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  • Marta Ķepīte

I Am The City

I used to dream of being here. Well, not exactly here. But here, as in this city. You didn’t think I actually dreamed of being right next to Sherlock Holmes, did ya? Neither did I. But here I was – almost half as tall as the legendary man. I stood by his feet, feeling for a moment absolutely insignificant and boring, like a slap in the face of all humanity. Then again, his presence empowered me.

“Yes, I am here, right next to him. I belong here,” I thought to myself as my ears filled with the sweet, sweet voices of ABBA.

“Chiquitita, tell me what’s wrong, you’re enchained by your own sorrow, in your eyes there is no hope for tomorrow. How I hate to see you like this! There is no way you can deny it, I can see that you’re oh so sad, so quiet.”

“I don’t know, ABBA. I’m just not feeling it lately, you know.”

“Chiquitita, tell me the truth, I’m a shoulder you can cry on, your best friend, I’m the one you must rely on. You were always sure of yourself, now I see you’ve broken a feather, I hope we can patch it up together.”

“Well, there’s this guy… I just want to hold his hand again.”

“Chiquitita, you and I know how the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving. You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end, you will have no time for grieving.”

For some people, ABBA might be a Swedish pop band that only influenced the whole of music history and became absolute legends. For me, they are the cure for sadness; ABBA has always been present in my life, even when I wasn’t really aware of it as my mother listened to “Dancing Queen” and danced around the kitchen. Like it or not, this band is just another thing that connects me with my mom. And, to be honest, ABBA can be the cure for anything, you just have to listen carefully and they will start to sound almost like a therapist.

“So the walls came tumbling down and your love’s a blown-out candle. All is gone and it seems too hard to handle. Chiquitita, tell me the truth, there is no way you can deny it. Sing a new song, Chiquitita, try once more, like you did before.”

The thing is, I didn’t feel like dancing or singing. Not that night. I Hadn’t felt like dancing or singing for a while.

“Got a light, darling?” a deep voice disturbed my conversation with ABBA out of nowhere and for a moment, I believed it was Sherlock asking.

“Sorry, no,” I replied with eyes wide in shock, turning my head towards the tall detective.

“What are you looking at?” the voice asked, but the detective’s lips weren’t moving. Had I finally gone completely mad? Was I hallucinating?

“I don’t know… What… How are you doing that?”

“Doing what, love?”

“That. How are you talking right now?”

“I… Well, fokin’ ‘ell, miss, I don’t know, I just… ye’ know, I just move my lips, I guess,” said Sherlock now just as confused as me, but he didn’t move a single muscle, just stood there like a stone.

“I’m so confused right now,” I finally said, gazing at the detective’s face, hoping to see some movement.

“So am I,” said the voice, and the moment I began asking if he was somehow trapped inside a stone sculpture, I spotted something moving in the corner of my eye.

A homeless person came right up to me and looked at Sherlock. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had heard the detective speak up. Maybe we were the chosen ones to witness something magical – me and a homeless guy, who smelled like shit and bananas.

“Are you one of them crazy persons, miss?” the homeless man asked in the same deep voice that had belonged to Sherlock.

I didn’t respond, just looked at him in bewilderment and then back at the Sherlock sculpture, and then back at the homeless guy again. There I was – standing by the Baker Street underground station, listening to ABBA and truly believing that the 9.8-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Sherlock Holmes was asking me for a light. I could have just explained all that to the homeless guy but instead I just burst out laughing and said: “Yeah, I guess,” and walked away.

I heard one last juicy “fokin’ ‘ell”, before I turned the volume in my earphones up and let ABBA cover up my embarrassment.

I always liked the idea of walking around in the night more than actually walking around in the night alone. Especially in London, where the traffic seemingly never ended, and the streets were never completely empty. Even on that night when I was walking all the way from Camden to Baker Street, my hand holding onto his in the warm pocket of his coat, thinking how wonderful it is that I can finally be alone with him, we were disturbed by two foxes in the middle of the road. I’m still not sure if they were fighting or fore-playing but I wouldn’t blame them if it was the latter, because there seemed to be something truly magical in the air that night. Something other than pollution.

I thought it might be my love, but now I know it was all fox love – the kind that appears in the middle of the street at nights, makes you stop, cling on to the warm hand in his coat pocket a bit tighter and believe that all that crap about “dreams coming true” and “positive thinking” and “if it’s meant to be, it will be” is real. But foxes are tricksters, they outsmart you only to prey on you and since it’s nothing but fox love, you end up being the fool rabbit of the whole story – the one that gets eaten; swallowed up by all the emotions and unreal fantasies.

I still passionately believe that foxes don’t belong in the streets of London, they should be running around woods.

“Think about what foxes eat,” he told me in a very teacher-like manner. “London is like a paradise for them. Bastards of the streets.”

I smiled. Bastards of the streets. That’s a name for book right there. Or a band. And just like that, the foxes had faded from my mind and all my thoughts drifted back to the hand in the pocket of his coat. Had I known that it would be the only time I would get to hold that hand, I probably wouldn’t have let go, but you don’t want to be swallowed up by foxes and their fox love, so you let go and if that street bastard comes back to you, then you greet him with arms wide open; if not – he belongs to the wild streets of this city. And not even ABBA can fix a part of nature like that. But a girl can still hope.

