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I get up because the ceiling in the corridor is leaking again. I call it a corridor, but really, it's just a room, about 3 by 3, with a bunch of mail addressed to people I don't know scattered around. There are two other flats in this house, but I never talk to the neighbours. I woud, if I ever saw them for more than just a moment. I only know that in the basement flat lives a lady, whose tan makes me immediately think she's Spanish, or Portuguese, or perhaps from somewhere in Latin America. She's got a family: a child and a husband. She and her husband argue often, sometimes I see their silouettes late at night when coming back from work. The couple upstairs, well, my roommate and I actually have a running bet: I think they are Hungarian, he believes that they come from one of those little countries in Eastern Europe - Slovakia, Slovenia, maybe even Serbia. She is blond and often wears purple. Her partner - well, he's not very memorable at all, but he does like his black leather boots.
While I'm making my breakfast, an omelet with Cheddar cheese and tomatoes, I always have something playing on my phone. Sometimes it's videos, other times it's music. Then, when my roommate Arthur got us a TV, I'd often put something on and close the thin wooden door of the living room. He is a sound sleeper, but I think it's just polite. I never have time to wash up: the tube station is about 15 minutes away on foot, and almost the same by bus. I feel weird walking all the way to the station in my trenchcoat and my red polished shoes, so I try to hop into the 25, but often it's full of screaming schoolkids going down the street, some from Ilford - the starting station far out, others...well, I never bothered to find out or even guess. On those days, when I don't want to deal with the noise and the pushing in the aisles, I walk briskly past the car wash, past the Sainsbury's on the right side and the Tesco on the left, down the street, past the cafe that I never bother to check out, past Nandos - the chicken restaurant and then take a sharp right through the shopping mall. This one is peculiar, this mall. The passage never actually closes, and the borough authorities let homeless people stay the night. I avoid going through past midnight. Not that it is not safe, it's just a bit weird. It feels like I'm intruding, like I've opened the door of someone's house and accidentally caught them coming out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel. The mall reminds me of street markets in Eastern Europe - during the day, there are rows upon rows of cheap blouses from Turkey, shoes from China, and vegetables, probably from somewhere down south.
I board the Cental line train invarioubly around 8:10 am. There is another route into the central, via the grey line, the Jubilee line, but it takes almost 40 minutes. However, on that one you could almost always find a seat even during the rush hour, so the trade off is nice sometimes. I board, avoiding looking at other in the carriage - this is the unwritten London etiquette rule number one, and off we go. I avoid breathing as much as possible - the carriage is sweaty and my nose is dangerously close to people's armpits. Not that they ever stink. It just feels impolite. I feel too tall for the train on all lines but one - District and Circle. Technically, they are two different ones, but both go around the city in a circle, so I tend to think of them as Siamese twins, bound together forever. The carriages that run there are nice - wide, airy, and the lighting is different, more yellow, more pleasant for the eyes. The Central line is exactly the opposite - the ceiling is round and it makes everything slightly more claustrophobic. I don't complain though - come to think of it, I actually kind of like it. This line, the Central, runs the whole night on Fridays and Saturdays, so I respect it much more than some of the other ones. She's a hardworking gal, serving the city that never sleeps.
I get off at Chancery Lane, the little street with delusions of grandeur because of all the law firms based around there, take a right, go down the side street that will be flooded with white collars in a couple of hours, past the university library...or wait, that is what I do on odd days of the week, but today is a Tuesday, and so I stay on until Holbourn station. I like it there. It is where two of London busiest lines - Central, the red one, and Picadilly, the dark blue, meet - and that intersection unleashes waves of passengers in all directions. I like being in the crowd. It makes me feel like a part of something. I hit my Oyster card - my trusted skeleton key to the entire London City transport network - on the paygate, and emerge out of London's belly. The first lecture is not until 9, or sometimes even 10 am, so I grab an Americano from Costa, or Cafe Nero, sit down, light a cig and take my first breath, the first whiff of the city. Inhaling its smoke pleases me more than the nicotine of my Golden Virginia rollie. Ah, London. Hers is a cold beauty. It oozes wealth, grandeour, luxury. This city is the definition of the Very Important Person. And I feel so priviledged that this icy queen lets me twirl her around at this never-ending dance party of hers. So, in return, I offer myself completely to her: my eyes are wide open, my nostrils flare up, capturing every smell... She can have everything, except for my ears. They are reserved for my black Sony headphones. These days, I'm into indie music again, which means I'm feeling somewhat melancholic, and the grey of my thoughts is nicely juxtopposed by the brightness of the album cover.
I finish my cigarette and I walk through Bush House to get to the campus. It used to be an embassy, I think. Just look at the walls, white as snow, pillars, wide as an oak, and marble floors. Delightful. She makes me feel special, Her Majesty London. She tries her best to make my head spin, to wow me. And I willingly oblige. The day is just beginning, but the campus already looks like an ant hill. I used to be a little intimidated two years ago, when I first came here, but now I nod at the guard ever so slightly, find my way to the auditorium, and walk in. I am always fashionably late. Everyone knows that classes are just a responsibility, a necessity, the price you pay.
Only once it will strike four, the day will truly begin. I will grab my pal Ameer, and we'll go to our favourite coffee shop on the South Bank. We'll walk across the bridge, and powerful gusts of wind will play with us, pretending to be trying to knock us off into the Thames.
Then, he'll go to the library, but I think I'll bail tonight. I will go over to Brick Lane, where men resemble peacocks, and women look like they've just finished a photoshoot, to have my lunch - a Pad Thai, or maybe something fancier. My mate is getting off work at 7, so we'll have a few drinks at the Blue Moon, where he will be trying to flirt with the bartender, yet again unsuccessfully. She always takes his compliments, and she just smiles. Sometimes she responds in short sentences, but she mostly looks at me, because we both know what's going on, we both know that he's hitting on her, and she will look at me after my mate will say something particularly ridiculous, and she'll raise one of her eyebrows ever so slightly, as if saying "is he for real?", and I will hide my smile in the corners of my mouth, and will roll my eyes as if to say "I'm really sorry that you have to endure this". But she likes it, I guess, she likes watching my friend be a bit of a buffoon, she often laughs, more at him than with him. We'll get proper wobbly, and we'll look at each other and say "Wanna go out?" almost at the same time, and we'll laugh at this coincidence that is actually a trained stunt by now. We'll put on our coats, and disappear into the night. I'll open my phone to ring up my guy, while my mate is examining what's on the party menu tonight, and we'll get into an Uber, and I will be watching yellow lights from the window with a smile and that familar wrenching feeling in my chest that always appears whenever you wake up from a heart-wrecklingly beautiful dream.
None of the pictures are mine, although the picture of the apartment is taken from a real estate website that is currently listing our old apartment. All rights to the photos go to their respective owners.