I’m 22 and silly with cider, and I’ve made it halfway home, as far as Clapham Junction, where I’m waiting for the night bus, the number 37 flashing in the dark, and I feel victorious, to have come this far, halfway to SW19, where I can sit under the bright glare of light as the bus whisks me (almost) to my door.
My mum says: why didn’t you get a taxi? and on one occasion I do and it costs £42 so I won’t be doing that again.
One sunny Saturday I ditch journalism school because making friends is more important and peer across the common whilst holding the phone to my ear and say I can’t see you, but eventually I find them and put down my Kopparberg and hope the hummus isn’t sweaty and lie on my stomach next to a girl in a coral summer dress and it begins.
For reasons of promiscuity and being 23 I travel from the far reaches of North London to SW4, postcode and day festival, missing the late morning pre-drinks, and prepare to pretend to be Chloe. My ticket is on my phone and it might die before I reach the front of the queue; in fact, it does. I slide to the guestlist desk anyway and tell him that I am Chloe, I work for Ticketmaster, my phone is dead, sorry. He lets me in and I walk around for an hour, knowing I’ll find them, and I do, and half the group is tripping and kicking mud everywhere. I drink beer and my hair is the longest it’s ever been because who can afford a hairdresser?
Later, we wander back to the flat above the Kebab House and I again don’t see a rat, but instead kick off my pink flowered wellingtons and lie on the sofa in my muddy denim skirt, and wonder if I should drag myself to the Northern Line, eat chips, go home.
I spend seven months living in Elephant and Castle and come home on another night bus with a male friend and when I secure my keys between my knuckles as he stands up at his stop he says why are you doing that? and fuck and I say I’ve always done this, at school I used a compass.
A year later in an NW postcode I send a message: just getting breakfast and then I’ll be heading back south where I belong x
We move to Herne Hill because none of us want to pay £650 per month, plus bills, to live above a tyre shop on Acre Lane. Four months later another one of us moves from Manchester; she sleeps on a mattress in our spare room and finds a cockroach then moves to Streatham Hill and then to Clapham South. We make a paella to celebrate her new flat, in Poynders Gardens, and I get annoyed because you literally don’t have salt? and she says I’ve just moved in and I say we’ve just been to the shop and salt is the first thing you buy so don’t blame me if this paella tastes shite.
On an unspecified weekend we find ourselves leaving the Effra Social and one of us says don’t make me walk on my own down Brixton Water Lane and the rest of us say why it’s literally fine? and find it hilarious and whenever we walk down Brixton Water Lane for the next four years we send a message that says guess where I am haha your favourite lane.
Later, one of us leaves for Australia and I stay around for a while, in Herne Hill, acquiring new flatmates, the building degrading around us.
It’s a Friday and my mum is staying at the Windmill and calls me at lunchtime: I’ve walked around the common twice, she says, there’s nothing else to do in Clapham, where should I go?
I don’t have an answer, so I tell her to read her book in a cafe, to go to Oliver Bonas, to walk to the Bandstand again. She keeps me on the phone for 45 minutes whilst I think about sandwiches, and then a year later she dies and I won’t have a chance to be annoyed by her again.
On a Saturday we FaceTime Sydney and then go to a nail bar opposite Clapham South and the owner holds us hostage until we write her a Google review and then we silently decide to pay more for our pedicures in the future, because of this, but also because it might be a sweatshop. We buy cider and drink it on the common in the falling light.
A woman is raped near Brockwell Park and my formerly North London boyfriend says it’s quite a dodgy park, actually and I say is it? and later I wait for the 3 back from Brixton and it doesn’t come and people say why didn’t you just walk? And I say I don’t want to die, thanks.
I move to West Dulwich and one of us moves to Tooting and gets a boyfriend in Tulse Hill and then I buy a flat with mine in Streatham and she moves in with hers near the magic M&S at Clapham Junction.
Lockdown starts and I get a bike and try to cycle from Dulwich to the common (24 minutes, says Citymapper) and it takes me 1 hour and 44 minutes because the bike is too big and the handlebars are loose, and I drop in at Bon Velo and ask them why didn’t your shop in Tulse Hill sort this when I took it in for a service? and he apologises and I take my bike away and make it to the common and drink approx. three bottles of white wine then get told off when the empties fly out of my basket on the 37, and the bus driver says I shouldn’t even have let you on and I say thanks behind my mask and then miss my stop and cry outside a newsagent and beg a black cab driver to take me because my phone is dead and my bike is fucked and I get home and I haven’t bought the spaghetti.
I buy two single serving bottles of prosecco and meet another one of us at Clapham Junction and we walk to the common and drink the prosecco on a bench near a bin and admire a corgi and talk about adoption charities and August Brooksbank and podcasts, and then we wander back down the hill and buy pastries as the sky gets dark and ingredients for a risotto in the magic M&S then I secure my mask and wait at the bus stop on Northcote Road and feel lighter than air.
Sarah Everard leaves her friend’s house to walk home in the rain, in her hat, and the next day one of us sends a screengrab and says: have you seen this? and I think it looks like a dogwhistle poster for racists about a fake blonde woman being abducted by a grooming gang, for a second, and then it isn’t.
I look at the pictures on the CCTV and see that she is wearing trousers that my old Herne Hill flatmate, a 33-year-old marketing manager who had no problem walking in the dark either, also once owned, and I message another one of us who says: I know I walk there on my own all the time, so scary and I think she could be any one of us but she isn’t, she is her, and she is gone.
They search the ponds and a man on Twitter says that it’s common sense to walk in groups and that’s just the reality sorry and a trio of female journalists remind him: It is 2021. Walking home is allowed. What, do I take my boyfriend everywhere with me now? We are no safer in an Uber. There is a pandemic. We can’t walk in groups. We won’t.
I think about the common as the light falls, peaceful with wine and sunshine, and how this is home for us, and her. My heart hurts. I go to my stupid little yoga class, the 204th of this year of lockdown, and do a little cry in pigeon.