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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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.

A Toothbrush Away from a Happy Marriage

I stood in the bathroom, my face blinking back at me in the greenish mirror. I look disgusting in white light, that’s for sure. The toothbrush was too high up and the toothpaste required too much effort to squeeze anything out.

Maybe I shouldn’t brush my teeth. I thought to myself. One night doesn’t matter, does it?

Gross, I KNOW. But I was feeling lazy.

But then my mind went to the inevitable scenario when I did get into bed.

D: Did you brush your teeth?

Me: No.

D: Why not.

Me: I am tired.

D: Go brush your teeth.

Me: I don’t want to, I’ll have to put my clothes on.

D: *moody silence*

Me: *ugh* *Gets up to brush teeth*

To be honest, I would have got away with it if it were any other day. But he is moody with me. Disguising it with a few jokes and a fake smile here and there. But he is unhappy with me. And frankly I have no idea why. Maybe I am too fat. Maybe I am too unsuccessful now that I don’t have a job. Maybe I don’t look good because I haven’t bothered to try lately. Maybe I said something mean about his family. Maybe I annoyed him. I DON’T KNOW.

But I won’t add fuel to the fire by not brushing my teeth before I go to bed.

So. I sigh. I scrub at my teeth and rinse and spit, and scrub again. And rinse and scrub and rinse and – for three minutes because my dentist said so. Then I grin at myself from different angles to see if I would get that classic *TING* only the pearliest of pearls can give you.

Nothing.

I brushed my teeth to make my husband happy. I wouldn’t have brushed them if he wasn’t around. I did it, for my husband.

What does that make me? Annoyed, that’s what. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

ALSO. Brushing my teeth is good. So, I did myself a favour there. Hahaha. What am I even complaining about?

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My Boss

So I had an awful spat with my boss.

It all started around a few weeks after we started working together. Previously we were mere colleagues who rarely saw each other, but with a sudden change in management she was put in charge of me. She had more experience in the teaching profession, but none in the subject we were teaching. I know how to speak the language and have been speaking it and also studying it from birth; she doesn’t.

She didn’t delegate, she micromanaged, she was negative about everybody and continuously found fault with other staff members. She had some excellent attributes but I just don’t like her anymore.

Her teaching methods were based on somebody who was speaking first language english, not second language Arabic. So I disagreed with her. She kept putting phrases in like ‘research shows certain things’ despite the fact that this research was not conducted on the subject we are teaching.

She said “I am afraid I will have to put my foot down.” when I suggested a change in the syllabus she had drafted up because it really was pointless. She kept arguing that it was what the management wanted regardless of the fact that the management had said nothing on the matter and have no expertise. In fact I am the only one with expertise on the subject but God forbid I put anything forward and have it accepted.

I felt resentful because I am parrot teaching children vocabulary so old that they will never use it, when I know better ways to teach them a language I grew up with and she knows nothing about.

Still, I bit my tongue. I held it in. I let it slide.

I let a lot of things slide. Time passed and I moved to another city, which meant a three hour commute to work and giving up my car. This made my journey harder, so I quit. I gave in my six week notice.

I told the management why I was quitting, and that there would be times when I would have to be late but I would always let them know prior to my arrival when I would be late. They said this was okay.

More time passed, and my boss started driving me nuts. She was so uptight and nitpicky about everything I did. I would come in saying ‘Oh that was a wonderful lesson we really made progress-” and then I would go on to detail why. She would frown and say, ‘hmmm, Lenora, I think you’re not allowed to do that. Ofstead want to see paperwork etc.”

Which, fair enough, might be true, but teaching is not about what a teaching board will say about how much paperwork your students do. My students are learning, their grades show as much. They are also steadily improving, and I have had good reports from plenty of other staff/teachers about my methods.

I just feel like if something is positive, need it be draped with so much ‘red tape’? Can it not be recognised as such?

Anyway, as time passed these little nuances of hers started really grinding on me, making me more and more annoyed. So I started keeping my distance, being as polite as I could but refraining from being too friendly.

So I gave in my six week notice but am staying an extra week because they really needed me. I agreed to help them out. I was under no obligation to do so. Also, other teachers have quit and they were allowed to leave without giving any six week notice; I felt that was extremely unfair. But, I wanted to help out.

Anyway, with this exhausting commute, arriving at work at the contracted hour was proving harder and harder. Train times were not always perfect and I relied on somebody to give me a lift in the mornings because of my heavy bags; walking for 30 minutes in the freezing cold with heavy bags after travelling three hours since 4am was just too difficult, and no job is worth that much pain. So I kept letting my boss know beforehand if I was going to arrive late.

