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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The Menacing Drizzle

It’s raining dismally here in the UK.

Or at least, where I am anyway.

When it rains in the UK, it does not rain for an hour or even two hours. It rains all day. It rains slowly but surely. A menacing drizzle.

Why is it menacing?

Because it comes down seemingly innocently. You step outside and hold your hands out, and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t too bad. I can nip down to the shops in this.’

But off you nip. And as you are walking along, enjoying the fresh air and the tiny soft droplets, you are slowly getting soaked without realising it. Once you buy your milk and bread and whatever else, and you go back home, you realise what a terrible mistake you have made.

Your socks are soaked to the skin under your shoes (how on earth did that happen?!), your face is dripping, your hair looks like rat’s tails, the bottom of your jeans are wet and the wet is rising all the way up to your knees.

And all day you can hear the soft pattering like a thousand little mice all over the tarmac outside, all on the car roofs, all on the bike covers, all on everything. And there is not a single dry space outside to put your bottom when you go to the park. And your hands are cold and slightly grimy and always very wet.

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Day Eight

Well. I really miss my husband.

It’s not ruining my time here but it’s making me wish time would go faster. Which is simply ridiculous given that I’m in a different country and should enjoy every second of it.

I have nine days left.

I’m not enjoying cockroaches. Every time we go into the city I’m on edge. Some areas are infested with them. They are haunting my dreams!

Apart from that things are going well. I have seen a massive beautiful mosque right on the sea, all white and marble pillars and intricate Islamic designs on the high ceilings. The views in some places are incredibly breathtaking and the other day a man asked if I wanted to hold his monkey. I didn’t, mores the pity. I can be horribly moody like that sometimes. So my dad did instead and we took photos. We are going shopping today so I can buy gifts for my family back at home.

Which reminds me, they are voting today. Good luck, Britain. I’m vouching for you. If I was home I would vote to remain in the EU. Gut feeling, and also it seems like Brexiters are mainly focused on immigration issues. Nothing really solid. Also they don’t have any definitive plans for anything if we do leave. That sounds mighty unpredictable to me.

I wish Jeremy Corbyn was our prime minister, really. The Tories are sucking the life out of poor British people. If you are going to cut their benefits then don’t raise their tax. I’m seeing more and more suffering daily, and being in a poor country like Morocco is only highlighting to me what corruption does to society. They are suffering here. There are no opportunities, only greed.

I’ve spoken to several people on this matter and everybody says the same thing. Life here is hard unless you are rich.

Apart from that, I have learnt some sentences in the Moroccan dialect. For example, ‘wahhashtik bizzaaf’ means ‘I missed you alot’, and in regular Arabic its ‘ishtaqtu ilayki katheeran’. Very different, right? They don’t really understand my regular Arabic. To them, I’m speaking Shakespeare. And nowhere near as refined! I used to be able to speak fluently in the UAE dialect but seven years and I’ve forgotten.

Disheartened

I waited all day in the hospital on Friday because of an ailment I had. I had a needle pushed jerkily into my hand by a fourth year Medical student. She seemed shy and withdrawn, but I spoke to her and asked her about her studies, and she seemed to open up a little and we had a small laugh together.

The nurses were hustled and bustled, hair askew and irate. They had too much on. The doctors were seeing to and speaking to several patients at a time.

While sitting on the bed in the triage unit, I asked the doctor, while he was tapping away at another patient’s report: “Sorry to bother you, this is a completely unrelated question, but is all this (meaning the 11 hour wait, the lack of enough doctors to deal with patients, the lack of nurses) because of the cuts to the NHS?”

He was hesitant to reply but when he did, it was apparent that he was stressed out with the workload and said they hadn’t enough “facilities to deal with demand.”

Fellow humans, my disease does not seem serious enough to be admitted to the ward but I waited there all day only to be told I was referred to my GP. I understood why I had to wait so long. The NHS is becoming inefficient and slow, many people are leaving or buckling under the pressure. There is too much, and too little.

D said to me yesterday, “I don’t know why you’re complaining. It’s a classic British thing, to expect everything for free. It’s a free healthcare system, why are you complaining!?”

Well, I wouldn’t be complaining if a massive chunk of my income went on taxes. I expect the best service there is, if my taxes are only getting higher. I make so much money yet barely have any for myself. And the money we DO pay are being used for ridiculous ventures by the Tories, like bombing other countries.

We all contribute money from our income to make this country BETTER. NOT to throw bombs at other countries and put our country at a higher risk. Better health, better living standards, better quality food, better government, better education, better society.

Speaking of better education, have you SEEN the new rules in schools now? Students run the game, not teachers. Teachers have no respect, and are the lowest paid professionals.

It is known that the massive corporations in Britain do not pay Tax. The government will attack a common man who forgot to send his tax returns report in on time, but will ignore MILLIONS of pounds worth of tax from a large corporation.

Also it is a known fact that the Conservative party, run by the 1% of billionaires in this country AND outside this country, all have premium healthcare and are therefore not in need of free healthcare. They are running their own agenda.

They want the NHS to fail, they want to privatise the NHS, and they are making cuts to perhaps one of the MOST IMPORTANT institutions in this country.

Do you know how many people will suffer?

The NHS is the best thing to happen to this country after WW2. It is one of the things Britain is renowned for, it joined this country together and made life easier for us. It helped to create a society in which less people suffered; the rich paid taxes to help the poor. It made sense. Of course it wasn’t always for the benefit of the people, but it certainly was more so than it is today.

Honestly, what I saw on Friday made me realise that this country is truly going to the dogs. It’s losing respect.

Sorry about this post, my feelings are strong on this one. It makes me want to rise up in the world and take control.

Dear June

I wanted to remark on how pretty you were this year, darling. You reached out soft, pale green tendrils of hope, an explosion of pink flowers cascading over lush green leaves, roses gently nudging their way into existence, a spattering of buttercups, tall and strong, among the rippling grasses, and so many patches of surprise giant daisies!

One of many surprise fields of giant daisies!

One of many surprise fields of giant daisies!

But oh! How you burned. Your sun rose every morning, intensifying the vivid colours of summer, but as your days progressed she turned fiery, torrid, stifling. She might have been beaming at us for all we know, but she melted our clothes off and forced us to throw open our windows and escape the humid confines of our humble abodes.

Tall and strong buttercups of the country. Taller and stronger than any I have ever seen before!

Tall and strong buttercups of the country. Taller and stronger than any I have ever seen before!

I loved you, June, in all your crowning, flowery glory. Your mornings were dewey and sweet with the scent of pine and honeysuckle. Your evenings were light and airy, when you gracefully shrugged on your gossamer dress, spun with the silk of a thousand flying baby spiders, recently hatched. The nights were heavy with silence, stars, and the scent of fresh, sweet grass and crisp foliage.

You saw me through many humanisms, many small sadnesses, and many grave realisations.

I realised I didn’t understand my mother as well as I would like. I realised that you can’t just brush things under the carpet, and if family members don’t want to push themselves, you have to pick up your own broken pieces and help them do it. I realised that you have to push and push, if you want your shoots to penetrate the sandy membrane of life, and just when you think you are done pushing, you have to push some more. You never stop pushing!

I realised that your parents are not as perfect as your younger self thought they were, that they are very much human and are always making mistakes, just as you are. That you will never stop making mistakes.

That was a little let-down, to be honest. But I am resolving to try my best always, to be my best, to act my best, to never lose control of myself.

You were glorious this year, June, and when you left us you let yourself linger a little, for emphasis. The hottest day in the UK recorded for nine years, was your last day with us. You do love to make an impression!