Last night London redeemed itself.
I set off East, cheered by my meeting with a local refugee charity and emotionally psyched-up for the challenges of London Transport. As I waited mid-route for my second bus, I was geekily comparing my A-to-Z to the map on the bus stop to work out the feasibility of getting myself as close to my friend’s work as possible.
Then, shock horror, I heard a stranger’s voice addressing itself to me. I looked up, slightly surprised, and the person in front of me continued: “Are you lost? Can I help at all?” Having just ranted about people at bus stops, I was most taken aback. As it turned out, she had no more idea than I did, but I felt disproportionately grateful and thanked her again as she got onto her bus. “No problem,” she smiled, “good luck!”
Encouraged by the welcome friendliness of a stranger, I continued my journey East and ended up at Liverpool Street. Surrounded by city folk spilling out of pubs and marching purposefully along, I felt a bit informal and out of place, and scuttled on past Shoredich and into Bethnal Green where the halal and fabric shops made everything seem more normal.
Jenny and I headed off to Brick Lane. Picking a crowded restaurant we head-wigglingly negotiated the price and tucked into pretty decent sag paneer and chana masala, along with a complementary glass of Bangla, all at a price that made both us and the restaurant mutually happy. It was a good catch up as we had one of our usual animated conversations about life, work, study, migration, friends and so on and, of course, with lots of reminiscences about Asylum Welcome’s youth club and Oxford’s Cowley Road. I miss bumping into the Kurdish and Afghani teenagers that I’ve got to know in the past 3 years. I miss passing Hassan’s smiling face at the door of his restaurant where the Kurdish posse spills out into the street.
Walking down Brick Lane I kept forgetting that I didn’t know people there. I need to stop glancing at strangers to see if I know them and should be saying hello, particularly when they are young Asian men. In an unfamiliar city, it’s a habit that really should be broken.
We headed past some art on the brick walls and finished up the evening in a cosy side street cafe drinking chai on old bedraggled armchairs surrounded by candles, by floral, and by vintage nick nacks. It sounds like the cliched kind of place that my brother would mock me for going to, but I promise that it wasn’t. Just perfectly lovely and the boost I needed to propel myself back West.
As I arrived home an hour later, I realised that I don’t actually mind the journeying around London. It’s the waiting that I’m not so good at, as is the case in most parts of my life. And I realised that I don’t really mind the journey if the destination is worth it. In this case it was a good friend and a good curry, and you can never go too far for either of those.