Parting Anthem – by Ariana, Boston College
I glanced at my right wrist, 2:07 am. “This is our last Friday night together. Saturday morning, rather,” I thought. The queue is hanging off the sidewalk, but I would stand here until my flight departed if it meant one last visit to Beigel Bake with my flatmates. Mia linked herself onto my left arm and Anna linked through y right arm. As I rested my head on Mia’s shoulder, I started to sing, “Give meeee one good reason.”
Anna joined in, “Why I should never make a change.”
Mia swayed to our off-pitch recreation of George Ezra’s “Budapest.” After hearing the song at the BBC Music Awards, I had been unable to forget the journey of this wayfaring 21-year-old Englishman.
“Baaaaby if you hold me then all of this would go away,” I sang while we moved into the shop. Transitioning inside motioned us from the inky twilight of Brick Lane to the fluorescent bustle of Beigel Bake. 2:00 am Brick Lane was a quiet, sleepy version of itself, but 2:00 am Beigel Bake was wired on dough.
We attempted to mimic George’s guitar playing, but ended up crooning, “Ba da bummmm bumm bumm, ba da bumm bumm bumm ba da -”
Our makeshift F, B, C chords were cut off by a woman calling “Next!”
As Anna ordered an apple turnover, Mia asked, “Are you excited for your last beigel, love?”
Tilting my head to the right, I stuck my bottom lip out at her.
“Oh, darling!” she cooed as she put her arm around my shoulder. I had grown accustomed to Mia’s hugs and terms of endearment.
Anna turned and pouted back at me. “Buy two then,” she shrugged at me. Her British nonchalance balanced Mia’s Israeli affection.
I laughed, “Maybe I will.”
At Beigel Bake, Jewish women shove beigels at you twenty-four hours, seven days a week, three-hundred-sixty-five days a year. Breakfast beigels. Lunch beigels. Snack beigels. Drunk beigels. Tonight, I purchased my parting beigel. Here, at 2:07 am GMT, my stomach was deciding whether a Nutella or salmon beigel was a proper escort out of the country. At the same time, my body was five hours ahead and I was running through customs at 7:07 am EST in Boston. When my flatmates will be asleep and I will be eating dinner, someone in East London will be queuing for a salt beef beigel. Odd or not, this comforts me. Beigel Bake is my constant.
Mia and Anna stood at the streaked mirrors and crossed their arms over their paper bags. They continued to sway and repeat George’s F, B, C strumming.
“Next! Next!” one woman called to me. All of her liveliness went into the beigels that would soon be warmly greeted by my stomach. I wondered how many hours out of the twenty four she spent throwing paper bags at Eastenders. I decided she had been standing for at least six hours considering her motions were so repetitive: ask them, bag it, shove back, take pounds, ask them, bag it, shove back, take pounds, ask them, bag it, shove back, take pounds.
“Nutella, plea – ”
“Ninety-five pence,” she cut me off, sliding the paper bag in front of me and making me feel papercuts on my fingers.
My stomach compelled my hand to snatch the bag. I threw the change at her and danced over to my choir by the mirrors.
Mia and Anna smiled at me. Raising our paper bags in unison, we clinked beigels. This was my champagne toast goodbye to London.
“Goodbye, Beigel Bake,” I said.
“Awww, Ariana,” Anna and Mia cooed. I smiled at them, adoring the lightness injected to my name with their British accents, Ah-re-on-ah as opposed to the harsh American English sounding “r” in R-e-on-a. I smiled at them. With Mia and Anna, I was Ari, “ahh-ree.” I was the girl with lovable cackle. I was the one who taught them how to dance the Bernie at midnight in my room. I was the one who told them stories about what a “bro” is at Boston College while we snuggled together in my bed. And, when I left in the afternoon, I would leave as their American.
“We’re your British boyfriends,” they told me. I was their American, and they were the British boyfriends I was leaving indefinitely.
Each second brought me closer to that separation, but I never felt that moment approaching. At 2:00 am, I reached infinity. After being awake for so long, the linear progression of the night became a loop. Two o’clock started to seem as early as nine did and as four did and as noon did. Then, it started to feel as though time were motionless.
“To campus?” Anna asked.
“To campuff,” I replied, mouth full and blood sugar on a steady upward climb.
As I bit into the beigel’s waxy dough, the sugar of the hazelnut paste assaulted my system. My senses were desperate to hoard these last bites of New-York-style carb heaven. Arms linked, we headed through Bethnal Green towards Queen Mary’s campus. Twelve weeks ago, neither one of us could tell you the difference between Bethnal Green and Stepney Green. Tonight, we were walking home to Queen Mary without any navigation.
From then on, we continued into the center of the universe, our universe, of East London. For some, that journey is turtles all the way down, but, for me, it was beigels all the way down.
With each bite and each step, I thought, “Goodbye London,” paying individual respects to every brick and storefront.
Goodbye Museum of Childhood. Has it really been ten weeks since we met?
“You, oooooh, ooooh, I’d leave it all,”
Goodbye Bethnal Green Road. Look at all these pubs I never went to.
