In June 2021, I finally left London after months of being “stuck” in what many consider as the greatest city in the world. To me though, London might’ve looked great on paper, but we somehow never quite landed on the same page.
It was always a mismatch to begin with. From the way it looked, to the air it emitted; the glove never truly fitted my wounded hand. I arrived in London with a bandaged scar on my right thumb, five stitches of a dream turned nightmare. My scar and my heart were, not work but, heal in progress.
On paper, London and I should’ve meshed seamlessly. For a big city girl, there wasn’t another greater metropolis to tackle, to own, to strut in. Yet, who could’ve predicted this as a plausible notion: London was far too vast. “It takes an actual road trip to reach Point A from Point B!” I used to whine incessantly after long Uber rides where I connected the most with drivers – mostly immigrants from various parts of the world: Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, India, Iran…places I’ve been to. So we shared stories of the past in faraway lands where colonization was part of their reluctant and sordid histories.
Theoretically, London and I shouldn’t have suffered from miscommunication. We spoke the same language, we both derive from dominant nations working as powerful allies. Somehow, I didn’t understand meanings behind sentences purposely formed to disguise honesty while humor was belittling. English comedian Ricky Gervais once wrote in an essay for TIME, “We use sarcasm as a shield and a weapon. We avoid sincerity until it’s absolutely necessary. We mercilessly take the piss out of people we like or dislike basically. And ourselves. This is very important.” Except, try meeting guys who take the piss out of you throughout the entire date. Prince Charming? I don’t think so. It was yet another long Uber ride home, this time, the driver was from Afghanistan. He was delightful with a fascinating story to tell, without having to take the piss out of me.
London was a rebound often compared to a former flame. Except the ex was my one true love: Paris. How does one surpass the City of Lights quite literally illuminated by glimmers of dream while oozing tender romance. It might’ve been unfair to compare Victorian vs. Haussmann, Tate vs. Le Centre Pompidou, Hyde vs. Tuillerie, pubs vs. wine caves, fish and chips vs. steak-frites and…well, hundreds of other French national dishes. Despite that it’s unfair, it’s only human nature to judge and compare. So London made me realize how in love I’ve always been with Paris, not that doubt was ever in sight. As I’ve frequently mentioned, when I walked out of my Parisian apartment, magic sprinkled with every step I took. When I stepped out of the apartment in London, I feared the majority of folks who refused to wear masks during UK’s peak stage of a second wave during the coronavirus pandemic.
I could never firmly pinpoint what it was about London that simply didn’t feel right. “Everyone I met was so nice today!” I used to exclaim after grocery shopping at Marks & Spencer or quick errands at Boots. But maybe love requires more than “nice.” My heart should’ve skipped a beat whenever I explored its ancient mews, my will should’ve leaned towards spending hours in the city’s long list of art galleries and renowned museums, I should’ve wanted to indulge all night long in some of the world’s most fashionable bars and restaurants. Everyone loved the city except for me, so I tried. But I didn’t want to. London and I simply didn’t click, we couldn’t ignite a passionate chemistry based on niceness.
Could I have blamed it on timing? After all, I was mending a broken heart. In 2008, I was in London on a weekend solo trip. At some point, I found myself in midst of a busy market on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. After purchasing two leather belts made in Morocco, a different street vendor selling artisanal jewelries caught my attention. Just as I was searching for my lavender wallet, I couldn’t find it in my bag. Panic shot through my body, fear erupted my spirit. Next thing I knew, I was asking for directions to the nearest police station. I was pickpocketed, the police filed a report but he didn’t appear optimistic since cases like these occurred almost daily in Notting Hill. I walked back to the hotel that evening, exhausted and alone. In this moment, I hated London. Throughout the last thirteen years, I had been back to the city numerous times. Each trip was fun but not amazing, tasty but not heavenly delicious, interesting but never life-changing.
When the world shut down in 2021, I found myself back in London, ready to finally love it. Truly and deeply. Even though we never fully arrived at love, I am forever grateful for the life lessons that the city instilled in my fractured soul. Amid lockdowns and passive aggressiveness, London healed me. I learned to set clear boundaries between friends, identified and deleted negative energy, as well as fostering the hell out of genuine and beautiful friendships. I couldn’t have left London as a weak or wounded woman, it wouldn’t have been appropriate.
I’m a firm believer that every role plays a teachable part in our lives. London might not have been a core shaker, but it reconstructed my core so I can move on to truly love, once again.