I am ALWAYS there fifteen minutes before teaching actually begins. I am NEVER late for my students. Contracted hours begin 30 minutes before the first lesson.

She would always look at me and purse her lips when I arrived late even though I always told her I would be arriving late, which would annoy me. And it was only 5-10 minutes.

So yesterday I sent a text at 7:50 saying sorry but we have to drop the child to school so we will be late; (we have started to do this and it has affected the leaving time). She sent a text back saying:

Although I empathise with your predicament, we still need you here at the agreed time. This is the third time in two weeks and it will now need to be escalated.

This text was sent knowing that I am LEAVING in five days. Also knowing I caught two trains and two buses and have been travelling three hours to get here, to help THEM out, even though I did not need to do this and could legally have just left.

I was very annoyed.

Ok. No problem.’

I replied,

Please let me know when and with whom.

She did not reply. So when I saw her I asked her when this would be escalated (I AM LEAVING IN FIVE DAYS, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? WHY ARE YOU SO PETTY?).

She said she had reported it to management (it’s done, see?) and I would have to wait and see what they say, that they would ‘be in touch.’

I told her that I was disappointed that she had reported me, given that I had already explained to them that I would be late and I would always let them know prior. I explained that I am leaving so how can this be escalated.

I even added, ‘Will they fire me?’

She said, ‘I don’t know, we will have to see.’

How malicious is that? When somebody has already quit and is doing YOU  a favour by staying extra, how the heck does it make sense that you ‘report’ them and ‘escalate’ matters?!

She said she did not like my tone. I was not shouting, but she just didn’t like the fact that I called her bluff. How the fudge nugget are you going to escalate things if I won’t be here? What you going to do, fire me?

She is a control freak and didn’t like knowing that I was ‘getting away’ with it, in her books. Which is stupid because I had already EXPLAINED WHY I WOULD BE LATE SOMETIMES SIX WEEKS PRIOR TO THIS.

This woman made me so mad. She then rushed to the head to tell him what happened; and literally ran back to tell me he wanted to see me. AFTER she already reported the issue? Clearly wanted to get dibs on his favour. She was smirking too, which really grated on me. She was also panting, because of all that self righteous running.

He didn’t penalise me, by the way. He was very diplomatic and nice about it. He explained that he didn’t want my last week at work to be negative, and that the welfare of the staff is of equal importance as the welfare of the students.

He did not ‘escalate’ matters. He did not say anything about that at all.

I just. WHY. Why would you ‘REPORT’ me when I am leaving?! I mean, I didn’t get into trouble but it is the PRINCIPLE of the matter.

She basically ruined my last week at this school. I love this school, I love the kids, I love the staff. But my last week feels negative and miserable because of her backstabbing goody-two-shoes Miss perfect attitude. She can do no wrong but everybody else is incompetent. I just really don’t want to go in in the mornings. I never felt like this before. My memories feel tainted now.

RESEARCH SHOWS this, people. RESEARCH SHOWS THIS. Never mind what bloody research shows it. If I hear ‘research shows’ one more time I am slamming my head against the wall. In fact, no. I will say, ‘What research, exactly?’ and smile at her. Because you can’t keep quoting research without referencing said research properly, otherwise it’s just bullshit. And she won’t be able to ref the research because a. it probably doesn’t exist and b. it is not related to our subject matter.

I hate school now because of her. She has made it nasty and uncomfortable. And if I get a crap reference this travelling will not have been worth it.

The End.

 

So No One Told Me Life Would Be This Way

I know it’s a comedy, but you know what REALLY annoyed me about Friends season 1 episode 2, when Ross, his ex wife and her girlfriend were at the first baby scan!?!?

It made me so MAD.

It was the fact that his ex wife and her girlfriend had already talked about baby names, and decided that the baby was to be called ‘Willeck-Bunch’ after the two mothers… despite the fact that the ex wife became pregnant WITH ROSS’s BABY, and the baby was not planned with or had anything to do with friction Susan!!

And Ross was just there stuttering and making agreements and Susan acted like she had a SAY in the whole matter?!

She didn’t, and it made me so angry to see her there so entitled like she did have a say. Susan is the OTHER WOMAN. Ross’s ex wife CHEATED ON HIM with Susan, and just because she is a lesbian does not make it okay. Why should SUSAN’S name be part of the child’s name?

Okay, maybe she will have a big hand in bringing the kid up, but still. Come ON.

If I was Ross, and my wife cheated on me with another woman, then told me she was pregnant with my kid, I wouldn’t want the other woman to have a say in the kid’s name or the kid’s life. I wouldn’t!

It’s not petty, is it?

Anyway. That made me mad.

 

 

Marriage.

I think I am ruining my marriage.

