Monday, 2 July 2012

The city has seen it all before

I sat throughout the evening with a smile I had to occasionally remind my face to hold and my hands balled by my sides.  I laughed at jokes and excited plans.  I felt genuine delight for them, but wished the thought at the back of my head wasn't there.  Maybe it too was enjoying the decent champagne and stylish surroundings; it wanted to come out and play.  As the evening drew to a close, everyone headed off in different directions, and I began my walk home, plugging my iPod into my ears and locating a suitably gloomy playlist to match my mood.

Tears start to well by the time I reach the first bus stop, one makes it as far as my cheek.  I keep walking, passing another bus stop, and another.  I'm sporting panda eyes now, looking distinctly Alice Cooper-esque, feeling very sorry for myself.  The worst things I think about myself crawl out from where I keep them hidden, under the everyday and the functional thoughts.  I am a mess, undesirable, broken, lost.  But the late night streets of Camden are not buying my self-pity, and they refuse to indulge me.  The streets and the people on them fling life right back at me.  

A patient, wiry dog waiting for his scruffy, hungry-looking owner outside a kebab shop looks hopefully in my direction; 'Have anything for me?'.  Inside his owner asks a similar question of the apron-ed staff, sawing greasy slices off a sweaty mass of heaven-knows-what meat.  They shake their heads at him and shoo him out.  The solitary smokers outside each pub sport eyes that look as rough as my own now must; tired black rings, some wobbly with tears, above pink spots on their cheeks from emotion or the cold.  Stumbling drunks slur words of greeting at passers-by, eliciting no response, just avoidance.  Exhausted office workers, finally on their way home, slump over their carrier bags of shopping on the hard plastic bus stop seating.  A helicopter hovers two streets over, training its searchlight on some unmentionable crime.  Nearer home a woman waits in a shuttered doorway, a large grubby duvet slung over her shoulder, and not another visible thing in her possession.  A convoy of ambulances and then police cars tear along the busy road.  

I plod on home, hobbled by my restrictive skirt and shoes that are a fraction too loose, my watery eyes blurring the things that I see.  And London sees me right back.  And the city says 'Yeah.  And? You think you're the first person here to feel like this?  Get over yourself.  I've seen thousands of people feel like you, and they've felt what you're feeling a thousand times more painfully.  You are nothing special, little girl.  And neither are your troubles.'  And suddenly, strangely, I feel less alone, less desperate, less uniquely incomplete.  Living in London can be isolating and scary.  But sometime in the oddest, lowest moments the place can comfort its residents in thoroughly unexpected ways.  That night the grottier, more uncomfortable, darker side of the city was my consolation, my reminder of the snapshot nature of a feeling.  Out on the streets one anonymously slots into a continuum of urban emotion.  Each one of us is contributing in our own small way to the mood of the city.  There are those who bring happiness and there are those who bring sadness; most of us creating a variety of different emotional outputs from day to day.  But that's ok.  The city has seen it all before.      

6 comments:

  1. When I get into this sort of mood, I remember where I grew up (in a small village). I couldn't escape anywhere. That's what I like about big cities. you can get lost and find your way back. Emotionally and literally.

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    1. Very true, Muriel. And whilst feeling like just one person amongst millions can seem daunting sometimes, at others it can be a huge relief. There is anonymity in cities, unlike the small villages in which we both grew up.

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  2. I love this post (and your blog). It reminded me so much of a time 13 years ago (eek) when I first arrived here from Melbourne and it was winter and I was trudging back to my house in Streatham Hill, Radiohead playing on my Discman (!) feeling quite ragged after some pretty serious partying and everything felt bleak and isolated and as one particular song built to a crescendo the tears began to fall. Weirdly, at that moment I actually began to feel better and realised that I was being more than a little self indulgent!

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    1. Well, thank you very much, LondonRob! And nice to know that someone else has experienced something similar...

      (Ah, a Discman...those were the days, eh?!)

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  3. I sometimes select a soundtrack for the moment. It can feel like being in a movie.

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    1. I know what you mean, Rashbre. Only somehow in the movie, the protagonist remains perfectly made-up and it's all sort of romantically tragic rather than pathetic!

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