Love Letters #38

Have you ever sunk down into the belly of London?

There are vertical escalators, and sometimes they squeak and squeal, groaning under the weight of a thousand feet every second of every day. Never stopping. Hundreds of stories and minds. Millions of thoughts, whispered in thousands of accents, drowned by the voices of people getting things done.

There are pictures on the metal walls, pictures that move and shift and change shapes, kaleidoscopic in their constant swirling motion, and for a moment you want to go to the theatre and see Les Miserable, and the next moment the thought vanishes from your brain as you frantically feel your way through pale yellow tunnels, following the crowd and wondering if you are going the right way, can’t turn back or else people will shove you back the way you came, the rush of hot air pulling you further and further into the belly of London.

Old walls, crumbling civilisations giving way to new ones.

I was born in London.

Tooting.

Same hospital as my mother was born in. So strange, that thought. Twenty four years apart.

My father fell down the stairs and broke his coccyx bone the day I was born. He was rushing to the hospital to see his first child. For twenty three years he hasn’t been able to sit properly.

When I was six years old, my stomach curled and unfurled itself as I clutched a small pink straw bag, descending on those vertical escalators down, down down below the crowded surface of the busy city.

Do we have to go on the tube? Can’t we go on the overground train?

Don’t be so silly, Lenora. Look sharp now, quickly!

My mother, seasoned, marching through the tunnels with myself and my little brother in tow. Stepping onto the train, grabbing the back of her skirt, sick with fear.

Then the hurtle, the loud screaming of the train on those metal tracks, the blackness outside the windows. Why were there even windows, if there was nothing to look at? Terrified. Barely able to breathe. Is this the stop? Can we get out?

No!? Ohhhh. 

A soft groan, deep in my belly.

Any minute now the lights would turn off and the train would stop and we would be stuck down here in the dark and heat forever and ever and

forever.

Loud, screaming, hurtling, whistling, wailing. I would close my eyes, begging for this nightmare to be over.

When I was eleven I read a story about the people who cleaned the underground tunnels.

You wouldn’t believe what they found there. Giant rats, and fleas the size of cockroaches, flittering in the darkness. An old woman spoke of the horrors of those tunnels. Yet, they were a refuge to many during the war. Safe havens, in giant brick pools under the ancient city of London. Curving under the Thames and even crossing by the long forgotten rivers that people seldom remember, yet traverse past daily.

And still, I was terrified.

The tube?! Really?! We can get to Victoria on the overground. What about a bus?! A bus is so much better.

Oh, grow up, you silly girl.

Stuck to my seat, sometimes shoved under someone’s armpit, holding tight, my stomach swaying as the train hustled and swerved and screamed its way through those hot, windy tunnels. Fear seeped through my skin, soaking my clothes and beading on my upper lip.

The roaring becoming louder, and louder, and louder, rising in volume and ferocity,

 – why is it so angry -?!

I open my eyes.

I am twenty three years old. I am sitting on the tube for the first time in three years, and before that, for the first time nine.

London has not been my home for twelve years.

Yet, every time I step off the train and into Euston or King’s Cross, a rush of overwhelming familiarity hits me.

The smells and the noise pollution, rising high in the sky, thousands of lives picking their way through thousands of machines, breathing in exhaust fumes and coffee grounds, heels on newspapers, sweat pooling in the creases of skin, accents and countries and worlds colliding as people get on with their business.

And I love the tube. I love the tube with all my heart.

I love the feeling of standing on the furthest end, watching everybody and their engrossed detachment from the world around them. The ginger man sitting next to a nun, sneaking peeks at her reading material. The woman who is watching a Netflix show and the audience of standing commuters, eyes glued to her screen behind the grimy glass that separates her seat from the doors.

I love the hurtling, screaming ferocity. I love the traffic of humans, all hurrying, running, racing, sweating, on the same journey but so trained in avoiding any real contact with each other. Physically pressed up against each other but mentally floating high above the tunnels through which they are carried at top speeds.

I don’t love London at all. I might love the memories I have, which lurk around unexpected corners and in strange places. That place that I vomited outside the Natural History museum. That spot in the British library where I tried to hide those chewits. That fountain in Hyde Park where I sprained my ankle and subsequently cried all the way home on the 319. That tree where the dog barked at my brother and I, scaring our five and four year old selves half to death. That rookery where we rolled down the hills and I got grass stains on my blue Alice in Wonderland dress.

