It makes no sense to be thinking of my Mum when I’m out on London’s gleaming streets, except that it is a city she loved and visited many times, even crashing for a while, if memory serves, in a South London squat with her most Bohemian friend. Also elusive to me now is how many times she and I visited together. Twice that I’m sure about: once when I was a toddler and needed to be rushed to hospital for swallowing her wedding ring, then a second time just a year or two before she died.
What I remember is the cramped hotel room we shared and having to clamber over one of the beds to get to a postage-stamp bathroom, and how many times since I’ve wished we’d splashed out for something nicer.
Also, that a good friend of mine, whose own mother had died more than a decade earlier, came down to join us from Manchester to see Billy Elliott at Victoria Palace, leaving her own baby girl at home. I remember, sharply, how my friend and my mother bonded over this—the breastfeeding and teething and sleepless nights, the mix of relief and guilt at being away for a good night’s rest—and how glad I felt for them both, weepy almost, that they could share this, even if I was looking in from the outside.
Now, running along the Thames in the morning before work, or strolling along rain-slick lanes, London festooned with lights and ribbons and cedar boughs, I keep glimpsing my mother, who loved this part of Christmas. She is rapturous with indecision at the Borough Market. She is taken with a late-November rose, egg-yolk yellow, still blooming in Hyde Park. She is furrowing her brow at a duvet cover through a shop window near Covent Garden, doing the math on thread counts and currency exchange rates, then stepping regretfully away.
On the District Line, so crowded again, so post-COVID—the air thick with the wet, throaty sounds humans make without noticing—surely that’s Mum there, her face turned to the window, her hair mussed by her hood, droplets of rain not quite beading on her old Gortex jacket.
But she is not around this corner, or the next, or the next. She’s nowhere now, and everywhere. She is every twinkling light.