Last May, I traveled to London solo. Each day I wrote about my adventures in my London Take Two series… and never quite finished it! I still had one last post, about my final day, which sat in my blog folder for these past seven months until I finally brushed it off, polished it up, and decided it was time to publish it. I think it’s taken me that long due to me really needing to soak in my trip. After all, I jumped right back into chaos once I returned from across the pond!
And so without further ado: Day 9 – May 31, 2017 And Beyond.
On the day I woke up knowing my only outing would be to walk down to the Tube and head to the airport, I felt an awful sense of loss.
I was ready to come home and yet I wasn’t.
I wanted to see my family and friends again and yet I wanted one day more.
One more look at Buckingham Palace. One more meal at Pret a Manger. One more walk through the square between Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. One more day of hearing different languages and seeing different people with different faces and different purposes.
The day before, I’d broken records in squeezing into my backpack and suitcase souvenirs I’d bought for friends and heavy books from the British Museum. After I put my final belongings away that morning and made my bed I just stood in my room and looked out my window one last time. I walked out into the kitchen, the living area, gazing out at the London skyline that I knew I wouldn’t see again for a long time.
The first time I left London, I’d written how I knew all good things must come to an end, but that I didn’t know it would be so soon. I think this is the case with all of life, really, which is why – looking back – I’m glad I soaked in every moment and didn’t miss a single thing.
My suitcase was much heavier as I pulled it down the pavement towards the Tube station. I wore my new Stonehenge hat and carried Paddington Bear since he wouldn’t fit into the suitcase or my backpack, which felt like it did when I was in high school and carried textbooks around every day. As I walked I drank in my surroundings of Shoreditch for the last time. The London cars parked on the streets. The narrow roads and old, beautiful buildings towering over them. The grass by the sidewalks. The small cafes on the corners.
I had known all along that this time would come, that eventually my days of wandering the streets of London would be numbered. I had known all along that I only had so much time.
I turned onto Old Street and met the roar of the traffic, the red buses and the gaggle of people carrying on with their lives. Eventually, down the stairs I walked to the Tube, passing the little shops in the station for the last time. Turned the corner to get to the ticket machines for the last time. Pulled out my Oyster card – which I had seen as a rite of passage – to place onto the scanner that would get me into the station for the last time.
For the last time… for the last time…
Every detail was so precious to me. Walking across the station to get to the escalators. Watching the poster advertisements go by on the way down below, many of which were so familiar to me now as I’d spent eight days looking at them at Tube stations.
I sat on the train, holding Paddington Bear in my lap, as my first experience in London the week before reversed itself as the Tube brought me closer and closer to the airport. It occurred to me that my very first time in London, a bus had taken me and my fellow students to our dorms; all I’d had to do was show up and I was pointed in the right direction and delivered safely to my destination. This time, I’d navigated everything by myself with no problems.
It’s a 40-minute Tube ride to Heathrow from Kings Cross Station and I savored every minute of it as we ticked off the stations one by one until finally, finally the automated voice announced our arrival at the terminals.
I got off the Tube with my backpack and suitcase and Paddington Bear and stopped to gather myself a bit.
And I paused before moving on to the escalator that would take me up, tears filling my eyes as I heard the roar of my train fade away. It hit me with awful finality that this was it, leaving this underground station at Heathrow was my final break before I entered the world of airports and traveling and going home and ending everything.
I drew up to the side as the platform emptied as my fellow passengers either made their way up to the airport or got on other trains. For a while, I just stood by myself as the trains passed by, Paddington Bear in one hand and my Oyster card in the other, ready for its final use.
I felt like such a little girl. I wanted someone to point me in the right direction then.
And as I stood there on the platform in a foreign country that felt like home, my belongings by my side, I realized with great magnitude that the world is a great, vast, confusing, exhilarating, uplifting, provoking, mysterious place and holds the answers to questions I never knew dwelled inside me. That the answers to those questions could be found in the most unlikely of circumstances.
That nothing can replace being able to walk the same steps of monarchs from centuries past or reach out and touch the stones onto which people had carved messages hundreds of years before, that doing so harkens back to those who came before us and did things that scared them and pushed through their doubts to do the impossible.
That each phase of life will always be met with mixed emotions, that it may be with uncertainty we keep putting one foot in front of the other. But when we move forward, each step of doubt is matched by one of faith.
It was with this knowledge I took a deep breath, gathered my things, and finally walked towards the escalator to let it carry me up to the airport, where the final ticket scanner awaited, where I took my Oyster card and scanned it for the last time.
And the booth doors opened, and I walked through them, towards the terminal and the plane that would take me home.