‘Go west!’ the old song from Saturday night had urged and here was Deni in NW1, a not very edgy bit of Edgware Road. She’d walked up from Oxford Street through Marylebone. Aside from a few bitter, slushy days the winter had been ideal for walking, so she’d covered a lot of terrain in her trainers, carrying her heels in her bag.
If you said Deni was out of her comfort zone, you’d be wrong because this year’s rule was to be at ease anywhere in London. And besides, she’d spent a year living in Kilburn so it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. Maybe she’d choose to return when she finally moved out of her ex’s.
She didn’t want to erase the last four years and resume her old life, but some familiar anchor points would help revive her independence. Then again, the idea of brand-new territory appealed: in her early days, crossing London had felt like an event every time. A slight segue off a familiar route uncovered docile streets with outlandish names. It felt like having secret, insider knowledge. Deni loved it.
She could only dream of living somewhere like the place she’d just visited: an elegant basement flat in a red-brick building opposite the tube. Deni’s purpose was to interview its owner, a retired journalist in her late 70s. The introduction had come via a friend from Saturday – a big night; her first in London this year, only made possible because Marcus had taken Bree to Brighton on a last-minute post-Valentine’s break. The flat was out of Deni’s league but what about its owner? “You’ll have loads in common,” Deni’s friend had promised but in any case, Deni liked to think she got on with everyone.
The meeting had got off to an amusing start. “I recognise you, Deni!” her host claimed. “Did we chat on the march?” “Which one?” asked Deni, who had never been to any public demonstrations. The Women’s March in January, but her host had also protested in Downing Street about Trump’s travel ban and his UK visit. Deni was sorry to disappoint, it hadn’t been her, but she half wondered if inventing familiarity was some kind of journalistic technique for putting new acquaintances at ease. Maybe Deni ought to try it some time.
They moved on to discuss a collection of history tapes which the former journo had compiled. Deni wondered about selling rights as downloads. The woman had been thinking of a book, but she liked Deni’s ideas which they discussed over a couple of pots of tea. Things seemed to be going well. Then the meeting ended abruptly, for no reason other, perhaps, than they’d finished the tea.
Deni left, realising she hadn’t any action points to follow up. Had she even been thanked for coming? She couldn’t be sure. Deni had left her business card but she couldn’t recall the woman picking it up. As she stood at the traffic lights waiting to cross the Edgware Road, Deni had the disarming feeling that she’d just failed an interview she hadn’t been aware that she was sitting.
She couldn’t compete with her host for experience, of course. The woman had the advantage of having seen so much more of London across many decades – for instance, she’d been working from home the day of the 7/7 bombs and she’d gone out to help the injured. Deni got involved whenever she could, but she appreciated there were lapses. She’d planned to pack last weekend with visits to favourite places but the novelty of having the flat to herself kept her indoors on Saturday, and Sunday was a duvet day to recover from Saturday night.
Maybe there was a point to concede. Everyone had become a lot more vocal lately, it seemed to Deni, and to be valid you had to be mobilised and militant. But there was work to do closer to home. She’d let her hair down on Saturday… and out dropped more hang-ups than she’d known she had.
Her job. Her ex. Her home. Overall, Deni counted herself lucky. She was her own boss. (Thank god she didn’t have to contribute to office leaving collections – they bled you dry.) She had only herself to answer to – her sister and Mum had their own concerns in a different city. While she was with them, Deni was happy to get involved – but not in London. She didn’t want her life here compromised by anyone. She didn’t want anyone to impose on her freedom. Two tall orders, by anyone’s reckoning.
She’d become a little blasé, a little complacent – she and Marcus the ex. Hopefully, that would change now that they could focus just on working together, on the magazine. Could she put her walking to better use? It wasn’t just walking – it was going places, but could she also use her daily steps to make statements? She was always donating to her nieces’ sponsored pursuits, in aid of any number of worthy causes. She knew there was more she could do but prioritising wasn’t easy.
It was just after midday – Deni didn’t have to be anywhere till 2. Well, that was a phone call so she could take it wherever. She could go back to the flat – she was still paying rent, albeit reduced since Bree was there half the time – and sign a few online petitions, write some emails, get tweeting. Take a stand.
Or she could keep walking. Spring was in the air so she could walk through the parks, enjoying the blooming crocuses and snowdrops, relishing London’s early spring which likely to disappear as soon as it appeared. She could walk on and really go west, making proper inroads into her search for somewhere to start her life afresh. Maybe, then, she could turn her attention elsewhere.
If strangers wanted to make a call on her progress in the meantime, let them. Only Deni herself needed to know the reality: she wasn’t ready to be counted.