Home – part 1

I wished I had some curtains, just so I could tear myself away from my view of this new, dazzling, alien city. I wished I had brought a frayed cushion for the sofa that seemed too big, or a dirty lampshade to dim my bare bulb. My feet echoed on the cheap wooden floor, tapping a hollow rhythm as I wondered around my apartment. After running my tired eyes over every nook and cranny of the room, I focused them on the box marked ‘URGENT’. I pulled off the thick brown tape and started unpacking, pulling out kitchen utensils, a book, shampoo and a phone charger until the functional basics of life lay scattered as if a mini hurricane had formed itself in my new living room. I stopped, taking stock of my progress, and then stooped again. A towel, soap, pots and pans. I looked at the clock on my phone and saw that it was just past five in the evening, but to me it was the early hours of the morning. My muscles ached from the plane journey and I realised that I was hungry.
The fleecy jacket I had worn on the plane hung on the solitary hook by the front door and I pulled it on as I headed out, down two flights of clanging metal stairs and onto the street. I breathed in, letting the pulsing heartbeat of the Big Apple seep into me. I knew from my taxi journey that there was a 7-11 at the end of the block, so I started to walk, feet slapping lazily on the smooth concrete. I felt myself blend in with the locals and the tourists, I heard the brief snippet of ‘yes, I’m walking up East 12th’ and I experienced the elation which came when I realised that I was too, that I was part of that man’s New Yorker world. I reached the supermarket, suddenly very aware that I may have to pay for my pasta with a credit card, as I didn’t have so much as a dollar on me. As I signed my name, chip and PIN had obviously not come to the world’s second largest economy, the cashier looked at me quizzically.
“You enjoying your holiday ma’am?’ he asked in his light drawl. I smiled; I obviously didn’t blend in as much as I had thought. I told him that I’d just moved in up the road, but then he asked if I was living on the block.
Once I had eaten and washed out the pot to put into the rubbish when I got around to buying a bin bag, I realised just how alone I was. I was not expected to turn up for work for a week, and with it being a Monday I would not have much opportunity to meet many people until the weekend. Of course, a few of my university friends were over here too, but these were girls I had not seen for three years and with whom I had never really been close. I sighed. The book beside me did not seem all that appealing and my laptop was buried in the cardboard box mountain stacked against the wall. I decided that, on my first day in New York, it was not too early for an early night.
My body clock woke me at three-oh-seven the next morning. I cursed myself silently for not having stayed up as late as possible and then lay perfectly still. I listened. Back in my pebble-dashed London street, set in with the urban sprawl that characterised most cities, it would have been silent at this time in the morning; but here the metropolis was very much alive. A police car screeched past as the front door of the downstairs flat opened and shut. A television gave out the booming headlines of America’s beloved CNN. I relaxed. I was not yet homesick, I wondered if I ever would be. For now, it was nice to be away. The light from the streetlamp cast the shadow of my little person-width balcony railings through the white curtains and onto the floor. The rest of the room was a fuzzy dark grey but I could just about make out some details, like some art-deco decoration at the top of my wardrobe. I had no idea how I had been so lucky getting this flat in Manhattan when I had expected to be in Queens. I had no idea how I had been offered my dream job at the New York Times with just a few years experience in a backroom at the BBC. It seemed surreal, but I was not complaining. I was grinning ear to ear into the darkness.
I must have dosed again until five o’clock but then I finally decided I had had enough. I pulled my tired body out of the warm bed and was hit by solid cold air. I shivered, huddling into myself, and scuttled towards my suitcase and into the bathroom. Once ready, I hunted down my emergency tea-bag supply. I was very grateful for the warmth it provided as it took me a good ten minutes to find the thermostat and turn up the heating. I had forgotten how cold New York was in October. Through the thin walls I heard the city’s volume increasing as the taxis sped past, ferrying people to offices in Lower Manhattan. I longed to be a tourist for a few days, to ponder the grid-map of the city and to see all the iconic sites; but I knew I had more to do than that. I had a life to make. I needed to go shopping, to buy fairy liquid and a sponge, all the little things I had never noticed living at home with Mum. New York may be glamorous, but I was still just a typical girl living alone for the first time. I had not realised how much stuff you needed for normal life. A sense of apprehension crawled over me, displacing my earlier excitement. I felt very, very young.
I went out for breakfast, sitting at a little deli on 2nd Ave. I briefly considered ordering a Tropicana, even though I had never liked it, just because of an old advert for it that showed clips of breakfasting New Yorkers. Moving on, I went back to the supermarket and stocked up on essentials, thanking God I would soon be earning some money. The apartment had warmed up while I was out and the television had obviously been connected as I was greeted by the slightly alarming voice of an angry talk show host. I quickly flicked to the news, my journalistic instinct kicking in. Having watched the headlines several times over I made a start on the unpacking. I had been putting it off since I had got up but it was surprisingly fun finding places for all my clothes in the wardrobe, arranging them just how I had at home. I placed a few photographs on the dressing table and was cheered even more by the faces of family and friends. Treasured and tattered paper backs spread themselves all over the flat followed by knickknacks and homeliness. It was far from perfect of course – and I was exhausted – but having put the few empty boxes outside I felt myself relax. It was good to be reminded that by moving away, I hadn’t left everything behind.

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