Written by Kieren Mehta (he/him)
It’s six and I got out of bed at twelve. I woke early yesterday, I’d left the window open and gotten cold. It’s winter now, though most of us are stuck in spring. Waiting for growth, expectant of warmth. The flat is quiet, the radio must have turned itself off. Six months ago I was in Glasgow, living with others, still irritated by those small circumstances that arise from sharing your space. Now I have only myself to be irritated by, and I am decisively more irritating. If I turn the radio on I might catch Gardeners’ Question Time. Or was that at five? The clock on the stove is wrong.
Had a moment earlier: found a drawing I’d done at the RAF museum. I must’ve been seven or eight; I’ve not been since, it looks so small when I drive past. I feel hesitant calling anything in this space mine though I live here. Living in borrowed rooms. I realised I’ve never experienced the cold here, it was always summer: orange light pouring through windows, even after dinner. I’m cooking now and it’s grey and pouring rain. Admittedly, it is half nine. I don’t think my mum had dinner ready later than half six.
My bedroom here is smaller than in my familial home, but bigger if I take time as a dimension. I don’t allow myself to work on my bed anymore, otherwise I’m not sure I’d ever leave it. My little brother and I used to do homework together on the floor of our shared bedroom; he moved into his own when he started middle school. That felt lonely, at first. I hope this will feel lonely for only a while too.
Ever since I could conceptualise it, I always felt that London was my city. She opened to me fully when I was sixteen: loud, expansive, roaring, full of people and light and life and wonder. I used to dream of living this close to all that I used to escape to: the theatres, the museums, the river, my friends. I remember very little now and it worries me, but falling asleep in Primrose Hill, a binder full of notes shading my eyes while I ‘revised’ for my GCSEs, holds clear. I walk past the tree I sat at often. I remember applying for an arts job and answering What is your favourite place in London? with ‘the tube’ and talking about the liminal headiness of being surrounded by so many and knowing so few. I haven’t been on the tube since January. I miss it, a lot.
I miss Primrose Hill too, actually: I miss picnics with melted chocolate strawberries at seven; I miss hazy GCSE afternoons working in scratchy grass and inhaling books that weren’t on my syllabus to impress teachers, friends, people I fancied; I’m thinking of New Years Eves and kissing people I’d been wanting to kiss for weeks, laughing under fireworks, losing (and drunkenly falling about to find) shoes in crowd-made mud. I try to walk there everyday and it still smells the same – perhaps a strange thing to note – but it’s as if I’m a cut-out there. Have I changed so much? I don’t recognise the shops down the highstreet.
Thinking about the tube again. Or, better, thinking about familiar shared spaces. This was a shared space and now I sit here, alone. I’ve made too much coffee again because I didn’t think to factor in that only I’d be drinking it. I guess I’ll just microwave it tomorrow and have it lukewarm, missing its potential, too strong but simultaneously not delivering very much. (Projecting.) Is this really the same flat, the same kitchen I delightedly had my first ‘ice cream for a starter!! I’ve never even had a starter!’ in? This is the same sofa, I can tell by the face paint stains. Washable my arse.
It is all, definitively, too big.
I walked to Islington today. To my favourite theatre (shut). Called a friend on the way there. I didn’t know her when I was eighteen, when I had London entirely in the palm of my hand; she recommended a coffee shop I try on my way there. When I came back the radio was playing (I’ve fixed it) Gardeners’ Question Time. I don’t have a garden, but my dad used to record it for us to listen – or fall asleep to – on the way home. Have we changed so much? I’m not sure there’s an answer, or if there is it’s the one I’ve grown to always give. Grey. Yes and no; neither, both. That hasn’t changed. But knowing it took time. I think I’ll get a start on dinner.
[This is fictional. Gardeners’ Question Time is on at either 2 or 3pm.]