By Matteo Taccola
I was sitting on the same bench in Regents Park, close to the lake. Ducks and swans were floating placidly, unaware of the melancholy vibe that was filling the whole place. Typical, you could say. The grey sky of England can really do this to you. Instead, strangely enough, it was one of those chilly, sunny days that I had not much chance to experience during my stay in London.
I had been living here for some months. I left Italy with a suitcase full of hopes and projects, because there is no place for the future in my country. My family and friends supported my choice, and in the blink of an eye I moved to one the most fascinating European capitals.
As many before me, I immediately got a job at a pizza restaurant. When I said the words “Italian” and “pasta” (the only ones I really knew, to be honest) to Usif, my Pakistani boss, his eyes shined as I was the Immigration Prefect telling him I was renewing his visa. He had one of those trendy haircuts that fifteen year old kids have, all glossy with moisture. It was terrible. He smiled broadly, probably assuming that my Italian genes had guaranteed me a Masterchef talent.
They didn’t. Back at home, I had even managed to make the coffee machine explode, and when my family cooked or simply talked about cooking they looked at me as if I wasn’t entitled to have an opinion. They made fun of me, like I was a sort of weirdo that was only capable of doing harm to any kitchen.
But Usif didn’t know this, and I wouldn’t tell him, of course. I started working and practicing. The first customers that tasted my food puked (almost) immediately. If a discipline like that existed – making people vomit as soon as they put your food in their mouth, then I was the new world primate. I got better, though, but not enough. One morning, Usif came up to me. His usually perfect hair was floppy on his head. He gave me a dismissal letter and told me goodbye. In a few words, I was unemployed. I tried and tried to get some part-time jobs, but after Usif sent me away my bad vibe grew to the point where I started doubting myself, my skills, my integrity and my identity.
That’s why on that day I had decided to just sit on a bench in Regents Park, my favourite among the beautiful parks in London. I sat down on the scratched bench, the usual one. I loved going there and just daydreaming, since I had no money and no other ways to really get distracted. I had the money to go back to Italy, though. My return seemed more likely to happen every day. I felt like I was so far from everyone, even from myself. I was detached from myself. I felt like my soul was merely contained in my body and I could often see myself moving around without realising why and how. The worst of all that was that my actions had no meaning, they were just simple, physiological mechanics.
I was inevitably becoming the walking everyday-lifestyle I had always hated. I was no more than that. Just a vague someone moving inside a body.
Yes, I could tell that work had always seemed like a stranger to me, someone I needed to spend time with, but whom I didn’t really know. I knew that trying to cook for my family would mean to fight a war against good taste, but feeling completely indifferent to everything, cooking shit and not caring if random people will like it or not is just another thing.
As I sat on the bench, I realised I was feeling indifferent to the lake, the ducks and the swans as well. I had no feelings towards this place, even if it had reassured me so much during the worst days. It was cold, unsafe, dark, even if it was a sunny day. I was not a wandering traveller anymore, I was just lost. I had resisted, I had tried. I had tolerated everything, Usif’s contemptuous expressions, people’s absurd jokes on my accent. Fortunately enough I did not get them at the beginning, but when I started studying the language, I realised I was better off without them.
I had just closed myself up to the world, too unsure to be able to react as I should have. I had become a prisoner and tried to go out, snuck silently out of the exit doors of that cell I had created in my own imagination, but when I finally got a glimpse of fresh air, I knew there was nothing surrounding me. I expected something that wasn’t there and, being so disappointed, I preferred to crawl back to that humid, warm cell I had just tried to escape from. I was in the wrong place, like one of those paintings that are just put against the floor because the nails have come off, or like a book left on the desk of a library because some other book had been put at its place. As a bear walking up Oxford Street or as a pygmy at the Northern Pole. Simply in the wrong place.
I realised people were looking at me with curious expressions on their faces. I didn’t get it in at first, but when I sniffed, a pungent smell took me aback. I looked down: my jacket had just become a two-colour one. Fuck, the paint was still wet.