An afternoon and I am going to visit my old university tutor – there is something about Whitechapel today, something in the warmer air, the colours of the shops and the cheap flapping clothes market stalls. Movements of people, sirens going to the Royal London and the way builders turn to watch a girl as she runs past. I buy a bunch of tulips outside the tube station, four small heads of red and yellow, orange and pink, squashed a little in the clear cellophane.
There is an old couple on the tube, he has his eyes closed and she is reading a library book to him. I can tell it is from the library because it has one of those clear covers that always feel a little warm and sticky in your hands, making me think of summers and orange squash and fingerprints. I write a birthday letter to my friend in America, the pen jolting with the sway of the train and the ink bleeding into the crease.
When I see my tutor we meet at her tall house with art on the walls and the views from her study over the graveyard. There is tea and cake and a checked tablecloth; she puts the four tulips in a vase and fills it with water, cupping the coloured heads in her hand and says they’re like sweets. Her daughters M and K come home from school and there is talk of ballet classes and reading folders and impregnating the sleek black cat who dips under my hand as I stroke her back. As much as I try cats never seem to like me very much – I smile to myself thinking of what my friends would say to this and how Alfie would always spill himself out of my arms to land lightly on Al’s kitchen floor, or slip sideways if I went to stroke his head.
As I leave her house for the tube, it is dusk and there are light in the shops and the air feels lovely and mild, I know that I have Whitechapel and someone coming for pancakes at the other end of the line. It somehow feels special that I meet her on a day that I have been writing in London for one year, something nice in the cycle and the movement of the year. The fact that I write this down on the last page of a notebook that Laura gave me before I moved to London, a book from a shop in Paris we went to when I visited her in June, halfway through last year: reference points in my life and I run my hands along the railings as I walk back to the tube tk tk tk.
Jamie outside the pub on Friday night, his wide smile and laugh. We lament his football club and talk about how long we have known each other, remembering history class, the square buildings and tree branches half glimpsed from Monday morning hangovers.
Ruth’s face and hugging her on the platform of Kings Cross – Al and I squeeze her tight and tell her we love her new hair. Sunshine and pints outside the pub starting early on a Saturday, people passing us and we watch them go by, the first sunglasses and brave bare ankles of spring.