Tearing through heavy autumnal clouds, and blustery moorland, initially. The landscape becomes more urban, more populated. The train is hauling me into a place I shouldn’t be. It’s a visceral feeling, a deeply troubling anxiety. An exasperated inner voice says, ‘No..’ but I hold my breath and the train glides me towards it anyway. Like a child led in to the playground of a new school, hand gripped firmly by parent. The playground is full; children shouting, screaming, laughing at games that she’s not part of, doesn’t want to be part of. Hand is released and moved to her back, a gentle but firm forward motion propelling her further into the playground to take those first steps alone, to endure those first painful interactions.
First days and weeks back in the city. I want to cocoon my mind and body, to release myself from the relentless stimulation. Messages from old friends irritate. ‘Welcome back!! Must catch up!’ ‘Dinner this week?? Free 16th and 17th after 8:30 or between 5 and 7 tomorrow! Let me know when’s best for you!’ ‘Glad you’re back, shall I pop round tomorrow? So much gossip to catch up on!!’ I groan. Can’t you leave me alone? Every buzz of my device, an unwanted invasion of my personal space. An irritant fly that won’t go away.
Converse I also feel empty, lonely. Disconnected from the big, brash and busy city around me that doesn’t care whether I’m here or there. In London, life charges on, people come, people go. The city doesn’t stop. It doesn’t open its arms to me, to anyone. My hometown observes returners and newcomers with a reserved curiosity. London will snatch you from the train platform with barely a greeting and move you along. An impatient, mischievous and rather eccentric aunt - ‘come on, time to get back on, the ride isn’t going to stop…’
Months later, the dust has settled, I am calmer. I have found a place for myself amongst the chaos. The city holds me. The isolation and the loneliness have eased. Constantly surrounded but also anonymous, I am calm, small, and at peace with my insignificance. I am not lonely. I write this sitting alone, at my kitchen table. In the soft evening light, I listen to the sounds around me. The birds outside; the cuckoo softly signalling the end of the day. My pen scratches across the page. The overground whistles, neighbours murmur. My breath has slows, deepens. A deep contentment drifts over me. Life is happening all around me, the city is full of tantalising possibility.