So I wasn’t always this pragmatic and cynical. People aren’t born cynical y’know. I use to be that chick with the rose coloured lenses, always dreaming away about something or someone. I was quite the romantic…maybe I still am, because being a fatalist is not enough, I have to be a masochist too. Anyways, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that changed. Maybe it wasn’t one moment, maybe it was a series of moments, but I do know that one of my biggest wake-up calls came one frosty January in 2005, in good old London.
It was freezing, (as it would be in the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere), and getting up to catch the bus to work was akin to a root canal without anesthetic. It didn’t help that my apartment didn’t have any heating or hot water for a week; thanks to a botched boiler and the Landlords’ extended New Year celebrations in freaking Scotland; and shower time was as exciting as diarrhea with no toilet in sight.
I stepped into the kitchen and carefully poured boiling water from the kettle into an old fabric-softener bottle before making my way to the bathroom on a Lara Croft mission. The water churning from the shower head was colder than I had imagined and literally five minutes later, after being sloshed with a mixture of icy glacial and scalding hot water, I was curled up in bed, hoping that the burns wouldn’t leave scars and desperately trying to retain any heat I had left in my body.
It was on one particular evening, lying in bed listening to the wind howling through the old window pane that I thought, what great sheets. They were so comfortable and at only £8.99, what a bargain. I briefly wondered if we had polyester- cotton in South Africa and made a mental note to buy others and post it home, when it occurred to me that I was alone. Completely and utterly alone. Well, not really alone alone because God Almighty is always with me…but yeah alone. For.The.First.Time.Since…well EVER.
I had no family. I hadn’t made any friends yet. I worked in a job where I sat in an office all by my lonesome all day, in the middle of Industria aka Lone-Central. Cue tumbleweed. I didn’t even have a freaking Landlord to tell me to keep the noise down. All I had was that gust of wind and a carving knife under my pillow in case I got any surprise visitors in the middle of the night.
It was both terrifying and liberating. Those were some of the darkest days of my life. Seriously because the sun set at like 3pm. But that loneliness, was something I never forgot. I vacillated between elation and the brink of despair like a bi-polar schizophrenic on lockdown. There were those cold days spent walking the streets idly with other strangers braving the icy wind, in search of nothing in particular; sometimes sitting curled up in the corner at Café Nero watching the world pass by.
Nights were either spent at the avant garde cinema, watching foreign films (ticket for one please) or holed up in the lounge of my apartment with hot chocolate and custard donuts watching Desperate Housewives on Channel 4 while most of London hibernated too.
The only people who spoke to me on the regular was the local librarian when she asked if I was taking out or returning books; the guy behind the counter at Chicken Cottage who always wanted to know if I wanted ketchup with my fries and Remy, a very handsome co-owner of the Lebanese restaurant just up my street.
Remy was something else. His antics flattered me tremendously and I couldn’t help but laugh at his theatrical advances. He was so outrageous and proposed to me everyday at the bus stop, sometimes with roses and once with a roast chicken, much to the amusement of other patrons. A part of me was always very wary, on guard even though there was no reason to be that way. I often reminded Remy that him being part of the Shi’a faction of Islam and me being Sunni meant that we saw life differently and maybe in an ideal world it would have worked.
It wasn’t long before spring came around and my dark days seemed to melt with the snow that fell that April. Suddenly, like the flowers in bloom, people sprang from everywhere; ready to shake off the spell winter had cast upon them to bask in the warm light. I was in a new job, meeting new people, making friends and going out and socializing more than I had ever done before.
Suddenly Tuesday nights were for laundry and fish fingers and every other night I was out at some or other gathering, debating life, love and everything else. The avant garde cinema saw a rise in ticket sales (tickets for 4 please), hours spent at museums and the National Gallery, until the paintings came to life; and every historical landmark became home. And before I knew it, my wings were taking me outside the city with my fellow angels, abroad to foreign destinations.
And just like that, like an unconscious patient in the ER, life was breathed into me and once again flowed through my veins. But something in me had inherently changed. In my mind, that concept of perfection had ceased to exist and my once idealistic outlook became more realistic, harsh and colder even. Taking in the good, the bad and the ugly of life, I began to appreciate it for what it was.