‘I’ve been in the UK for ten years today,’ I tell my partner as I finish swallowing a piece of toast.
I can still see myself stepping off the Eurostar with a suitcase and a heavy backpack. All my worldly possession I thought I couldn’t do without were carefully packed within. It had not been the first time I had set foot in St Pancras International train station but it was the first time I was doing so without a return ticket. I was terrified and exhilarated in equal amount.
‘Ten years,’ I murmur. I can’t comprehend that number or the difference between who I was when I arrived and who I am now. ‘I was due to go to the pub, have a carvery, wear a football shirt and cargo pants, have fish and chips, and a full English for breakfast.’
My partner looks at me horrified. ‘Well, not really,’ I clarify laughing. ‘I would have never made it through all that. But I would have definitely gone to the pub.’
I grab my cup of tea and take another sip of the burning hot liquid I now consider essential to my days. I remember L., one of the boys I was looking after as an au pair, six years old and eager to drink tea like a grown up. He would be given milk with a hint of tea, his face delighting in sharing moments with adults. I haven’t thought of L. and A. in a long time. They would be grown up now and I am unsure I would recognise them if I passed them in the streets.
‘Are we still okay to pick up the sewing machine after we go to Argos,’ I ask my partner.
‘Sure. We can have a walk in St Andrews Park afterwards too.’
We finish our breakfast and get dressed lazily, our days having lost all sense of urgency to them.
In Argos, we pick up new water filter. The lawnmower is not ready yet. Through the backstreets, we drive to another part of Bristol. My partner knows the way well from working in a library nearby.
I get out of the car, knock on the door and step back two metres away. The door swings open quickly.
‘Hello, I’m Allysse, here for the sewing machine.’
‘Ah yes.’ The man gestures towards a corner of the entrance. I lean my body to the side, twisting my waist to see the machine sitting atop a chest of drawer.
‘Do you want to check it?’
‘I’m sure it’s fine. You say it’s working, I trust you.’ I smile, adding. ‘I’m only starting so I don’t really know much. I’m mostly sewn by hand so far.’
‘You’ll definitely find this much easier,’ he replies, relaxing a little. ‘I’ll pop it on the wall there.’ He points to the dividing wall between his and his neighbour’s front garden.
I hand him the money, adding. ‘I’ve just taken it out of the cash machine.’
Both notes are the new plastic ones, easier to clean if he would like to.
‘Thank you,’ he replies. I extend my arm for him to take the notes. He does so. As they slip from my fingers to his, I step back, leaving him space to get out of his house with the machine. He positions it on the wall. We awkwardly say our goodbyes and I pick up the machine, heavier than expected in my hands. I carry it to the boot of the car where my partner is waiting. I tuck it in safely and cleanse my hands with hand sanitiser.
My partner lock the car and we follow the unfamiliar street to the end until we reach a road we know. We walk uphill until we reach the park.
‘It’s strange to be here without a pizza,’ I comment. I have only ever come to this park in the evenings after work, joining my partner outside of one of the libraries she works at, picking up a pizza, and coming to eat it here.
We walk around the park, avoiding running children and dog walkers. A van sells coffees and cakes near the playground. People are queuing, a metre apart from one another, deep in conversation with friends. If I ignore the lock on the playground door, the park appears normal for a Thursday morning.
We walk back towards the entrance of the park. A woman is standing there with her child, tidying her small dress before snapping a picture on her phone. She stands up, putting her phone back in her pocket, and sees us for the first time. ‘Oh sorry, are you waiting to go?’ The woman cheeks turn red.
‘Yes,’ we reply. ‘But it’s okay. We’re not in any rush.’
She skitters to the side, gesturing her child to follow.
‘Thank you,’ I say still smiling.
Back home, I clean the sewing machine with disinfectant before setting it down on the living room floor. I look at it for a while, at once familiar and foreign. I open the instruction manual and start at page 1. I read the names of the parts and touch them on the machine as if that would imbue them with meaning.
Carefully, I wriggle the thread through multiple loops before it can slide through the needle. ‘Okay…’ I tell myself. ‘Now what?’
I press the foot piece but nothing happens. I switch on the light and this time, the needle spurs into action, the thread flying away from it, back inside the machine. ‘Not like that then,’ I laugh. I try again, and again, dipping in and out of the user manual. ‘The problem with this manual,’ I tell my partner as she walks in from the kitchen with a hot cup of tea, ‘is that it assumes you know about sewing machines already.’
I try again and fail. A few minutes, my partner hands me her phone. ‘Would this video help?’
‘I don’t know. Let’s see.’ I prop the phone against the machine and watch as a person on the screen tells me all about sewing machine. Theirs is different from mine but I find the same features easily enough. I repeat their motions carefully, switching my attention from the video to the user manual. ‘Ah, I threaded it wrong,’ I tell my partner who is reading a magazine. Not a good start,’ I laugh.
‘Always keep the footer down before sewing,’ the voice from the phone says.
‘I didn’t do that either.’
I press the lever at the back of the machine. The footer traps the piece of spare fabric down. I pause the video and press the foot piece. The needle springs into action, the thread going in and out of the fabric, creating a line of tight stitches. ‘Success!’ I exclaim, raising my hands in the air. ‘And it only took about an hour,’ I add laughing at myself.
I carry on watching the video and practice sewing some straight lines of stitches until the thread pops away from the needle again. I put the machine away, tidy my remaining fabric by its side and move upstairs to work through the essay I wrote about Brexit. It traces my experience of life in the UK and the ramification of Brexit in my life. I was due to share it publicly today but I won’t. My website is still under construction as my brother and webmaster battles his boss and I feel it is inappropriate to share at this time.
My experience remains a privileged one compared to what I have read and learned from the Black Live Matters movement. My words can wait. I polish the text nonetheless and post it on my website, hidden behind a wall nobody can get through without a password.
In the evening, we prepare dinner and eat outside, the heat of the day less oppressive in the shade of the garden. ‘Cheers,’ I say raising my glass of beer to my partner glass of wine. ‘It’s not the pub but it’s pretty good like this too,’ I add feeling cocooned and safe within the boundary of our home.
We tuck in, watching the sun mellow the colour of the sky behind the barricade of trees next to the house bordering the edge of our garden.
‘Fancy a digestive walk,’ I ask my partner as we finish our meal.
We tidy up and get out of the house, walking through familiar streets. In the park, people are gathered in wide circles, sitting on camping chairs. Music is thrumming gently from one area of the park where young men are playing a game of football. I close my eyes for a second and listen to it all. I remember, a year ago, laying in my tent in a campsite, exhausted from the day’s walk, hearing the exact same sounds. I take a deep breath and we carry on.
The sky shines yellow and metallic blue, as the sun dips in and out of clouds. Long grass tickles my bare legs as we walk further into the park where tree grows and the council lawnmower doesn’t go. I take my partner hand in mine, the evening breeze cooling our bodies down.