By: Aaliyah Aboobaker
The excitement in the hall was palpable. Contestants, no older than 12, were at the edge of their seats, anxiously awaiting their turn to speak. School shoes tapped insistently against the slightly scuffed wooden flooring. Teachers flew around, seemingly in two places at once, ensuring that the public speaking ran smoothly.
I reached for my mom with one hand, the other nervously thumbing the cue cards in the pocket of my school blazer. She gave my hand a comforting squeeze. I immediately felt better. There was always something reassuring about her presence in a strange environment.
One after the other, we all had our turn. I was just as enthralled about listening to the others’ speeches, as I was excited about sharing mine. We each had different ideas about what “The Most Beautiful Place in the World” was. The audience hiked up to the peaks of the mountains in Fiji, swam in the sparkling blue waters of the Bahamas and journeyed with me to exotic Dubai.
After taking my seat, I felt eager to hear what the next contestant would say. We had all touched on our stunning cities… Where would she take us? When she began her speech, the energy of the room shifted slightly. Teachers were nodding their heads and parents were smiling. I simply could not understand why. To her, the most beautiful place on earth was in her mother’s arms. ‘How pretentious,’ I thought to myself, with a roll of my eyes.
Even for years after, I never understood why she chose that particular topic. Everyone else spoke on exciting locations. There weren’t many things more scintillating than travel, and I was presumptuous to wonder why her world was so restricted to the familiar.
Six years later, the time came for me to choose a university. I jumped at the chance to study outside Durban, my hometown. Grahamstown seemed particularly appealing and I was excited at the prospect of experiencing the freedom that comes with living and studying in such a quaint town. I felt one step closer to seeing the big beautiful world.
Plans were made and the time to establish a new home arrived. After settling me in, my mom left Grahamstown. I stood at the window and watched her car drive away, into the sunset that was closing in on this picturesque town. I sighed happily, thinking that perhaps South Africa is the most beautiful place on Earth. That is, until her car turned the corner and I realised that the only place I wanted to be was in her arms.