My entire life has been filled with rivers. Whether this has been from the lines of a poem or very real natural landmarks, rippling and glistening bodies of water hold a permanent place in my memory. After so many months away, I decided to visit a nearby river, my own little part of the Thames. Walking down the carefully placed concrete slabs, the ivy-lined houses and blue-tinged water represents a physical embodiment of my childhood. It is a place of nostalgia for a time in the distant past, a representation of a time so very different from now.
It was a couple of days ago when I decided to go towards the riverside, coaxed on by the rare sight of the sun amidst an English autumn. Indeed, when I arrive the sun makes the river look like a thousand glittering tendrils. I also notice boats in every imaginable colour bobbing along the water, becoming part of the natural order of the river. Couples walk their dogs on coloured leashes and every so often I have to dodge someone flying past on their bicycle. There is a calming sense of normalcy at these sights, the mundaneness becoming almost magical. Pausing at a lamppost, I reflect on old memories- from pub lunches on Christmas Eve, to watching the leaves fall onto the water when the season change.
As I creature of habit, I locate a bench that I’ve sat on a hundred times. It is the perfect position to look at the London skyline in the west and watch the movement of the trees in the East. I let my fingers run over a plaque dedicating the bench to a person that once moved along this river, but does not exist anymore. The thought humbles me.
I come to the river to seek a sense of calm and clarity that I can’t feel anywhere else. When I want quiet and ease that seems to unobtainable. However, this place has always been a place of paradoxical solitude. I have to seek this feeling of tranquillity, while I try to drown out the din of London traffic behind me. A sanctuary in a world of chaos. Here you are free- free from the troubles that live in the back of your mind, from the endless slabs of concrete. An oasis in a sprawling concrete jungle. To many, a body of water has a more sacred meaning in a city.
Like the chaos of the city, the chaos of my mind also contradicts the river’s gentle nature. I come to think, to try and sort out the tangled web of my thoughts. Endless applications and the pressure to confirm my place in the world has me tied to the ground, the weight of which gets heavier and heavier every day. With each passing hour, I move further and further away from what I want to be, the final destination fading into the distance. There is so much uncertainty, so I try and find direction in the water. With every ebb and flow, a river is constantly moving towards another water source far away. To a lake? To another river? Even towards the finality of the ocean. There is the potential to take us everywhere, yet nowhere in particular. As I sit on my bench away from the world, I can begin to think.
I admire the presence of a willow tree that hangs lazily over the river, its leaves casually floating in the chilly breeze. This particular willow stands next to a series of stone steps, where I plaque commemorates a marriage that once took place on this very spot. As a young girl, I always admired this place, always imagining what it would be like if I got married on these steps. Sometimes I’d even sit and pretend I was a mermaid longing to go back into the sea. I laugh, as I couldn’t be further away from this rose-tinted, innocent version of myself. The plaque is now rotting away, as if to further symbolise my distant childhood.
I think about how the world will constantly move on and wonder if I’ll still be here, sitting on my bench looking at the houses beyond the horizon. I’ll come down to the river and the ghosts and memories of my childhood will play out in front of my eyes. Running across the grassy fields with ice cream in my hands or attempting to roller skate across the concrete without falling over. Drawing endlessly in my sketchbook, while the adults talk about the good old days. As each person will walk the same path I do, will they see what I see? Do their memories play out across the water too?
Such thoughts stop. The sun is going down and I make the conscious decision to go back home. Back to reality. The sun begins to set, hues of blue and yellow dancing across the sky, dancing of the water. It has been a good day and try to not think about reality waiting for me. I’ll take comfort in the knowledge that I can come back. When I want to remember who I am, I’ll come back to this river, this place hidden away from the world.