It’s cold outside, almost freezing. To my summer-accustomed limbs, it may as well be; the few degrees (six) make little difference. Even with angora socks, cashmere tights, feet snug in Uggs, three vests (two of them heatgen), a merino wool dress; a hat, scarf and pair of gloves… the benefit is negligible. Earlier, hiding from the rain in a café without heat, my body temperature dropped and it hasn’t picked up since. Drinking tea like there’s no tomorrow; fidgeting, walking up and down, shaking, jumping, moving around: I try to dispel the inner chill. But, like the sense of doom that haunts me and the hollow ache inside: it is what it is.
Today, in the sales – Oxford Street heaving, Tottenham Court Road rammed, Regent Street thick with pedestrians and cars – it’s hard to move. Using my knowledge of parallel roads and short-cuts between places, I speed into Gap, Marks & Spencer, Jigsaw and Oasis, looking for a coat. London is crazy: a stark change from yesterday and the day before, when the streets were empty and the shops shut. Then it was eerie, reminiscent of a scene from ‘Twenty eight days later’ or some other post-disaster film. I felt apprehensive and vulnerable. The atmosphere was oppressive. The undercurrent volatile. Take away the people, reduce the number of cars, and you’re left with a container of rage: disillusioned bodies, drunken bones, diseased and depressed, tempers fraught. Fists hyperactive, tongues acerbic: police were visible everywhere, and thank goodness… In the space of twenty four hours, I witnessed three fights. In the previous weeks, there has been nothing, or not that I have seen. Things have been contained, curtailed. And those that did occur hidden or dealt with efficiently. Lessons have been learned. Most significantly: take more care.
With this newfound knowledge, I am wiser, which is a good thing. It’s dangerous for a woman my height and build to be so distracted: anything could happen. Living abroad, I’ve been spoilt. Sydney was well-behaved, Mallorca idyllic. Anything that went on, went on in seedy suburbs late at night, crimes attached to specific groups and gangs. Not being a drug dealer, an addict, a thief, a prostitute or a pimp, I was excluded from it. Living in my shiny shell, a place I lovingly refer to as ‘the bubble’, I saw only what I needed to see and nothing more. Wealth strolled with confidence. Merchandise beckoned with grace. Culture called seductively and, spellbound, I obeyed. Now, here; still attempting to keep a plaster over the facade: I consciously turn a blind eye and keep my nose to the ground. Why rush the illusion when it’s inevitable it will fade?
by Rebecca L. Atherton
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