I’ve taken to walking around listlessly again, listening in on snippets of passing conversations and fighting the dull restlessness and bewilderment that comes with trying to make sense of where my place is in this conundrum that calls itself life. That wasn’t a very original description of life, but writers are beset with clichés despite their commendable and-truth be told- laughable struggle to prove themselves by swimming against the current. That will be discussed later, but for now, I must tentatively sip my black coffee, jiggle my right foot a little, bask in the warm glow of a franchise coffee shop, and record those inane, or completely meaningful snippets of conversation.
“Hey, the train is fucking delayed mate.”
“Thomas moved in the flat, and I fucking hate it.”
“And like, what am I supposed to say to that? He wants to meet my grandma!”
“The driver is shit.” Titter. “Excuse my language.”
“I’ve got this new CD from a band in Prague…can’t understand it but it’s so cool.”
I must admit, the last time I was walking around in public doing this exact same thing was when I knew that I had to leave the country or I would wither up like an old plant and watch helplessly as my brittle leaves crack. It’s quite the ominous sign.
It’s also quite perplexing. Changing countries like changing the prescription on your glasses, every six months or every year because the eyes would get half a degree worse. They kept getting steadily worse but an operation fixed them. What’s the equivalent to that in this case?
Too much whimsical thinking means that the dog will forever be chasing its tail. I’ve simplified it using one diagram I can remember from school, the Venn diagram. One circle is the WHAT DO YOU WANT cauldron and the second one is the WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO and the intersecting middle part is the answer. So far, I’m having trouble finding it, because I barely have any savings anymore. All thanks must be owed to the ill-conceived and downright delusional idea of leading an independent, illustrious and filling life in a place that takes and takes and takes as you hypnotically give and give and give.
We were sold the dream and now that we're living it, we realize how shit it is. That quote-which we all regarded with awe and considered as a golden nugget of a life truth- emerged from the haze of weed and alcohol, in a rare sober moment in a room full of like-minded, warm-hearted good people. Rare gems.
(And I know what you're thinking
You're sick of that kind of crap
But you'd better listen man
Because the kids know where it's at)*
Most of those people left this country by now.
A bride stood outside the Anchor Brewhouse just off Horseleydown Lane, and I snapped a photo of her like a true voyeur so I can share that on my Instagram later, as if to say, my my, look at this wonderful city, how many times have you seen a bride in the street before! What an exciting life I must lead, go ahead and judge my exhilarating fun-filled existence in this abnormally fast-paced capital. Wasn’t the mention of the street names just an exceptional touch? Oh how genuine it all must be!
(A flock of cyclists just passed by on the cobbled street, but that’s just not very interesting.)
This city doesn’t stop. Everything works like clockwork, and nothing goes backwards. If you happen to deliberately stop to question, to observe, to record, to evaluate, to think, then you’re off the racetrack and your presence will be disjointed, there but not really there, and there’s no coming back, you can’t throw yourself back in the loop without comprising this little space you’ve created outside the incessant rhythmic marching of this city.
Most conversation snippets occur on the train. I gave up staring at passengers as if by reading their faces I could divulge some interesting aspect of their lives, and previously came to the conclusion that they are all dull boring people. How else would you explain the deliberate miss of eye contact and mouths pressed into hard lines while in such close proximity with other strangers? Cold, fake politeness.
The icebreaker is always a dog. In a rare occurrence, one time most of the people in the train carriage oohed and aahed over a goddamn dog. And just like other observers that do not hail from “first-world countries” I thought, the dogs here lead a more privileged and comfortable life than the people back where I'm from.
The dog sneezed, and I sucked in my breath as an effusion of melting hearts filled the carriage. The dog pranced up and down on strangers’ legs, who bent down to scratch its ears and stroke its head. The dog responded by licking their faces, to which the strangers happily received.
“He’s a pet poodle,” the dog’s owner said, her voice nasally and clipped. “I had to take him to trim his fur, it got so long.”
The dog pranced about near my legs, and I continued reading from my book.
“Oh, he’s a bit disappointed,” the same clipped nasally voice said. “Some people are not interested in him.”
I looked up from my book and gave her a soft, pitying look, but without too much emotion.
These days I am itching for a fight.
I read my books on the train, mostly Arabic ones, in order to ignore thinking about the lives of these people. It's a silly thing to do, making up little fantasies about them. I caught a glimpse of my own face in the black reflection once and saw grief etched there, below the resting bitch look. No one knows the feeling, and for a long time I was angry, furious that I couldn't make everyone feel the gaping hole in my chest, the disorientation, the feeling of helplessness, weakness, and the ever present grief flaming, burning my insides. I still find myself angry.
You need to give yourself some time, someone said.
Time doesn't heal though. It merely dulls the senses.
The strangers who do strike up a conversation are never from the city. An old darling of a lady managed to find out where I live, where I work, and what I do in less than 30 seconds. Very promising, I snorted inwardly, if I ever got on the end of an interrogation by the authorities. (What kind of stupid thought is that to have?) In return, I found out where she’s trying to get to, her opinion that everyone here is steeped in cold quietness, and that her country and people are a loud bunch and therefore, naturally warmer. Bye-bye darling, she said.
From the setting of the franchise coffee shop, I looked up briefly, and saw a family of four walking past. The balloon attached to one of the boy’s hand pulled free and as the father tried in vain to grab it, our eyes met. I gave him a sympathetic look. He ignored me and berated his son sharply, who shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. The family walked on. I shook my head, ever the sanctimonious idiot, and carried on typing drivel to prolong the inevitable walk back and running away from poised, stoic reflections.