“If you change your mind, I’m the first in line. Honey, I’m still free, take a chance on me.”

“Please, ABBA, that makes me sound desperate!”

“You want me to leave it there, afraid of a love affair, but I think you know, that I can’t let go.”

Although I loved that ABBA song to bits, I reached down in my pocket for my phone and demanded Spotify to shuffle on towards the next song.

“I’m nothing special, in fact I’m a bit of a bore. If I tell a joke, you’ve probably heard it before.”

“What the hell ABBA?! Aren’t you supposed to cheer me up?”

I shuffled again.

The words: “Somewhere in the middle of the never-ending noise, there is a pulse, a steady rhythm of a heart that beats and a million voices blend into a single voice and you can hear it in the clamour of the crowded streets, people come and take their chances, ooh, ooh, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose a lot, come make your own contribution to this melting pot,” of the song “I Am the City” replaced the sweet “Thank You for the Music”, and as I made my way down Baker Street towards Hyde Park, I figured that the alternative name for this song might as well be “I am London”.

A crazy smile appeared on my face, partly because of ABBA and partly because I remembered how I had thought the sculpture of Sherlock Holmes had come to life. I wondered what he would say to me, if he had come to life. Probably something like: “Pigeons. Bloody flying garbage rats! Can’t stand them!”

“Dude, me too,” I would reply.

“What the hell are those birds eating? How come their crap is so huge? Can’t they go and crap on George Orwell? I hear he’s standing not so far from here.”

“Pigeons be like that. They crap on everyone. Just the other day one almost flew in my face.”

“Hate them!”

“Amen, Holmsey! A-bloody-men!”

“And people are no better!”

“Oi, careful now, I’m people!”

“I mean, look! There’s a bin right there but they keep leaving beer cans and cigarette butts by my feet!”

“Well, what did you expect? You’re standing right across from the underground station and a pub! And there’s a pub right behind you as well!”

“Oh, is there? I didn’t notice!”

“For a detective, you aren’t that good at noticing a four-story building, where almost every night people gather around, shout at TVs and get shitfaced.”

“Excuse me, but it’s quite hard to see what’s behind me since I’m a bloody statue and can’t turn my head!”

“Ah, right, my bad!”

“You’re not very bright, are you?”

“Oh, wow, and you’re not very polite, you stone, pigeon-shit-covered snooper!”

“Detective. The best the world has ever seen, for that matter.”

“Yeah, in movies.”

“Excuse me?”

“You were made up.”

“At least I was created by an actual writer.”

“You really are a grumpy old bastard, aren’t you?”

“I want to see how nice you would be after standing here for ages, getting crapped all over by pigeons that are full of that disgusting food people keep throwing on the streets!”

“Right, alright, calm down, I get it, you hate being crapped on by the birds.”

“You really think that’s the only crap I have seen? Said it yourself, I’m standing right in front of the station AND a pub. And apparently there’s another pub behind me.”

The more I thought about it, the sadder I got about all the sculptures that are constantly surrounded by tourists trying to climb them, hug them and use them as a place to take a piss. Sure, there are definitely sculptures that are protected at least from the latter tragedy like, the George Orwell one that’s placed by the BBC building. And only because it’s next to BBC; I seriously doubt anyone dares to relieve themselves anywhere near there. Then again, you never know. After all, it’s London.

London is a city built on crazy. You walk around the streets, hearing stories that could make Sherlock Holmes’ sculpture come to life only to say: “Fokin ‘ell!” More importantly, once you land your feet on this island, you become a part of those stories, you become part of the crazy and there’s nothing more fun than that.

Hyde Park, which I had finally reached on my nightly walk around Marylebone, never really smelled like a park. Maybe the deeper into the park you went, the more it seemed like a part of real nature. Not fake nature, the fox nature that was carefully designed and artificially planted all over the rest of the central parts of this city.

I never really liked Hyde Park that much, I preferred Regent’s Park, which seemed much nicer. However tonight I needed to be in Hyde Park because I wanted to look at the horse.

There it was, with its nose against the ground and ears pointing towards the sky, where you could rarely see any stars because of the light pollution.

“Poor birds,” I thought, whenever I heard them sing during the nights. “They are so confused.”

I almost felt the urge to write a manifesto about how all the city lights are confusing birds but then I remembered my non-existent conversation with Sherlock and how much we both hated pigeons and I focused on the horse’s head instead.

I had to do something important. I finally realized that I wanted to be a part of this crazy city. I wanted to be a part of the people, who filled the streets, spent more than half an hour waiting to get on the bloody Central Line and spent Friday nights in pubs only to go and take a breather leaning against the Sherlock Holmes sculpture. I believed I could be crazy enough to belong here. That is why I had come all the way to see this horse. Or rather, - it’s head.

I stood right across from it, looking at it, studying it inch by inch, until finally I gathered up the courage to say what needed to be said.

“Why the long face, mate?”

This story originally appears on the Wells Street Journal Issue 11.

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