But I love the Tube.

I love the old terror that rises in my throat like bile, because my twenty three year old self recognises it for what it really is;

Adrenaline.

Excitement.

Adventure.

Thrill.

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Footprints in the Sand

This short piece of fiction is part of a challenge put together by fellow blogger Frank from AFrankAngle – Check his post out!

On Footprints in the Sand.

Here is mine.

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Footprints in the Sand

The sun rose slowly in the horizon, its rays gradually strengthening to the music of waves crashing on the shore. Loud, then soft, then loud again, as the tide pulled the frothy waters away from the ascending sand-dunes, only for it to come scrambling back up again, reaching foamy fingers higher up the dunes each time.

The beach was empty, save for a few gulls calling dismally as their soft bodies were buffeted by the winds high in the sky.

The remains of yesterday were completely wiped away by the tides. It was fresh and new as though someone had washed the world and removed all human traces from the sand. No sandcastles, no left-behind toys, and all conversations that wafted on the gentle sea breeze had long been snatched away, sailing far over the seas to distant lands.

No, the beach was fresh this morning. Ready for a new horde of laughter and life. Lively in anticipation, bringing rose-tinted blue skies and soft, pillowy clouds scudding across as though in a hurry to be gone before the sun had completely reclaimed her power.

The beach was empty, for now, in these blissful early morning hours. The beach was empty, and restful, yet oddly restless.

The beach was empty, and yet a set of footprints made their way solidly across the dry sand just inches away from the water, pattering, forming, collapsing in on themselves all along the beach line and into the brightness in the distance, and there was nobody there to make the mark.

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Scream

A scream.

Into the world.

Through the curtain of air and atmosphere that surrounds the physical form of a life. Our bodies are vessels that carry a whirlwind of emotion. Our bodies are purely things, and we are the life that hums through our cells.

Vibrations through the earth and through our bodies and from our mouths to our ears, all the way to our minds.

A life is only a life because other lives are living to see it so.

The classroom was lit with four tubes of florescent, cold, white light. It’s harsh blue tone filled corners and silently combatted the deep, dusty yellow that filtered in through the layers of dust on the window. Dust that reappeared the moment you cleaned it, settling sleepily into the damp smear your cloth made on the glass, so that the next time you cleaned it would be hard and clumped to the glass in that stubborn, Arabian way.

The teacher, in a sari and bright pink lipstick wrote words on the board with a fading whiteboard marker, and I was disinterested. English as a second language, in a class full of second language speakers. English is my native tongue. I think in English. My mother speaks English and my father lectures non English speakers in the art of speaking English, and the nuances of phonetic English, the harsh science of linguistic English. I was bored out of my skull.

A blank paper on the desk in front of me. Ridges created by pens digging deep into the wood, small signatures of years of educational boredom. I pick up my pen and start to scribble. A shape forms under my pen, the lines scratchy as the pen tries to deviate and follow the texture of the desk beneath the thin paper.

A figure, with a long, skeletal face. Large, black oval eyes, the scribbles in circle formation to fill the holes. No pupils, just blackness. No nose. Jutting cheekbones, and a mouth open wide. A pair of hands, with long, bony fingers, on the cheeks. A hood, covering any hair, and the sleeves hanging out over the thin wrists.

The mouth releases a scream, loud and raging in my head. A scream to rattle the obstinate dust on the windows, a scream to make my sari-wearing teacher stare at me in shock. A scream to explode from my lonely soul and shoot through the thick air around me, humming with breath and eye contact and whispers and heartbeats and sweat and particles of skin and life. 

I don’t scream. I let my picture do it for me. I put my pen down and stare at my scream for a long time, until the black lines of my drawing start to pop out starkly on the white paper, and the light around me dims in my vision. Until my eyes are watery.

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Headphones

I was the angsty teenager in headphones. The black hoodie wearing, tattoo yearning girl with dark eyeliner and an air of moody misery. Sixteen years old and the world was against me.

Loud rock music blaring in my ears, adding fuel to my fragile emotions and intensifying my misery and self pity. I hid away in corners reading books and cycled for hours until my depressed feelings seeped into my aching muscles and I turned my depression into exercise.

Oh, poor, poor me, standing alone in the corridors, reading deeply in the library to avoid being seen with no friends.

