When we landed and the children were sleeping, I looked out at the tarmac and grass: no snow, the sun going down. The plane slowly emptied and we waited, as you do with small children, for the polite and rude people to file past, their karma from the flight built up like a weight on them to be lifted or carried onwards, depending on how they treated those around them. I had too many bags because the children were on full adult tickets with full allowances and we exploited every kilogram and centimetre we could. I took two trips off the plane, the woman on the bridge stopping me before I could go back on. We were the last off, the Malaysian staff looking impatient and I thought suddenly, You get to see the culmination of your country's rejection of me, the final bit of coughing up as I stumble out of this plane, loaded down like a pack mule.
I dragged our luggage through the airport, the children groggily following behind with Yoko, their determined father out in front. Pioneers pushing westward. The waiting corral at immigration was full, but moving efficiently as these things do and the Sikh man watching over the operation took pity on me, the father mule, and waved us through. I was then standing before the immigration officer experiencing the moment I had dreaded for six weeks. He took the passports, the cancelled passports with the student visas, and said the words I had heard in my head a hundred times before as I imagined the conversation: 'This visa expires in a month. Are you still a student?' No, I said, pulling out the documentation, the letters from the University and trying to explain the choices I had made the last year, how they made sense in my head at the time. He nodded, they did make sense, the letter made sense, the story made sense. Let me check our fingerprints. Look at the children's faces. Did you enjoy Malaysia?
And then the other side. It was over like that, ten minutes and it was done. We gathered our bags, and I put all of our things on three carts, pushing two myself. We walked through customs, the man in front of us being stopped before half of the bags fell off one of my carts in the doorway, holding up the flow of people out. I'm sorry, I apologised profusely while annoyed people with simple rolling luggage pushed past me. I tried to get everything back together, the perfect piles of luggage on the carts. Yoko's friend was there to pick us up as she promised: the Japanese everyone was speaking suddenly became very warm and friendly, pictures taken with all of our beautiful half-Japanese children who look like twins. They got in her car and drove away, leaving me with the baggage, and suddenly, in a moment it was there. I was sitting in a Vauxhall Corsa driving through the roundabout, driving north to 'The North'. There was the sign. BBC1 wishing everyone a happy new year, encouraging people to call in if anything momentous had happened in 2013.
I went north and stopped at the rest area on the M1, pulling on my grey coat and the Romeo and Juliette Puritos I had bought in KLIA for RM45. I stood in the cold, looking at my reflection in the window and feeling a kind of peace and silence that has eluded me for a year. Like I had been treading water for so long and suddenly, inexplicably felt the ocean floor under me. I could stand now, on the tips of my toes, and rest a bit. I could see the coast on the horizon. Now, to just inch that way. Make slow, steady progress. If there is any sense of home, this is it, in my long grey coat with the waist taken in.