I don’t know how to be a wife. Hell, scrap that. I don’t know how to be a decent human in a relationship.

I think I have pushed things to the limits and I don’t know how to bring anything together. And it makes it worse because there is a severe lack of communication, or even the will to communicate. Because I always ruin everything. And I don’t know how I am ruining it because I am not told what I am doing wrong.

I know I am doing things wrong, though.

I just don’t know how to fix it.

Last year I thought marriage is hard. This year I wish I was in my shoes from last year.

 

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.

Love Letters #30

She likes to be in charge of answering questions.

Secretly, it drives me up the wall.

I never tell her this, though. I just let her answer all the questions, my ones and her ones. It makes her feel validated and in control. And I think she likes it when she is answering for me.

It makes her feel like I am hers. I belong to her.

Which I do, of course.

Except sometimes when I am sitting twiddling my thumbs while she speaks for me, I feel a little like a school boy. In a headmaster’s office. With my mother.

I would never tell her that.

I love her to pieces. Also she would be mortified.

Love Letters #27

 

Do you believe in soulmates?

Because I don’t.

I don’t believe the stars align when two people meet, or that their names were carved in some immortal stone. I don’t believe the universe has anything to do with two people getting along exceptionally well.

I do believe people are destined to be together, because I believe in fate. Our destinies are written, but we have the power to change them. With our actions, with our hopes and aspirations that we turn into events and happenings.

I don’t believe that everybody will find their soulmate. People might meander through life never finding anybody they can truly call home, and living out their days with a comfortable companion, or somebody they settle down for.

I do believe that souls have met before, in the space where all souls are before they alight on this planet. And when they meet on earth, they recognise each other. That is why there is a spark. A gleam of recognition in a pair of hazel eyes. Easy, flowing conversation. Carefree laughter. Calm, relaxed, companionable silences. Like pieces of a jigsaw fitting neatly together.

I believe in soulmates. But not one for every specific person. And not one specified by the cosmos. A soulmate is somebody who speaks to your soul.

If you find yours, hold it, keep it, cherish it, and understand it.

 

Sisters

Everybody says your sister is supposed to be your best friend. I think that is a load of tosh.

I love my sister. Of course. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. I just want the best for her and I want her to do well and be successful.

But we don’t get along very well, my sister and I.

I know she looks up to me. I am not being arrogant here. What I say to her really matters, she listens to my advice and tries to follow it. I see her following in my footsteps and she would never admit it in a million years but I know it.

She turns to me when she needs help, and nowadays, what with being married and living far away and having a tonne of new responsibilities and a job, I cannot always be there for her, I know she feels the bite of that.

Being a sister is being in a complicated relationship. Many sisters have it easy, they get along and find it so easy to express emotions to each other. My sister and I don’t. We never tell each other we love each other. But we show it in the way we begrudgingly make each other a cup of tea. Or in the way my sister tidies up the room we used to share when she knows I am coming home. Or in the way I will give her my jacket even though we quarrel abominably about giving each other our clothes.

My sister and I tell each other we hate each other. But I don’t hate her. She annoys me greatly and I know I annoy her like hell too but we don’t hate each other.

I might give my sister a cup of tea and she will smile at me and say, ‘I hate you.’

As children we got along relatively well. We played lots of imaginary games together and devoured the same books. I wouldn’t say we were inspired by the same people. In our early teens we had similar tastes in dress and music, but hers took a darker turn. We are similar, but also very very different. How can that be possible? I don’t know. People say we look nothing like each other. Together we can be quite

My sister is struggling in the early throes of adulthood. She can’t relinquish the child within her and she wears adulthood like an uncomfortable gown that her mother forced her to wear. She is unconfident and hesitant, but oh so desperate to be where she thinks she ought to be.

Her aspirations are low, much like mine were at that age. Her associates are weaklings whose words are louder than their actions, and she projects their opinions disguised as her own. And it breaks my heart when she does that because she thinks she is so right and everybody else is so wrong and she is just mindlessly crashing through life and one day, like me, she will wake up with so many regrets.

Silly little girl.

But I know my sister. She can be feisty and fiery. She can be confident. She just doesn’t know how. And she is spaced out and needs a lot of prompting. She will come to me to prod her every step of the way in everything that she does. She needs to be handheld and it is frustrating, given that she is nineteen years old.

But I love her.

A secret part of me might be jealous of her. I don’t know why. I certainly wouldn’t want to be her, but I might be a little jealous of what she could become. Maybe? I don’t know.

I am an insecure person. I push myself and push myself to my furthest limits because I don’t want anybody to surpass me. I am in competition with everybody, even my husband. Some would say it is unhealthy. Who knows.

Do you have a sister? What is your relationship with her like?

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