In Glasgow you climb and fall with roads that climb and fall. When I ride a bicycle up the road, I struggle – the flesh of my thighs pant and jaws clench in melodramatic effort. But at the fall of the road, I rush down with ease and descend playfully into the topography shrieking. The winds split at my face and bite at my nose. My heart sinks to my stomach but ripples with laughter. There is only the memory of an earlier struggle – the now cooling sweat. I holler, I yodel. Sometimes, I dare myself to let go of the handlebar.
I knew this about Glasgow:
~ the city was melancholic
~ the people were cheerful
~ together, they did just great
Glasgow became my run-away city. In the six months that I’d lived in Coventry, I had run away to Glasgow eight times. When I decided to run away the ninth time, I told myself it was for good. I wasn’t going to return. As a young writer who had lost love, met innumerable rejection letters for a novel and received caustic remarks on her writing from a dear friend, I did not dare to remain in Coventry. I did not dare to speak of love or of writing to the familiar faces who enquired of nothing else. It was certain to me that I had lost my words and the imagination of my mind somewhere.
It was three days to Christmas when I lugged myself to Glasgow with a bottle of port. The city spread its arms of grey buildings in quiet remorse and embraced me. Walking to the Glasgow Cathedral to which I had never been before, I noticed the Necropolis looming in the distance. It was past five thirty and quite dark to see when I walked to a bridge, which connected to the core of the Necropolis, significantly named the Bridge of Sighs. It seemed that if I crossed the bridge to the core of the Necropolis, there’d be no return for me. I stood there, cars whizzing below the bridge, committing to bury not my fears but my hopes. In the Necropolis beyond, oh little girl, you will bury your dreams of becoming a writer.
The climb to the summit of the Necropolis is daunting. Some paths end in ‘Danger’ or ‘Keep Out’ signs. Crosses, mausoleums, busts, tombs, columns, portraits, torches and urns flank my unsure path. Dark angels are ready to strike. I can barely read the words etched on these and I do not have the courage to stop and stare. I wield the bottle of port – my only weapon – at the darkness in front of me.
I was sure I was dead and walking the rings of hell. I was terrified to look beyond me – with time, the statues became too fluid to be statues – and the only goal now, was to finish my trek. I had left too many stories unfinished. I wanted to have this. As a child, I wrote away my fears. Be it fear of the dark, death or failure, I wrote through them. People came, people left but there was always writing to go back to. But fear had soon taken over my writing. At every word, I was afraid that the next wouldn’t be written. And my resilience to counter failures became limited.
After about thirty minutes, I reached the summit where a column bore the statue of John Knox. When I overlooked the orange tinge of the city below me I realised that I didn’t just have unfinished business. I had un-started business – novels I had never written for fear of never finishing them. Words that I had never spoken, for fear of being unheard.
In front of me was the Glasgow Cathedral, one of the few cathedrals which hadn’t been destroyed during the Reformation. There was Glasgow, gloomy with resilience, not promising a life without hurdles but promising a life with promise. I did not have to become a writer. I just had to continue to be a writer. The Necropolis doesn’t just hold graves. It holds monuments of men who aren’t buried there. Near John Knox, I buried my fears. I dug out old resilience. I left behind a small mound, my mausoleum, in the dark brown soil and walked back slowly to the Bridge of Sighs.
Later that night, with great exhaustion, I cycled up a road, back to my hostel. On the way down the slope as the winds kissed the remnants of my tears, I let go of the handlebar. For a few seconds. The second time I tried this stunt, I fell down. I did it again.
In Glasgow, there are sporadic moments of relief from sporadic moments of grief. Such is the character of the city.
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