The week before the sunny week was what they call typically English.. wet, grey, cold.
Time for hot chocolate and memories.
Sitting here in central London, having walked in the rain as one used to decades ago, I remember what it felt like.
I remember what it felt like to be poor and happy. We walked because the bus fare was too high. It would pay a month’s wages for a washerwoman back home. Today, I had an expensive travel card in my pocket, I could hail a cab, yet I walked the streets of my youth, as I had before, in the rain.
The streets were the same,as they had been for hundreds of years, it felt. There were changes, of course. I had changed more than the streets had- the restaurants no longer looked forbiddingly inviting. I was judging them now. As I stepped into a doorway to check the map on my phone, I wasn’t afraid of being driven off…for my empty pockets. That never happened to me in the decades of living here, and I had grown up with the city, in the city. I spoke their language, joked their jokes. And still spoke of them, not us.
But that is not their fault. I had left them, the city had not abandoned me. It still welcomed my custom with open arms, even as it had forgotten me. Cities – harlots. They offer no love, no loyalty. A warm bed comes at a price. Friendships, they endure.
But old habits die hard. I sit in this library as I have sat in many others before this, and my spine slouches in familiar curves. It knows, even before I do of the stance I take…a dream like trance that descends rapidly, soaking learning from journals it would never see at home. The hand holds a pencil professionally, as it had learnt to do during the exams of my childhood, ready to race with the receptors in my brain…soaking the overflow, holding it in grey, as friends do. And wait.
The eyes, they glaze, the tummy rumbles, and I reach out instinctively for that cheap student’s support when lunch and dinner are indulgences- sugar. Magically, the bag I hold has a roll of polo mints. Not seen for decades, I bought it at a corner shop. Something in me knew I would revert to type in the city of my youth.
The serious students around me look the same. Some flash their golden hair, others their unkempt beard. Some have eyes narrowed with years of myopic focus on grand texts, most have shoulders that slope forward from bending over desks and sitting in inadequate chairs. Who ever said that a table and chair were essential to reading? This is the land of comfy, bring on the sofas. Or not, the students look who they are, some things should remain the same. This is how sacred develops, and traditions are made.
The books lay unread by my side, as I absorb what I have been. To revert to type is a comfort, but to grow and learn is a pleasure and a privilege only afforded to some.
In my tiny corner of a student’s world, in a cozy library, sitting next to a window that watches the rain weep, I have everything I need. Even a ticking radiator ticking away reassuringly. This, then is heaven. For today.