The beginning of another new academic year, and in the swimming pool a group of young men throw each other around in the general section, making a lot of noise and treating the pool like a pub. They won’t be back once freshers’ week is over, but the rituals or a new semester and freshers’ week change very little as the years go by. I’m always one year older and they’re always a fresh faced eighteen.
At Winterbourne afterwards, I sit on a bench in a quiet corner and feel the sun on my face, enjoying the final warm afternoons of the year and reflecting on all the events and losses of the past twelve months.
One year ago, Minou was still alive. One year ago, Mum still recognised me as her daughter.
The holiday lights are up on New Street, the atmosphere a strange mix of Christmas Eve and the end of the world. On the cusp of England’s second lockdown, the shops are heaving with people stocking up on essentials from businesses that don’t have an online presence, and the cafés and restaurants are packed with friends getting together one last time before everything shuts again for a month or more. At the Bullring end of New Street, trestle tables have been set up outside Zara and Waterstones, staffed by the devout offering religious literature to those who pass by. Two groups of young men face each other across the shopping square volleying the names of Jesus and Allah back and forth, performing their faith and devotion in public before the indifferent eyes and ears of the final audience of the season. Overhead, a huge digital advertising screen on the side of a shuttered shop flashes the faces, names, ages, and last known whereabouts of Birmingham’s missing people. I cast my eyes down, reach inside my coat pocket for my phone, and refresh the Guardian’s live blog coverage of the US election results. I don’t usually carry my phone with me when I go for a walk or head into town unless I am meeting someone, but I haven’t been able to detach myself from it all week.