My first visit to London was nine years ago. It was the summer after eleventh grade, and I was going to the UK for a family trip. I was sixteen, and mostly disgruntled about missing prom (I was having a particularly ungrateful privileged teenager moment). Part of my mom’s mission for taking me on this trip was to convince me to eventually go to university in the UK instead of even further away from home in the States. So we came to London and I kid you not, for fourteen days straight in the middle of July, it rained every day. Drizzle, wind, the worst weather the city has to offer. I spent most of the trip arguing with my mother and scrolling through my friends’ prom pictures. Needless to say, my mom’s ploy did not work. I dismissed London as a rather depressing place, where one has to wear a windbreaker even in the heart of summer, and chose sunny California for my undergrad years.
Little did I know one day London would have such a hold on my heart.
At twenty, I came back to the city for a summer course. London revealed a whole new side of it to me on that trip. I spent twenty-four days living in the very center of the city in a residence hall filled with other students hungry to experience all that London has to offer, in a few short weeks. I made friends fast and we spent almost every waking moment not in class, exploring. The days blended into a montage of restaurant hopping, lazy park afternoons, excursions to Chinatown and street markets, and the nights were quite frequently blurry. The weather behaved and the rain was minimal. By the end of the trip, I was in love. I knew I had to be back again.
The next year was rough on me, but London called, and I went running. The love affair continued. The city and I acquainted ourselves with each other better. It was in Brick Lane, looking at the street names engraved in both Bangla and English, the Bangali stores with mishtis and shingaras piled high on the counters, right next to the hipster bookstores and the wild graffiti art, that I knew I wanted to be in this city on a more permanent basis, to live and grow here.
There’s a quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist which always stuck with me – “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires is helping you achieve it” (side-note for my brown culture lovers: Shah Rukh Khan also had a very similar dialogue in Om Shanti Om). The point is, in 2018, I managed to pack my bags and move into yet another tiny dorm room in the heart of London, to do a Masters. London finally became my place of residence and I took advantage of it wholly. Weekend food markets became a part of my routine and remained my favorite thing about the city. The whole of Europe felt at my fingertips.
Last year when I finally started living life as an inDepeNDent wOMan (financially), and it was in London, it felt symbolic. Like the city had been part of my growth and journey. It was a city of firsts for me, with plenty of memories of failure and frustration, and even more of joy and learning.
I write this with my bags packed once again, in the apartment I have been somewhat adulting in for the better half of a year. It’s looking a little bare in here, I’ve taken down the pictures from my wall and stuffed them in my suitcase, along with my favorite books and knick-knacks. By the time this post goes up, I should have landed in Dhaka. It’s a strange feeling to be leaving London on a one-way ticket. The city hasn’t been its vibrant self for many weeks now and it breaks my heart a little to imagine London without its overfilled pubs, buzzing street markets, and even strangers almost cheek to cheek on the tube. I refuse to believe this is it – when I eventually do say goodbye to London, it will be the real London, loud and busy. This is merely a break for an indefinite period of time, and a part of me is holding on the (rather desperate by now) hope that I’ll be back in this apartment soon to enjoy another British summer.
London, my love, please get better. We’ll see each other soon.