Sometimes you find yourself 22 and sat on a Virgin train all on your own. The toilets are locked, but the toilets are the only thing you need. You wonder why the toilets only work when the train is moving. You wonder if in poorer countries than this, the toilet is simply a hole that opens out onto the tracks. You wonder if that was ever the case in England.
None of this is really important though.
None of anything is really really important.
But everything feels like the most important thing in the world.
You did a degree at a prestigious university, you accidentally threw yourself into elite circles where you don’t belong on more counts than one. For a start, you are the child of immigrants who have now re-migrated back to their country. They wish they didn’t have to, but money, lack of pension, the way of the world. You tried to make yourself fit, more than fit, you tried to make yourself beat your host country at its own game because otherwise someone might find out that you don’t belong and kick you out.
Of course no one is going to kick you out. Your passport says so. The Queen says so. You have devoted 21 years of your time, money, energy and emotions to this country, and you have much to show for it. For the next two weeks you are going to live on other people’s couches because they are your friends and you love them dearly.
Your passport has also allowed you to exit and enter and exit and enter this country again and again. You’re British, even though you’ve only spent two and a half months in the country since this time last year. Australia didn’t mind you, but didn’t invite you to stay. China didn’t want to let you in, but would love to keep you there for your commercial value. Mongolia welcomed you, and asked you to come back again but you know you won’t.
And where are you going and where are you from and what will do with your life?
You will go to the bathroom once the train starts moving.
In September you are supposed to be in Scotland. In July you will be in London. A part of you wants to be in America. A bigger part of you wants to have Australian children. But that part is so much further into your future that you know that by the time you get there, things will have changed.
You were naive to think that your life wouldn’t change you.
You used to want to be a writer, and now you think that all your writing - including this - amounts to a sort of intellectual masturbation. So you tried the simple, all-embracing life. You loved it. But you felt too keenly how low down in society you were. Because everything in your life has thrown your upwards. You have thrown yourself upwards. And now anything less would be to fall, which is half a letter away from ‘fail’.
You find yourself with ‘many options’, but none which take your fancy. Somewhere out there, still, is the right option for you, just waiting to be found. You are you, you are adamant that in order not to resent or regret, you must be you, but you is too specific and too aware of all the chains you once refused.
You want nothing more now than the chains in the hope that they might save you. But you know that you would refuse them yet again if they were actually offered to you. You know that, for you, options are made, and sought, not chanced upon. Or sometimes chanced upon. Maybe yet to be chanced upon. Life does have a way of changing you.
[Written on the train from London to Birmingham, returning to someone else’s home after the travels of 2012-2013.]