One day a glamorous girl I was severely envious of came up to me in the library, in the spot where I always sat, reading a book.

‘Oh my God you’re such a loner!’ she said, her voice high and cheerful and her smile infectious. She nudged me.

‘Come hang out with me and the girls.’

I thought it was a pity ask. Our mums were friends.

‘No, it’s ok, I’m actually really into this book.’

Me with my oversized hoody and deeply emotional rock music. She tried several more times but I always thought it was her mother making her. Her mother knew nothing. I found this out years later.

I had no friends. For lack of trying, honestly. I lacked the try. I did not try. I expected them to come up to me and want to be my friend.

They did, as well. They actually did. They were curious, they asked me questions. I was shy. So I maintained a stony demeanour and answered shortly, avoiding eye contact and being blunt and dismissive.

Once a girl told me she felt I was ‘indifferent’. Like I thought I was above everybody else.

There was a boy in one of my classes who spent the whole lesson, every lesson, talking to me about everything he could think of. I enjoyed his chatter. I got first hand information on all the popular kids because he was down with the cool kids. In fact he was friends with everybody.

I was ‘indifferent’ to him too but he kept badgering me.

‘Why do you always sit alone in the library?’ he’d asked once, in between telling me about this girl he fancied like mad and who always sat next to me in Chemistry.

‘I like to,’ I told him, airily, ‘I don’t like you college lot. So I don’t wanna hang out with anybody.’

He laughed so loud that we both got told off and separated. Next class, he was at it again, asking me to talk to the girl he fancied for him. I didn’t. She didn’t like him, and had made that pretty clear to me many times beforehand, so I kept brushing him off.

We never hung out, despite his numerous invitations.

I never made friends there. Not real ones. I sat alone, and plugged my earphones in, and let the sad music wash me away to my own island of depression and misery, believing the world had given me a really bad deal and feeling dreary and lost because of it. I cried a lot at home, I told my mother I was miserable, and watched her heart ache for me because no mother wants to see their child struggle.

Sometimes those headphone days creep back on me, six years later. Making me feel lonely and depressed again. Reminding me of my sadness and my loss. Peering over my shoulder of a sunny day and stealing my joy, sucking it out of me until I am a melted heap on the floor. Self piteous idiot. Why should I let my own incompetence affect me now? I am not like I was then.

In hindsight, I should have gone with that girl. I should have asked those kids questions back. I should have sat with them when they called me. I should have made my own friends. I let fear rule me, you see.

I learnt something magnanimous from that experience. I learned that the world owes me nothing, it exists as it always has done and always will. It exists and it is up to me to get off my sorry, self piteous backside and explore it and take from it what is mine. The world will give me nothing. It has everything and it leaves it all there for us to take.

So, take! Take those damn headphones out with their manipulative music and clear your head and breath some fresh air and shake some hands. Smile a wide smile and ask people questions, and hell, bake them some cinnamon rolls. Indulge, enjoy, enter into other comfort zones, explore, learn, create! It’s up to you to make something of the world, because, as harsh as this sounds…

The world owes you nothing.

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Image source: Pinterest

Love Letters #34

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled. Our fingers were grimy with mud and grease, and the summer wind rushed on our faces and separated every strand of our sun bleached hair. You burned severely one day, and your mother smothered you in aloe vera and I rolled around laughing as you squelched outside like a giant slug, a brilliant scowl on your face.

We were bloated with lemonade and stuffed full of sugar, our feet hardened over the span of the two months we were there, browned and baked by the heat and roughened by hot ground beneath our bare soles.

It ended though, as I knew it would. My father had an office to get back to and yours had patients to dissect. Our mothers bundled us away in our respective cars, stuffed blankets down by our feet as we sweltered within, our noses pressed to the windows, watching as the adults exchanged handshakes and claps on the back, and our cars trundled on the dusty road, the distance between them growing with each second.

They didn’t spare a thought for the little people. They dragged their children along wherever they went and they didn’t think that in leaving the holiday house they seared our hearts. Well, my heart. I’d never experienced anything like the friendship we had. the fearlessness, the secrets, the tents and the battles.

There was never a summer quite like that summer. I don’t know who you are, and my parents are vague whenever I ask them. So I leave it, thinking perhaps someday in the future we may meet again and rekindle that bond between spirits.

