The City Is Leaving Me

Reluctantly, the city draws itself out from behind a cloud, waiting to see what I have to offer.  I have little but it’s heartfelt.  I talk about the early days.  I string together a pile of anecdotes regarding natural phenomena, part-time courses, old concerts.  We laugh a little and the city puts its sun in my eyes.

We are not in love, the city says; this is a gradually changing nation and I do not want to be left behind.

I do not want to be left behind, I say to the city.  But the city produces a list of all the budget flights I have taken, copies of boarding cards floating past on the wind.  I tell the city that those flights were to help me develop; so that I could return to the city as a better person, be someone the city would be happy to have inside.  The city says we cannot be together after we have spent so long apart, and takes me to a new district in the Northern Quarter to show me all the new people it has had move in.

I cry a little and the city turns on its lights.

The city talks about all the other cities I have visited.  It takes me to the Cornerhouse to watch something serious and, as the lights dim and an advertisement for independent cinema flicks past offering a fast-moving line of city names, the city (my city) nudges me in the ribs and says, what about those?

I tell my city that it isn’t the same; that, if it isn’t the Irwell, a river means nothing.  I tell the city that there are only seven train stations that feel like home.  The city reminds me that I once said I loved Budapest, and tells me it has closed Central Library for three years.  I storm off and the city laughs at my attempt at thunder.

I am standing at a bus stop on Portland Street and imagining all the things the city is learning in the cinema without me.  I am wondering who is sitting in its seats and wiping their feet on the street outside the door.  I am clutching the tiny black speck from the the cover of the road atlas that I now keep in my wallet.  I am holding it in my hand and trying to turn it into something more.

I am standing at a bus stop on Portland Street and the city’s face is everywhere.  I can see the lines of its streets in the bus shelter window; small detailed sections behind glass, covered with numbers and arrows explaining how it all works.  And, at the end of the shelter, all back-lit and accurate, a large coloured diagram of the city’s head, resembling some geometric dinosaur.  I stare and I stare at the map, at the eye above St Peter’s Square, at the Shudehill-shaped ear.  I try to remember this face because it is getting late and the city is not mine anymore.

I look closer.  I find Portland Street.  And, over it, a small black dot that says, You Are Not Here.

Lydia Unsworth is the Manchester winner of Creative Tourist’s Rain Never Stops Play competition. She blogs at

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6 Responses to “The City Is Leaving Me”

  1. August 13, 2010 at 11:45 am, Rowena said:

    I particularly enjoyed this story, very unique and touching. Well done!

  2. August 13, 2010 at 7:22 pm, Joe Waldron said:

    Good stuff Lydia, you deserved to win with this!

  3. August 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm, emma said:

    yup i liked this. read it after too much red wine and cycling home in the manchester rain- it made sense.

  4. August 18, 2010 at 9:24 pm, Joel K said:

    This is really clever, all that analogising of relationship to a city with a love affair. She really made concrete out of the abstraction, so that you could almost see someone who was not waiting for her, and other times begrudging her attention to others – Budapest, for instance.

  5. August 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm, CCT-SeeCity » “The City Is Leaving Me” said:

    […] But the news is that Rainy City Stories has recently announced the Creative Tourist’s winner of this summer’s short story competition, Rain Never Stops Play: Lydia Unsworth’s The City Is Leaving Me. […]

  6. August 31, 2010 at 10:09 pm, Harry said:

    Amazing. Thank you


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