Yesterday I read Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, which tells the story of Morayo Da Silva, a retired Nigerian academic living in San Francisco. Morayo tries out writing in the styles of books she reads, making notes after the final pages. I decided to try the same technique with the stream of consciousness narrative style of Like a Mule. So, here’s a short story:
I roll my shoulders, starting a procession of clicks. I shouldn’t be so creaky, I think. Never mind. Yoga, calcium, sunlight, optimism. I adjust my posture and close the article I was reading before the ache distracted me. Something about millennials. I’m not sure why I opened it. My friends and I use that term jokingly, sitting in the same pub we first visited as teenagers. There was an exodus to university cities across the south and a similar one a few years later, bringing us back like the tide we used to run after.
I look at the time, drape my scarf around my neck, pick up my coat, hang my bag on my shoulder and place my phone inside it. Purse, phone, keys, umbrella… I check the first three items again and leave the cafe. As I descend one of several staircases that lead to my tutor’s office, my phone vibrates. I don’t stop to see what caused the soft murmur, instead negotiating an awkward shuffle through a corridor not fit for two-way traffic.
The dark-haired man – boy? – who acts as my partner for this brief dance gives an apologetic look and carries on. His manner or movement, I can’t quite decide which, reminds me of the Spanish exchange student I shared a critical theory class with in my first year as an undergraduate. We once walked with mutual friends through the woods to our halls of residence, swapping stories about the places in which we grew up. His distant city sounded more vibrant than my small town along the coast, but I didn’t resent it.
When I reach the office, I knock and wait. Jane calls me in, so I enter the book-lined room. Bag down, coat off, scarf unwound, I ask how she is and tell her I’m fine when the question comes back to me. That answer always comes out automatically. I’m fine, thank you. We talk for ten minutes about how I’m settling in, the modules I’m taking, the projects she’s working on. As I repeat the earlier process in reverse, winding my scarf again, I spot the river through the window behind her. It looks especially murky today, far less shiny than the Shard rising above it. I thank Jane and shut the door quietly.
Now that my last meeting of the day is complete, I exit onto the Strand. Car horns accompany my walk past Somerset House – soon to be clad with festive lights – and across the road, where Waterloo Bridge meets Theatreland. I notice that the Savoy is now boasting signs for Dreamgirls instead of Funny Girl and I realise that I don’t feel particularly dreamy or funny today. Pausing at a crossing, I make a mental note to eat and sleep well later.
I bear right onto Trafalgar Square. I consider stopping at the Portrait Gallery, but the sky is darkening and I’d rather get home. Still walking, I linger on that word for a while. Home. There’s something of it here, I decide, as I step across the Mall and enter the park, but the grand landmarks don’t belong to me. I continue along the path and past the pond, recalling lunchtimes spent reading during my first summer internship and spring picnics enjoyed before matinée shows.
I think of Mrs Dalloway walking in Westminster, feeling far out to sea and alone. Solitude can be pleasant and necessary, but I smile as I consider returning to the warmth of company. Leaving the trees behind, I breathe in cool air, slightly tainted with taxi fumes, and begin the final stretch towards Victoria. This is freedom, I suppose. Moving, feeling, remembering.
After a little while longer, taking in glass, concrete and Georgian façades, I reach the station. Almost miraculously, there is a train leaving in ten minutes. I locate a seat, roll my shoulders again and check my phone. I find a message. ‘Home soon?’