But I know it will never be the same. I am too old to feel that surge of excitement when I think of the day ahead. Ants and beetles on the ground are nothing to me now. Your voice echoes through the years sometimes, and that summer heavily influences all of my choices and the way I respond to the world.

It’s the smallest things, sometimes. The smallest things.

Love Letters #33

 

She was standing in the middle of the road, when I first set eyes on her. A light, silken shirt was all that draped her small shoulders in the icy January air. The road was wet with perspiration, and the branches bare. Her face was pale, her eyes bright, and her hair a cloud of golden silky curls, bouncing as she danced this way and that, her feet turning in all directions and her arms moving side to side, up and down.

I noticed her first because she was dancing, but dancing is the usual sight in this vibrant city of ours. I did my double take because of her smile. When she smiled, her eyebrows rose, and she looked almost… surprised. And her chin grew pointy, and the tops of her cheeks pointed outwards too.

If you really stood back and thought about it, she did have quite a sharp little face. But it was so dear and sweet and her eyes sparkled with life and crinkled with joy.

Man, he thought, she really does love to dance. Somebody was standing in front of her, another friend I think, and the other friend was laughing away but in an awkward way, certainly not joining in.

Cars drove right past her, on both sides. Motorbikes weaved their way around her and people glanced at her then glanced away. Did she make them uncomfortable? He really didn’t see how they could do that. She made him so happy. He stood from his safe distance on the pavement, as the sky drizzled gently around him and slowly soaked him through. And he watched her dance away and laugh.

Presently she noticed him watching her. She kept glancing at him, and then she directed her smile at him, giving him his own little dance show. She was waving him over. Her mouth was miming,

Come join me!

He shook his head, smiling widely. She laughed, and he heard the tinkling giggle over the traffic.

Come on!

He didn’t want to. He knew his arms would be too thick and his body wouldn’t listen to him. He was content to just watch her rhythm, the way life seemed to happen around her, draw her in its flowing current. He was one of those who stood on the fringe of things, while life swept her up in its energetic arms and took her whichever way it chose to run.

Please!

A heart shape with her ever moving fingers, and then, as quickly as she had moulded her hands, she was twirling in another direction.

His feet moved against his will, then. Weaving through the traffic, until he was on the same island she stood on, the white painted thick divide in the traffic, separating one directional flow from the other. The no man’s land of the high street.

She laughed, waved at her friend, and took his arms, moving them this way and that, until he, too, felt part of the current of life. He felt it first in his fingertips, a tingling that spread through his body all the way down to his toes, a small spitfire of energy, moving his limbs without direction from his brain. He closed his eyes, feeling the cold, gentle spray on his face, and let the rhythm of the world take him.

***

And that, is how I met my wife.

Love Letters #30

I am a liar.

Em, can you help me with this tie?

Didn’t you hear me? I’m a liar.

He leant his forehead on the doorframe. His hair was thick, black, shiny. It was straight, almost spiky and fell over his wonderfully tan forehead. He was outlandishly handsome. There was no denying that.

Don’t you want to know what I am talking about?

He looked at her sideways, and there was tiredness in his hazel eyes, green in the dim haze of the dingy hotel room. Then he walked slowly towards her, slouching, his back a weary hump, and put his head on her shoulder. They stood like that for what seemed like an age.

Dean?

He didn’t say anything. He just leant on her, and she had to bend her knees slightly to support his weight. He smelled of leather and expensive spice. A hint of manufactured tobacco essence, and cinnamon. She could smell his hair, so human and masculine, clean sweat. She closed her eyes and loved him incredibly in that moment.

I lied to you, Dean. I lied ab-

Shhh. Just – shhhh.

His finger was on her lips. He straightened up, tied his tie, slid his watch on to his wrist and went to the door.

Come on.

She went.

They were silent, walking down the stairs. Her heart was racing, and she glanced sideways at him as they emerged through the dirty glass doors of the hotel. He glanced back at the sign, ‘Hotel Mariano’ the ‘O’s were blacked out marks where the metal letters were welded on once. The orange street lamps gave his face angular shadows. His forehead jutted out at night. It reminded her of a gorilla.

Why won’t you talk to me about it?

Just drop it, Emily, won’t you?

And now we’re just going to the party and pretending everything is normal?

Everything is normal.

You don’t even know what –

Just drop it. Please. I don’t want to know.

Do you even care?

I do. 

She dropped it.

