London After Hours
Every city has its nightcrawlers. Last night I saw London’s.
“I was perfectly fine on the boat! But now that I’m on solid ground, I’m like, wooaahh!”
“F*** the taxi! Come stay at mine tonight. Seriously, f*** the cab; you’ll have me instead.”
“It’s a cold night, miss. Spare 50 pence, miss. Help an old man.”
Friday night in London. Just some of the snatches of conversation and loose words I caught as I moved around cautiously, one eye over my shoulder.
The pursuit of a story needed me to be at Waterloo at midnight on a Friday— and given that I’m the kind of girl who is usually in bed by midnight, this wasn’t really my idea of fun. The time I’m usually scurrying back home was the time I had to head out and get my night started.
But London made me feel like a cautious schoolgirl all over again, because the nighttime vibe here is starkly different and exactly opposite to London by day.
Yes, the city hardly sleeps, and yes, it gets colder and windier and lonelier, despite the crowds. But other things happen too.
Despite the temperature, people and their attire seem to become weather proof. Seriously, I wish I could learn the art of draping myself in a loin cloth-sized skirt with towering heels and a low cut top. And I wish I could do it without feeling the wind turn me to ice as it whooshes up between my legs, right to my head.
But as you look closer, you realise the faces of the bodies wearing those clothes are far younger than you first notice. As they totter past you, blurry eyed with alcohol-laced breath, you realise that behind the night avatar of crimson-smudged lips and fake eyelashes is probably the innocent face with a backpack you saw on the tube earlier that afternoon.
As the crowd slowly thins at the usually bustling Waterloo station, peals of drunken laughter pierce through the chaotic din from one corner. In another corner, a seemingly well-dressed man sits slumped over against the wall, a sling briefcase still across his body, an open box of chocolate and a glass of water on the floor before him. Closer near the centre, a fairly large woman collapses to the ground with a nosebleed, as a night guard urgently whispers into his radio, bent over her with worry. But not a single passerby stops to notice. No one flinches. Everybody marches on purposefully, blinkered to the world around them; myself included.
And in that moment, as you stand bang in the middle of it all, you realise that the cheerful, perfect and seemingly mirthful city that is London, has — while you looked away for a split second — flipped over to show you its underbelly; its dark side.