I had not intended to return home. I loved Philadelphia: I loved the bustle and the absolute anonymity of city life, being able to walk to my job, and most of all I loved not having to live with Mama. I knew Mama knew this as well, but that did not stop her from saying “come home Mimi, you’re always welcome to come home” during every phone call.

When the Pandemic hit, Mama called again. I came home, finally, because even though I loved Philadelphia, I could no longer afford to pay rent.

Mama was sitting on the porch steps when I finally came home. She was dressed in a baggy yellow t-shirt and bright red gym shorts, and her hair looked greasy even from where I was standing, down the by sidewalk. She was smoking a cigarette, a habit of hers that I’ve grown to hate more and more every time I returned. Mama smiled at me when she saw me, a wide smile where I could see all her teeth, slightly crooked and tinged yellow.

“Welcome home Mimi,” she’d said, patting the spot next to her, “sit with me.”

I sat, and it was strange. Was it always like this? Me and Mama sitting on the porch steps, me quietly besides her as she smoked. I felt like I haven’t seen Mama in such a long time, but the routine felt familiar. The rough cement of the porch steps dug into my palms and calves. The air was dense from the smoke and humidity, and it felt like it was sticking to my throat and lungs, suffocating me. She rested her free hand on my head, as if I was still her small child, and it felt like a weight. The time I spent away from her, even though I’d only just returned, was like a faded dream. This life, next to Mama, perhaps was what my life was always meant for, and maybe my return home was not the hated interruption of my ideal life, but just the world setting itself right again.

“Mama,” I said, “I love you.”

Mama didn’t say anything. I couldn’t bring myself to look at her, but I knew she must’ve loved me too.