Coming Home Again

Entry by: kerrymeister

18th August 2017
There is no doubt about it; Heathrow Bus Station has to be the most depressing place on Earth! The very place where all roads meet and yet, this iterant traveller can only see the workers going about their daily routines. Not a jumbo jet in sight, even though they can be heard flying overhead; just a sea of haggard faces - not the archetypal London worker by any stretch of the imagination - straining under years of hard, thankless work for little more than what passes as a living wage in this city.

It is 6:20 in the morning and I have not slept in two days. I am neither away nor home; just somewhere in between, waiting for the coach back home. I used to like the sensation of not being anywhere when waiting for a train or bus connection. So little matters when one exists in a state where one is neither somewhere nor anywhere; one is just here. Sometimes I think it is the best part of any journey. One's obligations are somewhere completely different; the only tasks to be performed here are merely to sit and wait, and trying not to fall asleep before the coach arrives. Oh, and wondering if, after 12 hours on a moving hunk of metal, wearing the same clothes two days in a row, without so much as some toothpaste, if I look as bad as I feel.

I forgot to mention; there is another task one can perform while waiting here: thinking! There's plenty of time for that. Never mind if my thoughts run in to one another or if, every time I try to catch one, it quickly disappears in to the ether. Being holed up in a place like this is the perfect opportunity to think without necessarily being distracted. What else is there to do? Reading is impossible because my mind is too fuzzy; texting or messaging anyone is futile as most of them are probably still asleep or on their way to work; and what would I say to them anyway? I am sitting in a grubby, rundown bus station, somewhere north of the Old Smoke, scrutinising the departure times on the LCD screen to the point where my eyes are starting to water? I guess it's slightly more interesting than posting the items I had for breakfast on Facebook (a cup of coffee and two cigarettes in case you were wondering).

Yet, for all those thoughts rushing in and out of my head, there is one which continues to linger with overwhelming clarity: I do not want to get on that coach. Not because I have spent the best part of a day on one already, although that does have some bearing on my new found hatred of large, wheeled conveyances. Only that where I must go and to what it is I am returning will be the ruin of me. Ardent though I am to be back in my own bed and fast asleep, I know I do not want to go back. I never wanted to be there in the first place. I just arrived one day and ended up staying for 13 years.

No, that isn't quite it. The actual place, with its odd mixture of architectural styles and a harbour once famous (infamous) for its almost infinite capacity to export human cargo to distant lands are not the problem. It is a city, more or less like any other, apart from its historical contradictions. It is my life within it which bothers me. For, every time I go away to visit friends and family, I find myself quickly acclimatising myself to being in the company of others again; to know that, if I go for a walk or take a trip somewhere, upon my return there will always be someone there with whom I can share my adventures.

Alas, no such luck where I'm going. Every wall, of every street, of every thoroughfare exudes memories of a past life I have never quite been able to shake. Too many ghosts and I am so incredibly tired of being haunted. I long for some kind of succour - more than the stories I tell myself each night so that I might yet be able to fall asleep before 3am - the like of which I seem completely and utterly unable to find in what was meant to be - and has become - my home, if only by default. My ship sailed while my back was turned a long time ago; only recently did I finally look behind me and realise it has gone.

By default? Well, yes, very much so. Such friends as I might have once had have now moved on or moved away, and there really is nowhere else for me to go. I know its streets and alleys like the back of my hand; the names of the best pubs; the best places to get cheap, tasty meals; the cinemas and theatres; everything but that which is the most important thing of all to know: its people. Thirteen turbulent years in that place and I still know nothing of its people. I can tell you the number and route of every bus in the city (purely by accident, I can assure you); I can name every street, square and alley within a three mile radius; I know all the landmarks; and I could tell you myriad mischievous tails from the pubs I once frequented, of which there were many. And yet, I cannot tell you the name of a single person I know well enough to call a friend.

So perhaps not a home after all; I wonder if I can still remember what that word actually means anymore. I suppose, in much the same way as pondering the meaning of life, its definition is fluid, in the sense that, like any word or object, it has no meaning until we bestow one upon it. There! I have, it seems, answered at least one of the most important philosophical questions in the history of the human race: what is the meaning of life? Why, the meaning of life is the one we each give it! Not bad for someone suffering from the rigours of extreme tiredness and still reeling from what has to be a close contender for one of the worst journeys I've ever undertaken.

You see? Heathrow Bus Station really is the most depressing place on Earth. From its utilitarian architecture, the like of which might once have been fashionable in the 1960s and 70s - now little more than a massive collection of drab, dirty car parks and waiting areas - to the marauding mass of cleaners, bus drivers, cashiers and whoever else found themselves lost in this concrete jungle, it retains a somewhat bleak and forlorn atmosphere. The only comfort to be drawn from being here is that my waiting time is finite; not so for the poor souls who arrive every day to do the jobs "good" English folk now consider beneath them. Not that it has ever stopped such "good" folk from complaining about how those jobs rightfully belong to the English and have been stolen right from under their noses; something which has always puzzled me because, if there were jobs to be taken by immigrants when they arrived, why did our indigenous population never take them before those immigrants arrived? Their respective races and religions may well be different now, but they still make convenient scapegoats for this country's woes.

So I guess I should be grateful. Regardless of where I go at least I can go. All I have to do during this short interlude, besides thinking and staring at the LCD screen, is look on while these people, old before their time and not a single smile between them, work themselves in to an early grave so that they might eek out a living. I will get on another coach and, sooner or later, forget I ever saw those workers, so often taken for granted and, in the eyes of many a traveller passing through, completely invisible. These workers, who are the lifeblood of this God forsaken place and, in all probability, the city itself are, in the eyes of the majority, persona non grata. Or so it seems to me. But maybe I am wrong; after all, I have not slept for two days and my head is starting to feel funny...

At last, after my long and careful scrutiny of the 'Departures' board, my coach finally arrives.

For the first time in two days I am glad to be going back home.