A London Memory

Deep down I didn’t know what on earth I had decided to do. My mind was in such painstaking agony, that logical thinking seemed as if it was a luxury for the educated and rich, neither to which had I belonged to. Deprived of valuable sleep, I was half awake and half subdued to my realms of personal dreaming; before a sudden halt made my head hit hard against the railing I was falling asleep on. ‘The next station is Leicester Square’, resonated across my frontal cerebral lobe a million times before I fully understood why I had decided to travel to London that very evening. Opening my eyes fully to resemble a functional human being I was both surprised and worried – it was one o’clock in the morning and I was the only remaining passenger on board; compared to what half an hour ago seemed to be the most diverse conglomeration of die-hard party animals falling over one another. But before I could properly get up from the cold and mouldy seat to which I had been plastered to since arriving at the infamous airport of Heathrow, where my luggage was not only delayed, but also stolen… I had already been pushed off the train where ‘MIND THE GAP’ screamed violently into my blood-shot eyes. You might be reading and thinking to yourselves that I was pissed drunk, but abash that very thought because I wasn’t; or at least I didn’t think I was, until I walked out of the station to see M&M World with three ‘m’s’…

 

The following morning was a painful start to begin with. Lying on the cold cobbled Swiss Court with the quintessentially London fog flogging my eyes, it wasn’t long before I could differentiate the true London commuters from the astounded tourists that had come to see what ‘across the pond’ had to offer. The Londoners, which is to say if they even are from London, move quite fast; shoving and pushing everyone and everything through as if they are the demigods of unbearable achievement. Looking at my pettish Sekonda watch, I knew it would be long before I could possibly consider upgrading to a Mont Blanc a reality. But deep under the wet and moist strap of my second-hand watch lay a neat and old photograph cuddled away nicely from strangers’ view. I realised that I hadn’t forgotten the photo. Only twenty-four hours had passed since I had awoken a long and forgotten memory in me, in the comfort of my own warm bed surrounded by my three hungry cats. That morning I had dreamed of a beautiful young girl by the name of Anastasia. Blond and beautiful, she symbolised the Slavic heritage that I had decided to forego long ago for something more exotic in another part of the world. Feeling light and glittering warmth in my heart, I sensed the presence of someone whose existence simply changed my awareness of individuality, society and what it truly meant to live. Her deep, crystal-blue eyes suspended above her gentle quivering lips created an unrivalled pompadour that had been entangling my heart and mind ever since my eyes first gazed upon her divine face long ago…

 

You may automatically be thinking what London had to do with such an absurd dream of mine, but it’s exactly in this city that our flaming passion for each other had to be put down. The dream instilled in me that not all was forgotten and lost – deep down, my intuition overpowered all principles of life that I had learned previously and for once, I wanted to follow my heart. After waking up, I searched for any remaining photos of us and to my content I found one – the only remaining one from a once full album. The matte effect of the old sepia photo had left little to the imagination but rather numerous smudges which beautifully assimilated into its background. I was young and so was she. My hands wrapped around her shoulders, overlooking the thousands nimble personas that passed our way; the daily problems of our life seemed a surreal fantasy that had no longer anticipated for us…without much consideration, my heart rushed to that city, and I couldn’t stop it…

 

Walking through the hustling high-end Bond and Oxford streets; pity and sadness grew at an unbearable rate, paralleled with the increasing tempo of my recurring memories. I no longer saw the beauty of London through its present state but rather through a nostalgic one, which I was unsuccessful at trying to recreate. Times change, and so does everything with it, including the greying faces that dominate our daily interactions. My heart was now entangled with a lost and confused conscious. What was the point in me leaving everything behind in search of an ideal environment that I once idealised, but in the end subdued so heavily that it could no longer bear to be suppressed? Just why? Every step I took towards Russell Square Gardens in scenic Bloomsbury where we last met was accompanied by heavy breathing and a tremendous amount of adrenaline rushing through my heart. But what were the chances of a possible reunion with the past? …

 

It was already past midday before my legs seemed to wander off through the sublime houses dominating Bedford Place. The street was packed with eager students rushing to their cramped lecture halls, and with ancients of the ‘Old Britannia’ regime that were slowly making their way to the British Museum on Montague Street. The cold winter breeze that the day had brought was gushing through my greasy hair at unbelievable speed that told me one of two things: I either needed a good hairspray or a more aerodynamic haircut, neither of which were on my itinerary. The cold, fresh air didn’t take long to force me to reach the end of the street to walk out onto Russell Square. The humble environ dazzled me with its sincerity that I had once known. Apart from a number of things, or maybe a lot, the Square didn’t change much compared to the last time I had seen it. The bare trees that dominated the perfectly maintained patch of land mimicked my inner state. I could feel the emptiness flooding all my nerves just as vividly as the atmospheric pressure harassed the young and bare saplings that struggled to keep straight. I slowly approached the moist and damp lawns to see if any presence had inhabited the inner junction of the Gardens and to my content I was relieved. There were some odd old souls walking here and there around in effort to sell and buy things which as the Financial Times might agree on, weren’t experiencing the best of times – books…

 

