Saturday, 20 February 2016

On returning

It's only been a week but already...

I was reminded of those words when I'd been in Kinshasa a week, way back in February 2013, and here they are again, with me on the flipside. 

To land, smack bang in the middle of a freezing February, has been the strangest thing. Blue skies and frost, or grey skies and drizzle, but always the frigid air, the dry skin, the inability to get warm, despite the heating and the hotwater bottles, the layers of clothing. 

There have been moments wondering whether perhaps Kinshasa was just some pineapple-scented, DEET-misted dream. And then the thought comes that maybe this, now, is the dream, visions of a life I once had but no longer, everything the same, almost, and yet...different. Familiar faces that tap me on the shoulder in the canteen, or pass me near the lifts, exclaim at me being here, my hair longer, swaddled in winter coat and scarves, plural. A new office building since I left, so that despite those familiar faces, it is as though I am the new girl at school again, not knowing how the printers work, or where the toilets are, or in which bin to deposit my banana skin. There are former Kinshasa colleagues too, who preceded me in the return to London, and I bump into them at the tea point, or coming out of meeting rooms, and I start at how, Wizard-of-Oz-like, these known faces are transplanted to a different world. 

I wander the supermarkets in a daze, marveling at the abundance of fresh green vegetables, the strawberries in February, the tiny cartons of chocolate coconut mylk. Mylk doesn't exist where I am from. At lunchtime it is worse, do I have the vegetarian sushi, the quinoa + feta + edamame salad, the roasted tomato soup? Tottenham Court Road Station is gleaming and new and I do not recognise it. There is wifi on tube platforms, and it seems they have put the trailers back to after the adverts again at the cinema. I can no longer remember which stations are on which branch of the Northern Line, and the double decker buses are entirely different creatures than their predecessors, sleeker, more shiny. 

This dream, it isn't unpleasant. To much choice, perhaps, not enough time in people's diaries, yes, household-admin heavy at the start, definitely, as I re-navigate utility bills and internet providers, where to put the dishwasher salt in the machine. But there are bookshops in this dream, and purple-sprouting broccoli, and I can walk and walk wherever I want to go. Were it not for the fact that I would, just for a moment, like to wake up in my southern-hemisphere room, air-con thrumming in the background, mosquito net draped around, to give E, warm and sleepy beside me, a kiss, I would be very happy to stay here indeed. 

For now, I am here, and he is there, and, just as I threw myself into Kinshasa life, I am throwing myself back into London. There has been cinema and Columbia Road flower market, a pop-up ceramic museum and Drink Shop Do cups of tea, dosas at my favourite South Indian, an excellent play. I have re-paid my subs to the Shoreditch Sisters, my beloved WI of old. I've joined a book group and Blook Club (which might, I hear you say, be too much on the reading front - but with all the tube travel instead of the Kinshasa car I have read a book already this week, so I am definitely up for the challenge). Next week there is late night at the Museum of London tattoo exhibition, Hamlet in Peckham, a play about fertility performed in the Waterloo railway arches (and an alternative Ceilidh there later that week too), and a night of perfume and alcohol as represented in modernist literature. 

Hello London, I've missed you.