I had this urge to break away as a teenager. To leave the corner of north London that I called home behind, but more specifically to leave my family and build a new start for myself. I didn’t have it bad growing up, not by a long shot, I was just a hormonal teenager who felt the world did her wrong and that life would be so much better when I grew up, had a degree and enough money to do what I wanted when I wanted. Oh teenage me, if only I could take you to one side and tell you what being a grown up really entails. I would be sure to hug my parents more, argue less and tell those boys that held my heart that there was all the time in the world for that, that for now my books and my sports had to come first. That’s hindsight for you.
Coming back to London now is with fresh eyes. Everything is laced with memories. I drove past the West Indian takeaway behind the shopping centre with the cook that used to cuss me out. I asked for extra sauce on my jerk chicken and he came out of the kitchen area to ask what was wrong with his food that made me want it smothered in the sweet sauce. He reminded me of Ice Cube and I used to have quite a crush on that scary man with the fiery chef’s temper. But man oh man did I leave off the sauce and get that chicken dry for years to come rather than be at mercy to his wrath again. I think he liked the fact that he obviously scared me. He would stare me down and then smile as he walked away. Oh yes chef man, I used to see the upward turn of those lips as you marched back to the kitchen as fiercely as you stormed in.
I can’t even eat a piece of toast without being hit by a fond memory of my childhood. Toast, a breakfast staple and something my best friend’s step dad would make into a feast to end all feasts. Where her mum would shout and curse at us for being up all night, he was the perfect good cop to her bad. We would wake up to the smell of fried plantains, bacon and gorgeous freshly baked Turkish bread from the local shops. How I miss that man with his kind eyes and level temper. He had wise words to share but they often fell on our deaf teenaged ears. He knew when we were hung over and just needed a kind word rather than a lecture, he knew we were good kids deep down.
I passed my driving test in a centre just to the right of the picture I used to illustrate this post. The West Indian takeaway is just out of frame to the right. My home was a mile or so over the horizon. I kissed a boy in front of one of the houses at the bottom. These are the streets that made me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This was my London, no bright lights of the west end or mansion houses behind a row of leafy trees and high brick fences. It was full of life, sirens and laughter. It is what made me the woman that stands before us all now.