Having gone so far, I couldn’t possibly refuse to go and take a look. After all, I didn’t think that that would bring any harm to my already daft state of mind. I slowly made my way through the decaying leaf matter that welcomed me on either side, only to say goodbye as unenthusiastic immigrants began sweeping it all up. With unbearable coldness I had finally reached the chiasma that looked poorly to be only utilised by a single stall dealer whose consumer base had now fled far to more luxurious entities in Guilford Street. An old, bearded man wearing a shaggy cream trench coat slouched beside his table of old dwindling classics. His enthusiasm and warm smile, despite his age, unsuccessful trading and the bitter weather, welcomed me gaily as soon as our eyes paralleled one another. He approached me as soon as I had reached the small rotting wooden table, but didn’t say anything; just smiled and walked around with his hands behind his back before returning to sit back down on his small stool. He looked at me once more, this time leaving me to feel as if I had been mentally undressed by some paedophile. However a long silence was finally broken; not by me of course, but rather by the old gentleman; ‘have we met each other before?’ he asked in a hoarse Indian accent. I paused, and then immediately remembered the exact same man that Anastasia, or Nastya as I had called her, sold her book to. I looked down at the books that he had to offer and gently replied, ‘no, I don’t think so’, in an effort to avoid a long discussion at all costs. Another long period of silence followed; before it was once again interrupted by the old man. ‘I still have the book which you, along with your beloved one had sold to me’ …

 

I didn’t believe him at all and decided to walk away as quickly as possible. My pace increasing, I heard a mimicking noise being made behind me. The old man began desperately searching through a box under the table, and once he had found the book he ran after me. I had already passed more than half of Woburn Place until he had caught up to me panting. The only action I could take was to stop and listen to what he had to say. To be quite frank, I didn’t know why I did what I did. Wasn’t I eager to bring back the past? Didn’t I have the opportunity to sort everything out? The answer is ‘yes’ to both questions, but one underlying principle made me deny both chances. I was afraid of sorting anything out in the fear that the agony for a more pleasing past that had dominated my emotions for what seemed an eternity, would come to an abrupt end. The pain that I had suffered made me who I was, and extinguishing that same feeling would have also destroyed a part of me and I would have had to start all over again. But nevertheless something in my heart made me stop and listen to that old man. In his hands was an old copy of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ by Boris Pasternak, which had influenced Nastya so much during the final year of our relationship. She loved the book so much that she had to get rid of it or else it would have consumed her and dictated her personality to unimaginable lengths. The edition was quite beautiful and old, printed by samizdat, worth more than anyone could have ever imagined and naturally I suggested selling it to a street dealer who would have paid much to get it. And so we did, for seventy-five pounds over two decades ago to the same man at the same place that had been standing beside me. ‘Look inside’ he said and I did as he had asked. The rustling pages of the book contained an exact replica of the photo that I had carried with me to London and on the back of it, a message read:

 

“Just like Tonya, my trouble is that I love you and you do not love me. So farewell my loved one, we will never, ever see each other again dear Yuri Zhivago.”

 

I looked up and the muscles in my hands relaxed so much that the book fell out of my hands, splashing violently into the puddle of water beside me that grew slowly with my falling tears. ‘She came back a couple of days after she sold it me and asked if I could leave the photo in it as a token of pitiful reality for the next buyer of the book. I did as she had asked; but had never sold it to anyone because it was so beautiful and special. To sell it would have been a crime’ …

 

Both confusion and a multitude of questions ran through my inane and puzzled mind. Why was she so sudden and why didn’t she inform me that she was going back to St. Petersburg? She left me helplessly immobile in London not answering to any call or letter to which I had hoped she would respond. She left me feel as if it was completely my fault and that I had done something that damaged the fraternal aura surrounding us. I thought that she remained in London and just didn’t want to see me any longer, but she didn’t. She was gone and probably forever. Reality had hit me hard in the face once more and I cursed myself for ever dreaming that morning and acting so irrationally. Without picking up the book or even saying something to the old man I walked on to Euston Road and finally until I reached King’s Cross. Me being a miniscule fraction of the population of London and considering the nature of Londoners, I doubt that anyone had noticed my plain and almost ceased facial expression of sadness, loneliness and guilt. I no longer cared what I was doing, what I had done and what I was planning on doing. I simply walked on senselessly towards the train station, being pushed out of the way at least a dozen of times. The station dominated the near vicinity and even my blotched eyes could make out the entrance sign. I went in and bought two things: a one-way ticket towards the final destination and an overly-priced cappuccino that had left me with five quid remaining. Considering that my train was about to leave in only ten minutes, I didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate the effort that the barista had put in making me my coffee; but do we, as humans ever have enough time in our lives? I don’t know and looking back at the events of the past couple of hours, I boarded my newly refurbished train without trying to contemplate the past too much. I sat down on the warm seating that I would have been overly positive to say suffered considerable pressure from a victim of Heathrow injection and began looking out the window. ‘MIND THE GAP’ was no longer visible and from personal experience I would have rather changed that to ‘mind your life’, but before I could continue with my quirky remarks I hit my head against the railing once more which signalled the train’s departure. Suffering from self-pity syndrome, talking to someone was probably the last thing in the world which I had wanted to engage with; until a young, dark-haired woman ran crying into the carriage and for some unknown reason decided to sit beside me…
By Vladyslav Medvensky

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