The City Is Leaving Me
By Lydia Unsworth
Location: a bus stop, Portland Street
The city has upped and folded all of its motorways; asked me to step down from off of its ring road.
We are not in love, the city says.
We have been together for nine years and now the city is leaving me. We have spent every moment together; I in its arms and it in my mind. I have flown away like that butterfly, which is always said to return if you let it. And each time, I did; I was no deserter in essence. I could not stay away.
We had our ups and downs, I and the city. Each time we met, the city had developed, was reshaped. I tried not to notice, not to give the city the ego boost it was inching for. I didn’t mention the Beetham Tower; and, when the Urbis announced it was to become a football museum, I took it to be a childish prank aimed at attracting my attention, and I looked the other way.
The city had its motives and so did I; there was a time when our desires were the same.
The city had been calling me for weeks, leaving messages in the papers and on the faces of my friends. I came home as soon as I was able. I called the council and we arranged to meet.
It was high season but the city spared me an hour. We went for a coffee. The city picked me up with a smooth breeze and set me down onto a Starbucks bench. The Starbucks was new and I stared at my latté and pretended not to notice the change.
The city expected something from me; its traffic lights were on amber, blinking. We stared at each other over the steaming cups and I knew we had lost something; it wasn’t just that I couldn’t remember the postcodes, or that the streets were vandalised with new words and new names; it was something more, something vital, the city didn’t have a place for me, it wasn’t going to rent me any more rooms or promise to keep me safe. The city and I were through. It was taking away my personal photographs and handing me a road atlas.
This is what I am to you now, said the city.