Hola! Hope you're smiling :)
I arrived at Whitechapel. It felt almost like an honour when the Underground station staff opened the special exit for people with ‘awkward luggage.’ It’s only when I emerged out of the station that the cold really came to acquaint itself with me. London’s winter cold. I was happy to make its acquaintance.
Just as that migratory bird that has been to this place before and recognizes every bit of it, I could recognize the little strip of Whitechapel that runs from the station to Catharine’s apartment. The tiny Bangladeshi mobile shop on the left where I tried buying a Lyca card from in July, and the really narrow brick lane, I could recognize them.
I had to get to Catharine’s place from here. I couldn’t take a cab as I knew the place was quite close and I didn’t want to ask anyone around for help, everyone seemed extremely busy setting street shops up that early in the morning and many had customers too. There were mainly farmer carts and wollens’ stalls. Most vendors were Asian, I could tell that many of those were Bangladeshi. A few of them noticed me and they could tell that I wasn’t very confident about myself but nobody bothered me – of course, it’s London!
But who can tell the fear of a first time solo-traveler in a city like London. And just as one can’t imagine my apprehension, that doubt in taking the next step forward, one can also not tell the thrill of it all, the joy of not knowing what might happen next, the joy of the greatest ranging possibilities – from finding Catharine in the next few minutes to not being able to reach Catharine all day and having to check into a hotel or a B&B, anything could happen!
I tried using my five month old Lyca card, got it recharged and tried calling Catharine but the card wouldn’t work. So, here’s a tip for second time visitors to England, your Lyca card wouldn’t work after two months of inactivity.
Luckily I had some British coins and there were one or two phone booths on the sidewalk. I recognized the one I had posed next to in July. Again, I felt unreasonably proud in using the ‘Telephone Box’ for a real purpose than just for posing as most tourists do. Catharine wasn’t answering. I couldn’t be there at the phone booth for too long as I noticed that I was being noticed. So I kept walking until I saw a superbly pleasant sight – ‘The Beggar’s Bowl.’ I just needed to get to that pub and I knew Catharine’s place from there.
I kept walking, confidently now, pulling my duffel bag behind me. Within minutes, I arrived at Catharine’s apartment and in a time even lesser than that, I was standing under her balcony with Tibetan-flags flying in London’s winter morning winds.
This is an achievement; I saw no reason why I shouldn’t congratulate myself. I couldn’t stop giggling. I remember how happy and proud I was to be that that I imagined – a traveler with nothing more than an address and who turns up at just the right place without any help – Sebastian style!
Glowing with energy and in the winter sun, I stood under Catharine’s balcony as there was no way I could get to her flat. I had no problem waiting there as my friend would leave the flat at some point and find me outside her house. Also, I knew her boyfriend leaves for work at around 8:30 am. I was happy to just hang out with my luggage.
The place was utterly quiet with only the sound of leaves rustling against the wind and the occasional tinker of keys as a few people locked their doors, left the compound and marched into the City of London to create their daily stories. I imagined myself in their heavy, winter shoes, a Londoner with a day job and a place to live in, in Whitechapel. Imagining it gave me a chill. I am yet to fully understand what that means.
I wasn’t out for very long, only until a delivery van entered the apartment complex. The driver in his high-visibility clothing seemed to know Catharine’s neighbours. Upon seeing me sitting alone on Catharine’s apartment’s steps and with heavy luggage at my feet, he inquired if I was okay. I told him that I just arrived from India but I am unable to wake up my friend as I don’t quite know her flat number though I recognize it from standing under it.
I was very amused that he took notice of me unlike the many busy people who locked their doors and walked past me without a glance. It amused me further that he was trying to help me. I really didn’t want to trouble him so I said I was fine and would wait until he asked me for Catharine’s number and handed his phone to me. She answered! Soon I was in London, at my angelic host’s flat – enjoying a big glass of water, my heart full of gratitude for the way things turned out , especially for the kind stranger in his high-visibility jacket and very simple phone. All I needed immediately was internet connection to talk to mum for a bit, a hot shower and some rest.