I grew up in the mountains in the south of Portugal in a time where phones were tied to a wall and the fastest way to communicate was by telling your neighbor not to tell anyone. Mountain gossip.
I was fourteen, it was the spring of 1992. Ana was 15, lanky, discombobulatingly shy with long brown hair and the longest eyelashes I had ever seen.
She lived far from my side of the mountain. Too far to cycle, too far to ride or walk. To add to the distance, her family did not own a phone. The holidays were around the corner, I had to find a solution to our long-distance dilemma.
The idea came to me in flight
I procured two homing pigeons. Ana took one to her place in order to allow it to settle. I did the same to the other pigeon.
I named mine Valentino. Ana named hers Bia.
On the last day of school, just before the long summer holidays, we exchanged pigeons. This way we could exchange messages. All we had to do was write a message, attach it to their legs and they would fly home. Valentino would fly back to me. Bia would fly back to Ana’s.
It was a real shame, I remember thinking at the time, that pigeons did not have two homes — this would greatly simplify things as we would need but one pigeon. The plan was: we would exchange messages every fortnight, where Valentino would come home to me and Bia would fly home to Ana. This meant we had to exchange pigeons at the monthly village fair in order to restart the process. Not ideal, but doable.
I wrote my first message at the end of our first week apart and released Bia, who would in theory, fly back home, to Ana. Unfortunately, the pigeon never found its way home. I am guessing the message was intercepted by a local bird of prey. Another week went by and Ana released Valentino with her message attached to his leg. That message too, never made it to its destination.
A start to bigger things
Too much of a coincidence that both pigeons failed to find their way home, with teen messages of first love and desire attached to their flimsy legs. But the fact is that when next we met, at the village fair, we both laughed about it.
To be honest, I did imagine Ana’s father, a character I was not very fond of, had eaten one of the pigeons. Ana imagined mine had gotten lost in a storm that had taken the mountains by surprise that very summer. Birds can handle storms, their feathers have a harder time with grumpy fathers.
We wondered, at the time, if there were any more reliable creatures, at relaying messages. Should we get a dog? A special breed of goat? One-eyed donkeys…
The pigeon, in spite of our mishaps, had the best historical track-record. One of my early dreams of becoming a genetic engineer was triggered by this need to devise creatures that could send messages back and forth between people, reliably. There was so much to be done. The landline seemed so primitive.
And then my first love went up in smoke
I have a clear memory of a large fire raging through the mountains that year. An occurrence that has become all too familiar. Ana’s family lost a lot of their wood and bees and decided to move before the summer holidays ended and school began. They told me Ana had moved to the outskirts of the capital.
I never saw Ana again. But to this day, sometimes I still look back and wonder what happened to the two homing pigeons and whether they ever found each other.
That summer, I learned that home is wherever we find each other. Wherever that may be. My first love felt very much like that.
A new home was instantaneously assembled every time we were together and quickly dismantled when we parted ways. Whenever we were apart I felt like I was carrying around an increasingly complex tent, with nowhere to pitch it.
But over the years I learned to keep the tent simple in order to see it magically assemble, every time I fell in love.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is just one of Kwame’s lessons and learnings. Feel free to check out more of our founder’s Life & Relationship Learnings.