It has been 34 years since I landed at Heathrow and found my way into your heart without money, friends or bookings. Today? Unthinkable.
I remember the beers I pulled, the boys who gave me a roof over my head, the quirky little bookshops and second hand dealers, each with its own smell. I remember my first taste of eel. I miss eel.
There were even still some cobblestoned streets, back then. Do you still have cobblestones? I would love to think you do.
I spent a Christmas there in you - remember? A cold Christmas, but not the snowy Christmas you put into all your movies. Still, it was cold enough to bite right into my bones. I was sleeping with a young boy who lived in an attic in somebody else’s house. He had a mattress on the floor and a fireplace. We ate out a lot that week: fish and chips, pie and peas, and so much of the eel I kept insisting on, knowing I would never find it back home.
Christmas Eve: we counted our remaining cash together. We had enough for a bottle of tequila, to celebrate. We had enough for a bag of coal, to keep warm. We did not have enough for both. He looked at me. I looked at him.
Christmas Day: we stayed in bed, wearing every item of clothing we owned, and had tequila with toast for breakfast and lunch. It was a grand romance - it lasted nearly a fortnight. But you, London, I was never untrue to you. You came first in my heart, before the boys, before the tequila.
You were in my heart when I had saved enough to go to Wales to look at Chun Quoit. You were in my heart when I went to Cornwall to look at Tintagel. You were in my heart when I nearly went to Scotland to look at Billy Connolly, with my youthful certainty that coincidence works my way, and if I were to set foot on Glasgow he and I would find ourselves at the same place at the same time. It was still winter - I’m so glad I didn’t go to Scotland.
But you were most in my heart when it was time to go. When I made my way to Heathrow, and to the correct departure gate. I didn’t look back - there was nobody seeing me off. I sat and waited as the plane sat and waited. I listened to the safety demonstration. I leaned my forehead against the window as we taxied to the end of the runway.
At last the Flying Kangaroo took off, leapt into the sky with a stomach-yawing turn, and sped away from you. I looked at your rooftops, then your stain on the landscape, then the clouds covering you.
Oh, London! How I loved you! How I’ve missed you! Tell me I can come back and rest in your arms, now I am old.
About the writer
When asked why she writes, Nisaba Merrieweather say she can’t imagine NOT writing. “I am full of words. I think some of them are worth sharing. I’d like to get some of them out of me before I die.” She writes verse, articles, short stories and has recently taken to novels. Nisaba also appreciates the writing of others and was recently impressed by local writers James MacKenzie Watson’s new book “Denizen”.