Physical Relief

Had a terribly busy week. I was travelling since Saturday, when I drove two hours to go to a party, where I burned 600 calories dancing, according to my fitness tracker. I then drove to the in-laws’, where I stayed for the next three days to get to work. I walked to work daily and it took a good forty minutes, and helped my mother move house, worked till 2am  preparing lesson plans and studying for my first assignment.

On Thursday I went to work as usual, carrying a pile of heavy books.

‘Want to add more to that pile, Mrs Sparrow?’ one of the teachers muttered as he walked past, then offered to help but I declined. After work I went to my mum’s and slipped on my stilettos, then my brother dropped me off to the train station and we had a massive argument because he can be an arrogant overly sensitive jerk sometimes, and he refuses to listen to me and he kept speeding on second because I told him to put the car in third gear, even though it was a HIRED car, and he has never had practise driving while I have had a good year and a half on my belt. He is so stubborn it is maddening.

I got out of the car in tears, and caught the train to Birmingham where I went to the loos to slap makeup on my face for another party, this time more sophisticated and in a restaurant.

Then I caught another train all the way back home to my husband.

I hadn’t seen him for a good three days while I was at work. The minute I set eyes on him, waiting by the exit doors with hands in his pockets, my heels aching from my stilettos, and my shoulders heavy with bags, a wave of fatigue washed over me and I sank into his fresh perfume scent and the cold of his heavy leather jacket.

I don’t understand this phenomenon.

It was as though the mere sight of him took my stress away and my body began to really feel the duress I put it under. As though my brain subconsciously knew it didn’t have to hold on anymore because he was there and he could take care of me.

My throat felt scratchy and as he took my bags from me, lifting them as though they weighed nothing, my head started to pound, and tears prickled the back of my eyes. I hugged him for ages before I got in the car, just letting the feeling of home wash over me.

I had never experienced anything like this. A second ago on the train I had been perfectly fine!

All day today I have been in bed feeling ridiculously lousy.

 

 

Fifty Fragments

I am not complaining I promise.

Here is a list of things:

  1. Babies are cute. That is established.
  2. Frustration is inevitable.
  3. I am in and out of two homes. My parents and my in-laws.
  4. I have chores in both homes.
  5. I am also juggling a full time course, going to the gym, and tutoring five hours a day.
  6. I need to have more free time to spend evenings with my husband else I will never see him ever as he commutes to work.
  7. There is literally no space for me to study.
  8. Going to the library is effort as I am needed in both homes.
  9. Not all my things are getting done, leaving many parties dissatisfied with me, work incomplete, art untouched.
  10. I never have alone time, leaving me feeling angry and frustrated all the time.
  11. I don’t have time for painting.
  12. I don’t have time for writing.
  13. I don’t have time for friends. Especially friends. I have ignored calls for weeks. It’s getting bad.
  14. My husband is making fun of me because I am acting like I have it so hard.
  15. I am not.
  16. I am just sad because I want my own space and some time to do the things I want to do.
  17. I am also angry because I never get him alone because his family are always at him to do stuff.
  18. Even though there are other people there to do these things.
  19. It’s not wrong for him to do stuff.
  20. But I feel like I have less of him to be my husband, and I am never a priority.
  21. I also rarely see my parents properly.
  22. I also am having increasingly less time to take care of myself.
  23. And eat food.
  24. I am always hungry.
  25. Because I can’t eat bad food.
  26. But nobody has good food.
  27. Or there isn’t enough.
  28. Like today my mum asked if I was staying for dinner.
  29. Which I was.
  30. I said I wasn’t hungry.
  31. She said it’s ok. She just wanted to know, because there wasn’t enough food.
  32. Yesterday, there wasn’t enough food at my in-law’s.
  33. So I said I already ate.
  34. Even though I didn’t.
  35. I mean, that is ok.
  36. It’s fine.
  37. Honestly.
  38. But.
  39. You know.
  40. I just want my own home back.
  41. And to have time to follow my passions.
  42. And not have to bounce between two families.
  43. And live with my husband again.
  44. And have his mother let us be alone sometimes.
  45. I know we are young. And have no kids.
  46. But, you know, it doesn’t mean we don’t have our own lives.
  47. Oh dear.
  48. I think it will be fine.
  49. I just need to adapt.
  50. I will be fine.

 

Ok, I am complaining. Ha.

 

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Artist credit: Valery Rybakov