I go to London to escape. Most people find solace in the fake sympathy and shared bitchy gossips of their friends, long hot baths that only leave them wondering how they’re going to pay their next water bill, or the bottom of a bottle, providing they make it they far.
London used to terrify and fascinate me all at the same time. I wanted to be one of those people who were brave enough to stand beyond the yellow line and knew exactly where they were going without looking at a tube map.
Two days ago, my friend gave me a key to her house in Queen’s Park. As a stingy yet proud individual who does not like to ask for things but also readily accepts them when offered, I was grateful but also aware that the value my family placed on self-sufficiency meant I could not, as my Mother put it extremely loudly on the phone so it was audible to anyone within a 100m radius, “outstay my welcome.”
For someone that proclaims me to be “flying off the rails” (rather embarrassingly in my early twenties when I should be doing whatever is required of legitimate adults), my mother is more emotionally engaged with her only daughter than she will ever care to admit. Generally, I try not to spend too long in one place. I get restless and bored easily, and I have a constant fear of getting too comfortable. This is probably why I’ve never really felt “at home,” not completely. Sure, I’ve experienced many different versions of home, but nowhere is necessarily more appealing than the other. At “home home,” (a phrase no one uses genuinely to imply that the childhood home is superior to all other proceeding homes, not for a want of nostalgia, but as to not upset those who raised you, for whom it is best to believe that you will never be as happy as you were under their roof and wrapped in cotton wool,) I feel most comfortable. Understand that this is not necessarily a good thing; it is also extremely boring.
This is not to say that my satisfaction levels are significantly heightened when I’m in London, but I like having the option to change, instead f waking up at the same time every day, smothered in the same duvet my Mum bought for me, knowing that there is only one bus in and out of town.
From Queen’s Park, you can get to Oxford Circus in 15 minutes on the Bakerloo line. You can walk 10 minutes and be in Notting Hill, choking on shisha fumes on one corner and absorbing the vibrations of steel drums and the smell of jerk BBQs that makes you recall a home you’ve never been to but kind of stings your nostrils at the same time the next, and I am reminded how my family come from Jamaica to make this their quirky area made popular by a film of the same name, starring only white people, their home.
The Jamaicans are still there but they stand on the borderline, pushed out to the edge of the Portobello Market, feeling impelled to charge £6 for a meat patty that their grandmother would have made for pennies, but the organic smoothie stall opposite is charging the same for some blended fucking fruit and you know that times are hard, don’t you?
Hard times are all we’ve ever known, they say, and we’ve thrived, we’ve stared happiness in the face whilst drowning in something else, so a special fuck you, yes, you, with the flat cap and Jeremy Corbyn beard, fuck you, in particular, my friend, for thinking you have the right to feel sorry for yourself.
I walk through the market in my black, ankle grazing trousers, platform trainers and unkempt afro, a smoothie and falafel wrap in hand. I feel like a fraud. They catch my eye, but their gaze doesn’t linger on my body as I expected them to. It makes me realise a lot. It makes me realise that here, I am no longer the novelty; the exotic fruit that people back home couldn’t buy at their local supermarket. I am an import in oversupply. I am not special. I am one of them whilst meaning nothing to them.
We keep walking and my friend points out the rooftops people were dancing upon during the Notting Hill Carnival. I look at the houses, nothing fancy but with a price tag to suggest otherwise, and wonder if those dancing were the people their bank statements made them out to be.
We go on the hunt for a patch of grass in the big city; something I can touch, something real that leaves dirt in between my fingernails. We end up in a children’s playground and I feel rebellious as we both clamber upon a giant swing, finding that they were a lot easier to operate when we were younger and had a responsible adult at hand to push us.
My friend eventually gets off and pushes me. It has been decided that I am the child in this scenario, the one that needs direction, the one that still has so much to learn.
The swing reaches heights that are neither dizzying nor entirely comfortable, and although I enjoy the feeling of the wind pinching my ears, my stomach turns, and I conclude that the majority of the things I used to take pleasure in- wagon wheels, rose wine, giant playground swings etc., now make me feel a bit sick.
In the evenings, you can find me in Piccadilly, Dalston, Shoreditch, dancing on the tables to a song I don’t know in a skirt that is too tight but in that moment, I was so focused on making everything fit, even if I couldn’t breathe. Guys don’t ask where I’m from, they just buy me a drink, and I’m blissfully okay with this.
In the morning, I wake up in an unfamiliar bed and the duvet scratches my shoulders. Out of politeness, I stay there all day watching Netflix. My fingers twitch involuntarily, out of a want for something to do. I lose count of how many cups of tea I make, but I need something to fill the emptiness in my stomach.
This is the London diet and we don’t eat before noon. After that, it’s a nibble on a digestive.
Takeout for dinner, which we will also nibble at but spend the evening complaining about what absolute pigs we are.
Maybe it’s London or the company I keep.
But I feel myself wasting away
And I can’t bring myself to write a word that means anything
I cock my head to the side as the tube to Elephant and Castle comes to halt. I think the destination is hugely ironic to me but largely irrelevant to everyone else, seeing as my legs don’t seem to be getting any skinnier if my reflection in the train window is anything to go by unless I invert them inwards or place the left one in front of the right.
Appearances can be deceptive.
Today, I walked to Queen’s Park station with my friend and now temporary housemate. We are both planning to go “home home,” but she’s planning on coming straight back to London.
My stays are always indefinite, which makes me a wholly unreliable friend and family member.
She searches through her cards, everything she needs to be bound together by a black hairband, and realises she has left her student card at home.
I can’t tell if she forgot it on purpose because she knows this is a journey I have to make on my own.
I catch the train home and wonder how long I can stay hungry for. After visiting the supermarket with my Grandma, who fills my trolley with food I will never get round to eating, but just like knowing it’s there, I decide the answer is “not long.”
I get home and eat my first home cooked meal all week, which I wash down with spoonfuls of peanut butter and raspberry sorbet. I feel whole and remember what it’s like to feel empty when food is not a determining factor.
Maybe it’s like the disappointment in my Mother’s eyes when I tell her I’m going back to London tomorrow.
Maybe it’s the way people here stop their conversations and stand rigid when I run towards the end of the path as if they’re terrified I might plough into them. As if I’m an eyesore, a blemish on their Garden of England.
I think the way people react to me determines the way I tend to be. London, on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit. It doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, black, white, a starved artist or a cooperate lawyer. London is a reminder that life will get you too and if you try to tell it otherwise, it will chew you up and spit you out, and you’ll end up in Bexleyheath, or something.
Maybe London terrifies me because my existence within it requires me to be myself, and I don’t know who that is. I know how to imitate people, I know how to take all of my past selves and make them interchangeable.
Me, now? I’m lost.
Ironically, I’m lost in a place with some of the best transport links in the world.
To put it simply, at “home home,” feel trapped in body and in the place I am trying to make my home, I feel trapped in mind.
This is the first time in my life where I have no direction. Where am I going? If I knew, I would tell you to type it into Google Maps on that phone for which your Dad pays for, and start walking…