I spent some of this weekend remembering. This Easter marked 21 years since I arrived in England. I was on a social media break to tune OUT of the noise and tune IN to my truth. It was quite confronting realising how often I subconsciously click on Instagram and Facebook. Looking for distraction, a diversion, a dopamine hit. But that's a post for another time.
I felt the urge to write. I read through some of my old blog posts and confess I was a little in awe at the words and way these stories have flowed through me; the connections made and creativity laid.
It's been a while since a memoir chapter. So here it is. This one feels a little different though – let me know what you think in the comments.
And also the links to the previous chapters if you want to backtrack for context.
I landed at London Heathrow on Easter Sunday 2002. The symbolism of this has become clear with hindsight. A rising and rebirth (but first a little suffering). It was the day after the clocks changed, switching to daylight saving. Everything was changing …
Why did I board that plane? I was running away from a boy. I was running away from my Dad (because of the boy). I was running away from myself … yet towards myself.
Clean slate. New fate. Off to the boarding gate. Beyond borders and backstories.
I knew one person in England: my cousin. A room was available in her house share and I took it sight unseen. I didn’t want to be a ‘burden’, so no couch surfing for me. I made sure I paid rent from day one … to have a bedroom to myself as a haven.
This bedroom was not a haven.
My cousin was away the weekend I arrived, so she arranged for another housemate to meet me at the airport.
I exited into the arrivals hall. Looking out for a guy I had never met. There was no sign with my name on it; no one was waiting to welcome me.
An hour passed. I watched everyone move on – people arriving home and people arriving with hope. Still no sign of him. I weighed my options. I had an A-Z and knew the address, so I could try and navigate my way. But if I left and he arrived, who would let me into the house?
I had my life savings strapped to my belt bag – a collection of £10 and £20 notes. Earned from weekends and holidays working at the pharmacy, the photography studio and on a cruise liner. There was a single pound coin: a remnant from a trip taken with my parents a few years earlier. When converted from South African rand, it felt like an inordinate amount of money to put into a payphone. But I did. I dialled my cousin’s mobile. It went straight to voicemail. She was in deepest darkest Wales for the weekend with no mobile reception. I dialled his number. It went straight to voicemail too.
I decided to wait.
I put my suitcase down horizontally on the floor and sat on it … I waited for 4 hours.
My Paddington Bear moment.
He came striding into the arrivals hall, gangly and a little grungy. He apologetically explained that he had been out the night before and had forgotten about the clocks changing. The sweet, sour smell of alcohol on his breath told a slightly different story. But he was there. His gesture to take an hour tube ride to fetch a stranger, on a long weekend, was kind.
We sat in silence on the near empty tube. The seats were grubby and the views grey. I was a little delirious – a chaotic concoction of tired and excited, anxious and relieved.
We arrived at our tube stop, Southfields (aka South African fields), and I took it all in – the sounds, the smells, the surroundings. Exiting from that first underground journey was a spotlight moment: emerging from one long journey, and embarking on a new, equally long one.
A threadbare blue duvet cover was washed and folded on the bed, alongside a much-used duvet and pillow. Grateful for the gifts, I made my bed and lay down. A heavy veil of exhaustion and overwhelm descended. What had I done?
A new country, a new house, a new life … where I knew ‘nothing’ and no-one!
I had four months to find a job before my savings ran out.
I was fresh from university with no ‘real world’ experience.
I spoke the language but not the lingo.
I didn’t know the 'right' people.
I didn’t dress the part.
It was dark.
And in the dark, the dead of night, he would come into my room and sneak (uninvited) into my bed: rock-hard and ready.
NO. I didn’t want him.
NO. I didn’t want our other male housemate trying to kiss me when his fiance wasn’t there.
NO. I didn’t want to spend my hard earned money to live here.
NO. I didn’t want to contribute to a food kitty and have it spent on beer.
NO. I didn’t want this