Standing on a platform at London Bridge railway station, about to catch the train to New Cross, Dad told me to look up—if he hadn’t, I might not have noticed. Only if I tilted my head right back could I see the tip of London’s tallest skyscraper, all 95 storeys of gleaming glass pointing to the sky. It was the first time I’d seen the Shard in the flesh, not on a screen or in the newspaper, as the last time I visited London I don’t think it was even a hole in the ground. I felt like I could reach out and touch it, but it was so gigantic that I couldn’t really comprehend it. Just like I couldn’t comprehend the holiness of St. Pancras station’s arched cathedral-like ceiling earlier that day or my journey on the tube before that where the women carrying her load of brand-new bed sheets and the man engrossed in a tilting game on his phone captured a different kind of holiness. One where the wheels and cogs of this mammoth city all seem to work together and create something special, down the to the bones of the people and the metal of the train tracks.
But the most divine miracle was that I was in London at all. A couple of years ago it would have been unimaginable for me. Last year, when a pinprick of light appeared at the end of the tunnel of my two-year struggle with agoraphobia, when recovery finally seemed like a possibility, the idea coming to London was up there, shining like a shrine to freedom. It was something to work towards. But strangely, on Friday morning, it felt a normal thing to do. Which is exactly what I want.
When we arrived, however, it felt surreal—like a film set of London, and I was just an extra. Like if I walked around a street corner I’d find that the buildings were just facades with no insides. And so many people! They don’t look at you at all, which only added to my feeling of being in a movie or a dream.
Thankfully I had Dad to hold on to. He was my navigation. He grew up in and around London, so the whole transport system is ingrained deep in his brain and heart. I kept repeating variations of “How can there be so many people, Dad?” My hometown of Birmingham is Britain’s second city and seems like a village in comparison. From my house, it’s 15 minutes travelling into the town centre and 15 minutes out into the countryside.
I’ll have to get used to this largeness. With each route we took, I tried to memorise the names, familiarize myself with the bus numbers, pretend I was a local. I was staring into my new home. When we arrived at New Cross, excitement finally took over anxiety and I wasn’t sure whether to dance or cry because here was a place I had mapped out in my mind, seen in my imagination, and made reality. It was the final confirmation that Goldsmiths was the university for me and I didn’t even have to worry about being accepted because I already am. It just felt right.
That sprawling sensation that London has, when we were on the train and could see nothing but civilisation pouring in all directions, simultaneously terrifies me and enthralls me. The suburban areas are full of small windows illuminating other people’s existences for a split second as one of our final trains shuttled past in the dark. It made me realise that to other people, I am also one of those small squares of light, a little box of existence. I take everything so deadly serious sometimes, I act as if anything could go wrong at any minute. Being a little person in such largeness is humbling.
After having dinner with some of my family, we quietly began our mini-trek back home. As we got further away from city lights and travelled through blank hills and trees instead, the darkened windows became like a mirror. I wished they’d lower the artificial lights in trains at night—to see my reflection so close and so clearly was a little disconcerting. So I pressed my forehead against the glass, searching for any spotlight in the distance. My eyes followed the North Star, constant, all the way home. ♦