The reality hit me during my first tube delay. Here I was, stuck in a tin can underground with hundreds of snarling, groggy commuters. My situation sank in through my bones, a slow, seedy wave of understanding.
This was not holiday.
After years of promises, maybes and "i'm definitely going to do this", I had packed the greenery of home into a suitcase along with a book and a good pair of shoes. I had trudged, crying, through the grey, alien streets to a house I did not know and a future I could not see. The hills and peace of the familiar north seemed like another world as I let the chaos of the city set in my bones. I felt them toughen, felt myself grow new skin, bracing myself for the onslaught of people, noise and opportunity.
I didn't see any birds here. I was surrounded instead by flocks of small dogs who yapped as their owners blethered, oblivious, on phones. I forgot the rule about standing on one side of the escalator, and panicked when I felt the businessmen snapping at my heels.
I journeyed down, down into the depths of the earth, people pouring in like ants, silent, unthinking.
"Signal failure", I heard them say. The sighs and eye rolls confirmed our worst fears. I stood in that tin can, pressed like a sardine against the greasy glass, and let the reality sink against my hardened bones, my toughened spirit.
This was not a holiday.
In the dark, in a tin can under the city streets, I felt myself awaken.