On the tube a blonde woman in a brown muffler scanned the news.The headlines all in caps lock KILLER VIRUS TWO CASES IN BRITAIN.I went through stations I had read about no actually watched in movies Paddington Notting Hill Victoria.Life in the tube has its own breath.Stale air fatigue impatience patience.Headphones books eyes on books eyes into space.We climb in and out of the netherworld and I wait always for the sky. Winter summer night or day. At a stop a young woman with kohl rimmed eyes steps off into the arms of a clean shaven man. I remember once waiting on a platform for the man I would one marry.Ten years since then and many life lessons later here we are in London leading or following our children.
After a exigent return from India to London due to some circumstances, I have spent the last few days in a state of fugue of anti-climax. Coming back into my body after several hours in flight between time zones and countries, I started to look at the world around me and take note. A gaggle of geese flew low over the Thames as I jogged beside the river this morning, I met a friend for lunch. I took the tube to class. A woman in a grey hijab pulled my seat down for me while I struggled with my bag, coffee mug, books and I sat down gratefully next to her. Walking to class over the London Golden Jubilee bridge, I saw the same two petitioners asking for alms. One is always bowed over as though in prayer while passersby walk by her, their feet dangerously close to her head on the ground. The seasons are turning around and the days are just a little longer, the light a little brighter. One would hope that occasionally one can say the same thing about life.
For the last couple of days the sun has come out briefly every day, yellow and gold in blue and purple skies and in the evenings the light seems to linger just a little while longer than it normally has during this long dark winter. I feel greedy for the sun, I want to swallow it up, steal it, put it in my bag or pocket and peep at it time to time to let it illuminate my face, I want to keep it jealously for myself, no I can share it as long as I am sure that it is mine and will not go back to its wintery state of unkindness.
This winter has dragged its feet in the muddy verdure of London and I have dragged my own feet too wanting an out from the gloominess of the days. I need sunlight and sunshine and sun rays and sunniness, all things sun. I need it on my skin like a lover need to be touched, I need it in my belly like food, I need it in my brain to be able to write and create, I need it in my heart to be able to love. How do people survive and live and thrive in weathers such as this? Perhaps it is my own shortcoming but why blame myself for this sunless state?
On sidewalks around London Christmas trees are still piled up in their now inglorious state. No lights on them, no decorations, tinsel or ornaments. They block your way sullen and rude as you navigate the sidewalks. They do not comprehend their current state. I see myself reflected in them. They had their glory in the ground and then they were raised to the state of almost worship, at the center of homes and palaces and living rooms, gifts poured at their feet, candles lit around their bowers, families gathered around their branches. Now banished to the sidewalks they lie unclaimed for weeks, not even a decent private burial, they must wither and die next to cemented roads, passing dogs pee on them gladly, such ignoble ends they meet on their backs and sides.
I am impatient and turn my face away from their faded greens and browns as I continue to seek my sun.
This morning I almost had a panic attack in the train. I was the last one to squeeze myself in on the Eastbound Piccadilly train and at the next stop when the doors opened on the other side of me, I realized I was effectively at the bottom of a heap of humanity. An indifferent humanity dressed in black, their ears blocked by headphones, their eyes on their screens or closed or glazed into the fatigue that commuters tend to acquire in the underground realms of travel.
I reminded myself to breathe as I stifled the urge to scream or scramble, four counts of air into my stomach, eight counts slowly out but that was too much to do, so it became three counts into my belly and six out. Rhythmic belly breathing my yoga teacher calls it and it always helps and it did. I can do one more train stop I thought and I did but I couldn’t stay at the bottom of the human pile anymore as the door to the platform at the next stop opened once again on the opposite end to me.
The girl next to whom I was wedged smiled as I squeezed myself in front of her and I was grateful for her smile. Over the duration of the next two stops, I kept inching forward like this, fitting my body and my big backpack like the pieces of a puzzle through the people who stood between me and the exit door until I arrived at it and stood there in relief. Even though I was semi blocking commuters entering the train, it was a relief to step on and off the platforms to allow them in. The illusion that we are free is an important one. When my stop finally arrived I decided to walk the rest of the way to class instead of taking the connecting train.
Early morning downtown London. The stores still closed, the pedestrians limited to the office goers and not the melee of tourists too and I breathed the air, grateful to be out. Several coffee shops tempted me and what I wanted more than anything else before my class was the good old English breakfast tea, in a cup and a pot on a tray, the way it seems only the British serve it anymore. Foyles was open. If you haven’t visited this bookstore and if you are in London, you must. This five or is it six storied bookstore opens at 9 am and not only has the choicest collections of books and paraphernalia, it has a coffeeshop on the fifth level. A sizable room with ample of light and ample of tables and chairs and space and food. At that time of the morning I had my pick and sat next to the windows facing a rooftop garden that was a home created for bees. Bees need all the help they can get, a sign read.
I got my cuppa and read a book. In front of me on the wooden table, the white pot and cup of tea gleamed silver with the light of a new day.