Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Spotted: Central Park

A couple still discovering each other’s birthmarks and bad habits, sprawled over a plaid picnic mat dotted with breadcrumbs and chocolate stains. She smells of vanilla, he sprayed extra deodorant.

Fathers sprinting after their son’s baseballs, legs buckling and breath panting but smile static, constant, a homerun.

Fresh paint licking a canvas, the painter’s cheeks as textured as his picture, wrinkles sculpted into his skin.

A mutual smile between a dog and its owner, faces alike like they often become between those who live together.

Sweat droplets and the thick smell of sun cream. Shirtless men absorbing afternoon rays, proud of their sagging skin and beer-bellies.

Wafts of fried onions, plump white buns and sausages that sizzle.
“Ketchup or mustard?”

Breakups, private tears becoming public.

Scratched knees and bruised elbows, unstable kids on roller-skates, learning the art of balance.
“I won’t let go.”
They always let go.

Yoga poses, limbs bent and held in ways that seem unnatural. People, young and old, learning from each other.  

Coins sinking to the bottom of fountains, heavy with the weight of their wishes.

First kisses, slow and awkward. Tiptoes and sore necks, unsure where best to place palms.

The sharp crunch of leaves beneath tyres as bikes zig-zag through morning jogs and afternoon strolls.

Bare branches and white ice, rink dotted with couples and parents whose children remembered their promises. Cameras flash, memories captured, left to linger on mantelpieces and beneath fridge magnets.

Snippets of conversations condensing through frost-filled air, Chinese words wafting between Russian, Spanish, Arabic.

The rumbles of the surrounding city, millions of lives co-existing, sharing streets and sidewalks, injecting their own “new” into New York.

Horses clicking and clacking over pavements they know by memory, their hooves tattooed onto the cement.

Men in ironed suits, some with paper cups of black coffee, others with a cigarette hanging from their lips. One eye checks their watch, the other refreshes their email.

Coins being pulled out of the bottoms of fountains: children craving an extra penny out of greed, the homeless out of need.

Guitar strums and raspy voices, pencil sketches and notebook scribbles, self-taught jugglers and toned tap dancers. Doers and dreamers.

Another new couple, fingertips tickling each other’s cheeks, smiles crooked like the park’s daffodils, just beginning to bloom.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Public privacy

If you want to understand someone, ask them to empty their bag – be it their patent leather purse, briefcase or backpack. Or, on the likely chance that they refuse, wait until its unattended, when you’ve been trusted to keep an eye out while they nip to the toilet, and rummage around in secret. Turn it upside down so you can get to know them inside out.

Find ripped receipts, those lingering reminders of money that would be better left unspent. Lip balms that’d long been labelled lost, foreign coins, loose pieces of spearmint gum, wrappers stained with guilt and milk chocolate remains.

A grandmother’s ring, sachets of white sugar, a yellow crayon, a misshapen almond, a makeup wipe stained black with last week’s mascara, a broken cigarette, a pink highlighter missing its lid, a glasses case (with no glasses inside), an old cinema ticket, expired vouchers, a safety pin, more sachets of white sugar, a lighter with no fluid, a giant paperclip, another receipt, a pair of rusty tweezers, a tampon, a mini paperclip, bills that have yet to be paid, stained with coffee and dusted with cracker crumbs.

Search “What’s in my Bag?” on YouTube and you’ll be bombarded with about 20,700,000 results. Ten-minute long videos of the conventional wallet, water bottle, car keys, house keys, maybe an odd lipstick or hairclip. The spotless, censored version - an assortment that ceases to be embarrassing, but one that also isn’t true. Devoid of unwashed socks, one that shows the fresh pack of tissues but hides the loose used ones from view.   

Make sure to be done at least a minute or two before they’re back, enough time for you to be scrolling through your phone and for their mismatched items to settle back into those places they’ve chosen for themselves.

For each expired bus ticket and fridge magnet is part of their everyday (bag)gage. Private belongings that we dare to carry around in public.  

Friday, 23 December 2016


Six hours of taxi, train, plane and car rides and I came home for the holidays. To a house I’ve lived in for three years, to a family I know inside out. To a real Christmas tree (we’ve always had fake) with familiar ornaments looped around branches, intricate ballet shoes I remember Mum and I buying at our local garden centre about a decade ago.  This is the first year I wasn’t around to help decorate.

“It’s good to have you home.”

“It’s good to be home.”

And it is. Bathtub bubbles kiss my skin and my muscles loosen in the absence of dish-washing and hauling dirty clothes to and from the laundrette. But yet, my bedroom echoes that of a hotel: my candles aren’t in my bedside drawer and my hairbands aren’t on my bathroom counter. The living room sofas are still yellow leather and battered, but they’re not positioned like they were three months ago. Maybe it was naïve of me to believe nothing would’ve changed for, after all, I’m not the same either.

“How’s university?” attempted small talk from people I once knew – some with faces more familiar than others.

