I step up to the ticketing counter and heave my duffel onto the scale.
“You on the Heathrow flight?” the agent asks.
I’m digging through my bag for my passport—flustered—so I only nod.
He tags my duffel, then asks, “You from London?”
“What? No, California born and raised.” I slide my passport across the counter.
“Ah, this your first time?”
“Yes. Wait. No. Second.”
He hands back my passport. “Well, regardless, enjoy your flight.”
This is not my first time in London, not really at least, but in some ways it is—I’m here, we’re here, this little group, this fabulous class, for three weeks. Three weeks to study Shakespeare and live, stomp the streets, go crazy in the world that is London.
Last time, my first time, I only had a day. One day to race the streets before moving on to Oxford. What can you learn about a place as vast as London in a day? How can one claim to understand such a dynamic city, such a intricately threaded land in a DAY? While my first priority for this course is conquering the words of Shakespeare, immersing myself into London’s culture and understanding it as if it were my own thoughts is also of utmost importance to me.
And yet I’m a contradiction. I’m going to write against my own words and say it feels familiar–London, I mean–like my first day on campus at CC. After living in the westside of Colorado Springs and loafing about campus sporadically for ten months, returning to campus a year later was warm, so warm—like falling into a repeat dream. Campus was still foreign, but was somehow also an instant cocoon, like home, like my knitted childhood blanket. And that’s how London feels. I don’t know it, not quite, but it is soft on my mind. Like I lived here in a dream life.
Racing through customs, the polite smiles, the gaping smiles, smiles with teeth of character, no uniformity, to each her own. Softly, giddily, they speak. Or are they only giddy in my mind because I hear the British accent as words coated in glee? Skip skip skip down to the Tube, for why the hell would I let my forty-pound duffel, bloated backpack, and shoulder bag slow me down? Don’t mind the fact that I haven’t slept in two days, that my muscles are swollen from my ten-hour flight from LAX. I’m here–I’m here! In the Underground, in England. The warm winds that sweep through the tunnels. The smell! It’s not a bad smell, not a good smell, but a smell that is worn shoes, of a city of constant movement, of concrete and machine. I know this smell.
The ride sweeps me to Russell Square, my thoughts curving into the city by tunnel. I can’t stop staring at people. At the girl sleeping and reading and sleeping and reading and I’m so enraptured with how one can switch between sleeping and reading so quickly. At the blond shaggy haired boys with the rosiest cheeks I’ve ever seen, and the group of businessmen with sparkling watches and gleaming brief cases. They speak of their night’s mistakes, of the meeting they’re approaching. And I want to scream. I want to hold my bag over my head and dance in a circle and make them all look at me so they can they understand, understand my thrill when I begin to sing I’m here, I’m here, I’m here!
But I don’t, that would be weird—perhaps a bit too dramatic. I remain seated. I smile and watch velvet green leaves blur into brick and stone. I exit at Russell Square and snake my way to Pickwick Hall and greet familiar faces—CC faces, what a blessing! The class has begun. But sleep. First, finally sleep.
And now here we are, not in London, but on a rocking train in route to Stratford-upon-Avon, to explore Shakespeare’s homeland, to understand, learn, enjoy. Richard III is on the agenda tonight and hopefully my thoughts will settle soon so I can focus, for in this moment, I can only focus on two truths: I am here, here, here and England is so, so green.