It is the season of everyone leaving and returning and beginning; it's the start of summer and my friends and I are wandering the city, some waiting for exam questions, for jobs. Sometimes, I think we're waiting for our lives to start and then I remember that they already have-it's sometimes easier to forget, though.
We're walking down by the promenade, with the wind blowing in our hair and the sun hot on our skin, when I say "Have you noticed we live in a city that kind of has everything?"
I wonder if this is another Lydia-thing, a thing that just I have noticed, but my friend lifts her head and nods. "Yeah" she says. "We do."
"But we never notice it" I say and what I mean is I chose not to notice it.
My house is away from the main road, and kids play in the street outside, can pedal around on their bikes and sell cakes at doors for charity sales, and can have water fights, screaming with laughter in the sunshine, without every breath being a breath of am I in danger, am I safe, am I, am I, am I. The houses are big and people say hi when they see each other and you can recognize faces in the sweetshop or the park across the main road outside our close, separate and near. Nearby, the houses in our city are clumped in little villages; some even have the name afterwards, Village, as if trying to recapture a sense of the countryside, of older times when everyone knew everyone. In those little villages, however, everyone can at least recognize mostly everyone, and there is that sense there, for a moment, of it being one of those places-those places some people shake their heads and complain don't exist anymore.
But the quietness fades quickly in the shopping malls-not one, not two, not three-there are too many to count, split-level shopping malls in town, with steps where we can sit and stare out at the city centre, which is alive with noise and people playing guitar with hats in front of them and someone always in the middle of a street performance. Boys on skateboards trying to look older and cooler than they are whizzing through shoppers, huge multi-level shops on either side, a glass bubble lift whooshing up into the air. Up and across a few streets, and you find the shops filled with dreamcatchers and records, a Forbidden Planet, American diners, a massive building filled with basements and landings and stores full of trilby hats and Harry Potter memorabilia, heavy-chained necklaces and purple skull candle-holders. There are theatres and retro cinemas and a skate park slapped right between two buildings, where boards are always slapping the ground. Bright graffiti covers walls and sometimes, it looks better than the wall did.
Some people say their towns have nothing to do. Our city has the opposite. There's music playing from the second you step out of a car, there's people singing and miming in the street, there's always kids running around on a pool of water inside giant transparent beach balls or a mini-rollercoaster that seems to have appeared overnight, or a Krispy Kreme shop just sitting smack in the middle of the street for everybody to walk around, and then get pulled inside by multi-coloured doughnut sprinkles anyway. There's always a gig playing somewhere, a chance to hang out in a place where someone famous once sat and drank or played or just laughed and gave everyone there a story to tell years later. The streets are always alive with the thrumming of music and memories.
The woods are everywhere too-trees in parks that quickly devolve into something like a forest you can get lost in. As kids, we often did, daring each other to run further, to climb higher. I remember the bark sore against my hands, and my cousin's hand around my wrist dragging me higher, so I could say I'd touched my favourite branch, so I could say I'd climbed it. As kids, we'd dare each other to run through the haunted dell, the branches seeming to whisper at our skin, and then one Halloween our whole family walked through it at eleven at night, with our uncle waiting at the end to jump out at us, our hearts pounding through the layers they'd wrapped us up in, and our screams echoing off the tree trunks.
I could hear the seagulls cawing as my friend stood up on her bike pedals ahead of me, and there was a taste of salt on the air. There's a seaside, too. Of course there is. The promenade that leans over the beach, with artist's sculptures behind us, along the main road-the beach with the stone steps that we used to pick our way carefully down, the stones that give way to sand under our bare feet. The water would be out most of the time, that giant expanse of sand ours to sculpt into castles or sink between our toes but sometimes, we'd paddle, shrieking at the shock of the cold on our bare feet. At night, when the water was in, we'd lean against the metal bars with too-late ice cream cold in our mouths and stare down at the water, and the lights of the city on the other side, and if we squinted from the very top of one of the longest roads, we could even see the mountains of another country in the distance, which to us was one of the biggest things in the world.
People are leaving and returning and staying and all of them at once. I want to see more places, more things than I've seen. Until now, I tried not to notice the things about the place where I grew up, because it gave me an excuse to leave, to not care. Only now, when the time's coming when I will leave, do I look around and realise that while I might not want to stay, I couldn't stay away forever either. I will be able to leave and only now does it occur to me that I'll sometimes want to come back.