A few times a year I leave London, where I’ve been living for two years, and travel up north to visit home. Although I get excited, it doesn’t feel like returning to an old flame. I always knew I would outgrow the town that brought me up.
Up until recently, when I visited home I would look at the people around me, walking through a nondescript town with nondescript expressions, and assume their lives must be safe, unexplored and simple.
Driving to work, coming home, going to bed. I pictured their journeys in straight lines, back and forth, straightforward. In London, I imagined journeys as squiggly lines that bounce around.
When I come home, I notice that people walk slower. There are no buildings I can’t see the top of. It’s a chance to melt among the houses, roads and fields. Everything I see pertains to routine. Front doors open and close, people mow their lawns, everything is unending, safe, a slave to a comforting, compulsory routine.
Do people here know there’s more to life? They must know there are ways to distance themselves from reality – bright lights, loud sounds, big crowds. It looks like life stretches out in front of them, exposed. How can they face things so head-on without the distractions that come with a city?
I wonder if they have big ambitions, and if they know you can’t dream big if you don’t live somewhere big. The quiet is nice, but what does it sound like when it’s all you hear? We must be very different people.
This is what I would think when I visited home. I felt awful for simplifying the people I saw, for assuming those inhabiting the place replicate the desolation, greyness and remoteness I saw around me.
I realised that maybe some of these people, the ones walking from the corner shop with their heads down as an acknowledgement of the sameness around them, maybe they have lived in London. Or maybe they lived somewhere even more exciting.
Maybe they've never wanted to live in London, and wanting different things doesn't mean their aspirations are lesser than mine. If anything blinds us it's ambition, but I didn't realise it affected your vision quite like this. The virtue of being able to separate people from place took me a while to learn.
What London lacks, home offers in abundance: real, cold life. It serves as a reminder that it’s just me in this life, and that everything surrounding me, the superficiality of London, could disappear in an instant.
London is cruelly capricious, or at least it’s the perfect place to deal with the fickleness we face in everyday life. It’s not until I come home that I’m hit with the transience of everything.
When people at home walk from their car, up their driveway to their front door – I no longer see someone numbed by repetitiveness. They feel the earth under their shoes, and that must feel good.
London makes you feel like you’re floating. The ground doesn’t feel the same. Your contact with it feels precarious. It doesn’t really care about you. The earth at home doesn’t belong to me any more, and I don't think the earth in London ever will. But it’s nice to walk on it, even if it does put my head in the clouds.