It was the kind of cold that clings to every contour of your face and slips into your sleeves when you forget to wear your gloves and it infiltrated the streets of London while Alyssa and I scurried from street to street, whirled through the underground from station to station. Our friend Saul’s parents graciously offered to host us again, last time we visited London, and not wanting to miss even the smallest bit of Ben Howard’s third and final sold-out show at the Brixton Academy, eagerly took them up on their offer. We arrived in East Putney a bit before one in the afternoon. We chatted with Saul’s dad for a few moments, relishing in the comforts of an American accent, dropped our things off, and were back out into the cold soon. We wanted to get to the venue early enough to hop in line and assure our spots in the front row at the show. After munching on Big Macs and a few spare minutes at a Brixton McDonald’s, we huddled up on the steps of the venue with a few other diehard fans aspiring for prime standing. We waited for about three hours, made a couple of good friends Tom and Viviana, who had surrendered the company of their less-than-committed friends to get front row. We banded together and claimed our places, flawlessly.
The show was, I still affirm, the best concert I’ve ever been to. Ben had an awkward stage presence, which I found comforting, actually, as proof that he hadn’t been molded by his explosive, world-wide fame. Here are the only shots I took with my phone:
The concert was a beautiful thing. It got over, and me and Alyssa, along with our two new English friends, made our way toward the merch tables where we ran into two of the artists behind the opening band, Brother & Bones. The younger one, Rob, was really fun to talk to, and the older one looked like Eddie Vedder. When I told him that he reminded me of my Seattleite hero, he took it as a compliment, and guessed that I lived there and probably missed it a lot. He said if it’s the last thing he does, he’ll make it to Seattle to play a show.
And then, within what seemed like moments, the four of us were taking the escalator back up from the Brixton tube station, where the Victoria line had been closed due to a “person on the tracks”. We had made it, frantically, through the gates and onto the stationary train, the only train that served the Brixton station. The first announcement called for us to leave the train because it wouldn’t go anywhere anytime soon. It took two more announcements, though, for the situation to resonate with me. A person, on the tracks. “Must’ve jumped, or maybe been pushed,” I heard Viviana say. “Happens a lot in December, when the station’s crowded. Guess we’ll take the bus!”
Weird. A person, under the train? A jumper. Not a person at all, anymore, but a body. Odd language, I guess, to use, announcing a death as an inconvenience to grumbling Londoners. I was confused. An inconvenience? A person had just died, had likely just surrendered their life to the grimy underground tracks, maybe because they knew they would be affirmed in their lack of significance by the mechanical announcement to follow. I felt something grip my chest, honestly, something that changed the atmosphere of the evening, no matter what bus we caught, what angry crowd we were in, or even when we ran circles around the Waterloo station before finally catching the last line to East Putney. Not even until I huddled up in bed next to Alyssa and scanned pictures she’d taken from that night, from the concert, before that person on the tracks had jumped, when they were still a a person, it haunted me. I still don’t know quite what to do with it. I find myself thinking about Haiti and the survival mode that my mind and instincts adapted to get me through my month, there. Why was it so odd, then, to witness the level that these Londoners were desensitized to the tragedy of suicide on the subway?
But I was with Alyssa, we were together and safe and alive. The next day we would almost lose her phone on the tube after taking a wrong train, and battle the bitter, biting cold in a frugal trek up to campus from the bus station in town, refusing to spend a pound fifty on bus fare. It had been an unexpectedly expensive and taxing weekend, and that shower and hot toast were delicacies before Skyping Kaleigh to hear of Haiti and slipping into bed. I went to bed listening to my fighting mind.
Now, it’s almost Tuesday, and time to realign my intellects toward finishing the term strong. I’m really excited about my American Literature essay, once again, and hope to have my first draft finished by tomorrow night. Our last lecture, on Henry James, was today, and I did get a little sad toward the end, realizing it would be the last. I’ll miss the lectures, definitely, when I get back to the American school system.
Farewell for now.