“Insane,” I say – a mediocre attempt to offer every answer that fits: incredible, blurry, challenging, sleepless, comfortable, uncomfortable, weird. Halls that you learn to love despite their purple carpets and dim lightbulbs. A kitchen you manoeuvre through perpetual crumbs and unidentified spillages and lack of counter space.

“Where are you from?” is a paradox of a question. Seems simple – a slip-off-the-tongue answer, until your birthplace clashes with your primary school and adolescence ships you across seas. Now, “where is home?” can be added to the list of unanswerable questions. For home is both there and here. Home is four walls and wide windows with transparent curtains, but it is also childhood photo albums and board game cupboards and a double bed. Home is Mum’s oven smells and four simultaneous saucepans of boiling pasta. Home is friends old and new. Home is Moscow’s hospital rooms and Bicester’s bike lanes and Barcelona’s sea skies and Norwich’s mist over cobbled lanes.

Home doesn’t have to be a bedroom or a family house, doesn’t need an arrivals lounge or a train station. Home is wherever feels like it. Wherever smile tattoos are free of charge and wherever laughs crimson your cheeks and make your stomach ache. Home is good food and even better company. Home isn’t tangible, nor does it have to be visible. Sometimes, it cannot be put into words.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Year 1

Groggy heads and parched mouths.

Assignments that battle to be completed, the word count an ever-looming finish line. But the coursework racetrack runs parallel to the social one, and both can’t be won.

Butterfly stomachs at introduction after introduction
(“Where are you from?”
“What do you study?”)

Foreign footsteps tattooing the campus concrete, moulding the unfamiliar into its opposite.

Flatmates that switch from strangers to family within a matter of days.  

Yet another mug of tea.

Overspending – pounding heart at the mere thought of seeing your bank balance.  

Crisp pizza crusts and warm pasta to welcome dawn – cooking abilities that the night seems to enhance.

Discovering a nook in the library that, although unofficial, is yours.

Pretending to know how the washing machine works, finding the line between too much detergent and not enough - terrified of being that person carrying clothes still thick with soap.

A newfound appreciation for a morning devoid of a hangover, fresh face and eyelids that open with ease.

Fear of missing out, saying “yes” to three events in the same evening, conscious naivety in thinking you’ll make them all.

More introductions
(“How do you like your flatmates?”)

Yet another cup of coffee.

Making a home of a city that hadn’t seen traces of you before you brought it your favourite pyjamas or your acoustic guitar or your toothbrush.

Wondering how you’ve lived eighteen years without people you’ve known eighteen days.

Sensing every cell in your body liven: feeling your joints shift and your limbs mould into the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Barcelona is

The absence of harsh seasons – an autumn that blends into spring, skimming over the cruel temperatures that characterise typical winter months. A place where twenty-five-degree weather is jacket weather, where the slightest embrace of a breeze merits a woollen scarf.

Restaurants that boast a variety of tapas, each waiter competing to lure you into theirs for lunches that seep into late afternoons and dinners that begin after the moon has risen. Markets scattered around neighbourhoods, tinted with a vibrancy that no camera can attempt to capture. Fruit fresher than folded laundry: crimson tomatoes with a look that almost beats their taste. Almost.

Architecture the rest of Europe should envy, buildings stained with colour on the outside and history on the inside. Gaudi tattooed himself over every brick, his portrait still visible in the mosaic tiles, if one knows how to look. Concrete streets flow like rivers to the Mediterranean shore – beaches that gift views of the mountains, those just a short drive away. Not only the best of both worlds, but the best of all three.

The perpetual echo of multiple languages, a foreground shared by Spanish and Catalan, but a background that’ll make any nationality feel welcome. Areas that seduce tourists neighbour those that house locals, a labyrinth one can weave their way in and out of.

Sunday morning cyclists and dog-walkers, kids kicking footballs as hard as they dream to meet the players that inspired them to do so. You don’t have to watch the Barça matches to know when there’s a home goal – the neighbourhood erupts in a collective cheer.

Holidays of human towers, giant puppets, fire-breathing dragons, and streets littered with sweets. Lipstick is replaced with wine; perfume lost in a lingering cloud of beer. A culture that might not be universal, but constitutes a universe of its own.

Mastering the art of patience, discovering the comfort in waiting rooms and eavesdropping on the conversations of the customers ahead of you to make the delay that little more entertaining.

Club nights that morph into seaside mornings, sun rising higher as feet sink ever deeper into the sand. Not a city that never sleeps (for snores sound through Sundays and post-lunchtime siestas) but one that, when awake, has a heartbeat that vibrates beneath the bricks and tiles.

Friends from countries I’ve never set foot in, born over oceans, with backgrounds opposite to my own. But laughter parallels between cultures. So does love. They’re friends I’m not sure what I did to deserve, those for whom words fail to do justice. You know who you are.

A home away from home. A city that will not only have a permanent place in my heart, but one that has soaked into my skin and coated my lungs in ways that only settings where one has spent their formative years can. 

Thank you for six unbelievable years, Barcelona. I’ll be back.