“To you, ooooh, ooohh”
One, two, three … seven shawarma places on this street alone.
“Ariana,” Mia began during a pause, flowing through the “r” in my name with a “Say Ahhhh,” sounding ‘A,’ “We’re coming to America as soon as we can. We’ll visit you in the summer because you’re the easiest to reach.”
“Of,” chew, “course,” chew, “Mia!” I said and continued to sing, “For youuuu, ohhhh, oooohh, I’d leave it all.”
She smiled. Beamed, rather, through chomps of her lox begiel.
Goodbye Roman Road. Your weekend market was good to me.
Anna continued singing, “My maaaany artifacts the list goes on. If you just say the words I’ll up and run.”
Half-asleep, half-lost we continued mimicking F, B, C chords for a quarter of the way down Globe Road.
“Ba da bummm bummmm,” we repeated while I nodded farewell at every chance.
Goodbye, Nando’s. Thank you for your peri-peri chicken. Goodbye, off-license store. Thank you for your cheap fruit. Goodbye, Tesco. Thank you for your eighty-five pence clearance hummus.
We chewed and sang, chewed and sang until there was nothing left to chew and only nonsense strumming left to sing. Not knowing the lyrics past the chorus, we restarted the song at the same point every few minutes.
“Baby if you hold me then all of this would go awaaay -”
We turned to each other, shrugged, and continued, “My house in Budapest, My hidden treasure chest, Golden grand pi-an-o, My beau-ti-ful Castillo,” emphasizing a different syllable each time. Surprisingly, we were not annoyed. Even more surprising is that there was no one to annoy. Here we were, three girls walking around east London past 2:00 am, and Globe Road did not support any feet other than our own. For one and half miles, or two and half kilometers to be properly European, we sang my farewell to the city. With each step, we left crumbs of beigels as a parting gift. Hopefully, that trail would lead me back one day. Back to my city.
“For you, oooooh, ooooh,” Anna’s choir-trained vocals hit an octave above any register I could place.
Before we knew it, we had returned to Mile End Road. Our beigels finished and our George Ezra tribute over, we ended our night crawl. It was now 3:00 am. This left five hours to sleep before I had to leave for Heathrow airport. Merely fourteen hours and I would cross the Atlantic once more. By then, England would become New England, and the expatriate would return to suburbia.
The three of us rounded the corner from Globe Road to Mile End Road towards our flat in Maynard House. I was to return to my corner of flat 12, room E, with its lonely shelves, bare white walls, and weightless closet racks. My life was now suffocating itself into two suitcases. Twelve weeks in London left me with stuffed luggage and a bulging backpack to prove it was real. I could imagine myself drying dishes with my Buckingham Palace tea towel thinking one, two, maybe three swivels around will bring a genie to take me home to Maynard House.
Mia, Anna, and I parted for our respective rooms. I collapsed on my bed throwing on a wool shawl. I tucked myself in and thought, “Goodnight, London.”
I may have made it through two-thirds of a REM cycle before I awoke to my last London sunrise. I squeezed my eyes closed, held them shut for ten seconds, and opened them. Nothing changed. It was still time to go. I slid myself out of bed and sat on my luggage with my head in my hands.
“Goodbye, goodbye,” I murmured to the walls, my inlet sink, and my bookshelves.
I stood, lifted the handle on my luggage, and dragged it towards me. At first, I jerked forward, having miscalculated the difficulty in guiding two-fifths of my body weight. When I opened the door, I found Mia and Anna in the hall. They greeted me and tried to smile. With them at the door, my departure was tangible. Before today, I was an object at rest. Today, I was in motion and there was no unbalancing force or deus ex machina to stop me. Knowing this helped me accept that I could not fight departure. At the same time, I could not accept that my stint as a Londoner was over.
Seeing them huddled with their mouths forcibly upturned, I broke. I gasped for air as tears fell down my cheeks and the girls closed in around me. They choked, “Bye, Ari.” Their lovely and posh pronunciation “ahhh-ree” made me sob even harder.
I took a deep breath, “Okay,” I sighed to my flatmates, “I love you so much. I will see you later.” I gripped my luggage and started pulling it out the door with my head turned behind me. Mia and Anna stood with their faces digging into each other’s shoulders. When the door closed, I could hear soft sobs between each ding of the elevator. I tried to refocus my energy by gripping my luggage handle. “Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.” I thought.
When I walked out of Maynard, I looked up and saw my flatmates hanging out of our kitchen window blowing kisses and waving. I blew a kiss back.
“Byeeeeeeee Ari. Bye, we love you!”
I smiled and screamed back, “I love you!
At the campus gate, I turned back and waved one last time.
On the plane, I replayed “Budapest” from my seat until we departed Heathrow. With each listen, I relived the walk from Brick Lane to Maynard House. Once Virgin Atlantic flight 0011 ascended, I carried on listening to the rest of the album. London started to fade, but George gave me one good reason to hang on to my own wayfaring.
Ariana is now in her final year at Boston College and has returned to London recently to re-visit the QMUL campus!