Fri, Jun 26, 2009
The Straits Times
A bittersweet homecoming

By Eisen Teo

SOONER or later, even a prodigal son must come home.

More so if he has finished his last university exam and needs to vacate his bachelor's pad of the past four years - the hostel room.

There, for the first time in my life, I was supreme ruler over 9 sq m.

For four years in university - unequivocally the best years of my life - this space provided me with the solitude I needed to come into my own, a literal male version of Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own.

Okay, so it was only marginally bigger than a hole in the wall. Other than a single bed, work-table, chair and cupboard, there was precious little space for anything else.

But still, there was no pesky elder brother and no nosey parents.

I alone set the ground rules and wrote the commandments - which, by the way, were few.

Now those halcyon days are over, and one month ago, with the end of my university education, I found myself reluctantly lugging my belongings back to the family home.

Only then did I realise how much I missed my brother.

With him being based overseas, I had my parents' unwelcome and undivided attention.

Suddenly, mine was no more a rule-free zone and I had been reduced to ruler of nothing.

From day one, they took issue with my practice of leaving random bits - soiled clothes, stationery, books - lying on the table, under the bed, on the floor. You name it.

My logic - which is that you can always find something you want amid the chaos because you remember where you left it - cuts no ice with Mr and Mrs Neat.

Their response? The persistent nag of 'pack your room,' 'pack your room' and, oh, 'pack your room.'

Any lag in reaction and they descend like ninjas and do it while I am out of the house, leaving me to return to a virtually unrecognisable area, my belongings gone (with no forwarding address).

Gone, too, are the joys of bringing over the girlfriend or any friends whenever I want - my folks put to shame Causeway officials who at least let in good, honest folk.

The first week back home was the hardest. University orientation was child's play compared to this.

Along with my own place went my independence of the past four years, which had come with managing my own mundane chores - doing the laundry and dishes, cleaning the floor.

My parents now handle that - their way.

While I thought I had matured after two years of National Service and four years of university, in their eyes, I seem to have regressed.

Oddly, I am still the boy of 18 they last saw at Changi jetty on Enlistment Day.

Maybe, in a different kind of orientation, I have to grow up all over again and show them I have matured - even if that means getting re-acquainted with their, uh, idiosyncrasies.

Besides, isn't arrival at adulthood a matter of being able to put others ahead of yourself, rather than account only to me, myself and I?

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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