a hostile environment you had gotten used to. You remembered home as somewhere inviting and warm. Now, your heart just felt hollow, your soul's telltale sign that you knew you missed home.
Now you stepped out of your room, out of the apartment, making your way downstairs. The lobby was as vacant as ever, the only movement was the night shift guard being relayed by her colleague. You pushed out of the building, the cold air hitting your nose. The morning birds seemed to be in a competition to see which of them could scream louder. The sky was gray and dark enough for the lampposts to still be on. You sighed, comfortable in the morning’s emptiness, only having to nod to the guards outside the building.
You considered getting your bike from the rack, but thought better of it. Walking was better; you could take in the moment and there was always this little cat you liked to say hi to. She hung out at the campus’ entrance, always at the same time of the day. You turned the corner and sure enough, there she was, across the street. She sat at the entrance like she was waiting for someone.
“Hey, Little Buddy,” you greeted her. Little Buddy seemed hesitant, like always, but she still sniffled your hand. Her fur was short and warm with the morning’s sunlight, sharp beams beginning to peek through the leaves; her little ears were rough, like gentle fingers didn’t comb through them enough. “See you tomorrow.”
There wasn’t much for you to do today. Actually, taking in the day off seemed like enough; however, weekends tended to be particularly eerie on campus. Wandering around in silence seemed comforting then, like an extension of your apartment. You thought of a meeting you needed to set with a professor and felt uneasy. The idea was quickly buried, not wanting the peaceful morning be tainted with the anxiety of an interaction that had not occurred still.
You noticed the same details over and over again, not minding the monotony of looking at the same spots every morning. The patterns on the sidewalk, the cracks along the cement and the little tufts of grass that peaked out of them, the statues littered across campus, the fade on their plaques, the stains that showed the wear of time; you often wondered which was the oldest statue on campus, but never bothered to actually look it up. Guessing seemed like a better game. You took a seat in front of your department’s building; laying back, you shielded your eyes with your arm and watched the gray clouds slowly drag themselves away, revealing a warm, pale blue sky. Your eyes closed, almost by accident.
“Hello there,” you heard a familiar voice say. You cracked open one eye to find Allison peering over you.
“Hey,” you sat up. Allison moved to sit beside you. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same. You don’t have class today, right?”
You leaned back on your hands and sighed. “Right, yeah.”
“I’m just here to submit the papers I need to transfer campuses. I was missing a few documents last timeーapparently,” she rolled her eyes.
“The office doesn’t open until eight thirty, though.”
“Yeah, I know. It just seemed like a nice day; reminds me of when we got to school before the cafeteria opened with breakfast.”
“That was way too early in the morning, the stars were sometimes still out,” you felt yourself laugh.
Allison nudged you with her elbow. “Yeah, well, it was easier to wake up then.”
You sat in silence, listened to the birds tweet away in the distance. It was easy to remember highschool, even though it had been years since you had last walked those halls. It felt like an entirely different world, one you had been comfortable in, but not enough to really stand out. Everything was easier then, even if you hadn’t known it.
“You miss it?” Allison asked you. You looked over at her and smiled. She had been your one constant throughout the years.
“Ye--, I mean. I guess so,” you stopped yourself, not sure why suddenly. “So, um, you’re really going through with it.”
She noticed you looking at the papers in her hand. “Yeah, I am.”
“It’s pretty far from here. That doesn’t make you nervous?”
“No, it's really exciting!”
“That’s just happy-nervous,” you said, making her laugh.
“Then I guess I’m happy-nervous to leave,” Allison said. She got up and stretched. “Wanna come with?”
She means to the office, you reminded yourself. “Oh, uh…”
“Or lunch later?”
“Yeah, lunch later.”
“Alright, see you in a bit,” she walked off to the office building.
You hopped off the bench, walking towards the heart of campus. As you stepped over the broken pieces of sidewalk, your mind wandered, idly jumping from one topic to the other. You stopped by force of habit and realized that you had arrived at the little cafe shop. The cashier that worked on Fridays greeted you with a smile.
“Hey, same as usual?”
“Yes,” your smile comes easily. You go to sit in your usual spot while you wait for your order. You look around the mostly empty shop, but spot the two other clients that are always there. One of them made eye contact with you and smiled. You felt yourself return his smile.
While habits ruled your actions, you realized that these were new habits. In highschool, you would’ve kept your head down, felt like you had to shrink yourself, make yourself smaller in a public space; you would’ve been wound tight. You felt the contrast then, the confidence you had to be alone felt natural. You smiled to yourself, happy to know that you had grown in this time.
As you looked up to see the cashier bring your order, you noticed Don Silva waiting for his order to be taken. Don Silva had worked at the university library since you could remember. You had visited the library with your older brother, when he studied in this same campus. Don Silva had always said that you were the best behaved kid in the library. He’d always whisper like it was a secret between the two of you: “That includes the college kids”. Don Silva was very much a stark reminder of your childhood. He was the sound of steps down a quiet hallway, the smell of library magazines, the warmth that greeted you once you stepped out of the library, the cool breeze that carried you away, making the days seem like they would last forever.
He was all of this, but he was also the old friend that greeted you every afternoon when you were headed to the study group session. The sweet man you still kept secrets with, him letting you borrow study rooms to play MTG, you being his casual lookout when he wanted to drink his coffee as he filed books. He was something old, and something new. He was Don Silva.
Don Silva spotted you and smiled brightly, tapping his nose out of habit. It was how you said hi to each other at the library. You tapped your nose, too. It hit you just how much had changed, which seemed like so little and so much at the same time.
Today’s morning had been spectacularly long, but it also made you name the new feeling you had in your apartment. Yes, it was quiet. But it was a quiet you loved. You felt like you missed home, but the more you thought about it, the more it felt like you missed the idea of home. As the morning dragged on, you understood that you had outgrown your past. You outgrew what home was; you found a home away from home. And it was better than you could’ve imagined.