The sidewalks are dotted with faceless people – heads down and marching at speed. Not daring to look each other in the eye in fear of seeming intrusive or rude. It amazes me how we live in such close proximity of our fellow Londoners, from sharing the same coffee shop to squeezing against one another like sardines in a can on the tubes during rush hour, yet know nothing about one another.
We put on our iPods, read The Metro and pretend we are on some other planet – never dreaming of making idle chatter with the person to our right. Despite the fact you’re all packed in like cattle and their elbow is mashed into your ribcage. Londoners definitely manage a remarkable paucity of verbal communication.
Eight o’ clock and the city springs to life! Buses and tubes bustle with eager bodies, elated by thoughts of their night ahead. The scent of cologne and perfume fills the already oxygen-deprived carriages as young girls carry out their last minute makeup checks, before darting off the tube and across the platform to the dynamic world above. Up at street level, natives beetle into plush bars, pausing only to window shop or steal a glimpse at their reflection in the polished glass. The night is young, and so are its inhabitants!
I sneak through an alleyway in the Soho district, in hopes of avoiding the crowds and find a shortcut to my destination. It is in these urine-stained, rat-infested passageways I meet the residents of a somewhat London Underworld. Faces plastered with inches of white paste, bodies pierced like skewers, adorned with tattoos that cover every inch of available flesh. Punks amble past me – hair gelled in gravity-defying styles, whilst two middle-age queens sing “Agadoo” arm in arm.
I continue to wander through the canyon-like streets, as dusk swallows the last golden rays of the day, leaving a void of blackened sky in its wake. At night, these sepulchres of London can be terrifying places, and I cannot but think back to the late 1800s – the time of Jack the Ripper – when these streets were his playground for mayhem. A shiver runs down my spine and I begin to speed up my pace.
As I meander through the catacombs, I am intrigued at these creatures of the night and realise just how diversified big cities are. Down on the high street, business men and women scurry along in Prada and Gucci – pristine and polished – whilst the alleyways serve as a safe haven for those souls who wish to reinvent themselves. To be the people they know they are inside – and feel comfortable in their own skins.
As my heavily tattooed friend Abbi recently told me, “If nobody knows who you are and nobody has any expectations of you – you can be who you want to be.”
The pandemonium of the high street becomes clearer now as I draw closer to where I need to be. The air smells cleaner, fresher and tanned bodies are in sight! I catch sight of Abbi striding towards me – flaming red hair and layers of multi-coloured attire. She has embraced London as a platform to showcase her vibrant personality. Something one could never execute among the clones of Sandton or Bryanston. “Stick with me kid,” she says with a twinkle in her eye, “I’ll show you the world!”