Standing in the queue for Immigration at Heathrow Airport can be a perfectly daunting experience for the uninitiated. Just when I was beginning to believe that things would look up after a six-hour flight from Dubai with a rather crabby somebody by my side, the queue presented itself in all its serpentine glory. After what was on the brink of becoming a Godot-experience, my turn at the counter came and went off as if nothing had preceded it. I must have been visibly disappointed – like a man who had put too much at stake to realize the risk was perfectly needless in the end – when my uncle greeted me outside the terminal. Coffee, especially when powdered with chocolate on its surface, has the extraordinary ability in me to revive a soul that’s considerably low. So when we drove out of the airport for my uncle’s place at Golders Green, I was beginning to savour the London morning, and all that whisked around it.
I’m not sure how the idea of driving all the way had incepted itself, but as we glided along the M25 for Durham the next day, I was pretty happy to be where I was. The pleasures of Facebook-ing and status updates availed themselves thanks to the generous Wi-Fi from the food chains along the way. So each time we stopped for coffee and snacks, I craned to read the comments to my changing updates before adding a new one, in what must have been a blatant exhibition of compulsive behaviour. The skies were beginning to grow grey and the possibility of rain strengthened until it became a firm drizzle. I wasn’t particularly interested in braving cold September rain as we sped up to avoid what looked like a big splurge from the skies. In retrospect, there must have been more than a tinge of romance in speeding along a highway with a growing greyness around; but during those moments, it was sadly overshadowed by the longing to reach the comfort of a well-heated room. So much so, that in our haste, we did not take the necessary left but sped along towards Newcastle until the boards on either side showed names that were further up than Durham on the map. The circuitous return was not particularly pleasant, but it saw us back on the right course.
Windmill Hill lives up to its name and all that it connotes. So, as our car, after an initial phase of undecided turns, began its climb, I felt the chill notch up as well. The rain had not grown beyond drizzle but the cold in the air swung with the winds that cut across it. After a further series of wrong turns, St. Aidan’s College presented itself through the car window, glimmering with warmth even from a distance. Inside, I was amused to see the college register for prospective boarders named The Bible and was even happier to see my good name securely printed across where it ought to be. The possibility of new friendship presented itself immediately in the very tall form of the International Rep who very kindly helped me find and settle in my little room.
Two hours later my uncle and I were on a leisurely walk down the hill, on our way to do a bit of scouting around, despite the drive, despite the wear. The drizzle had melted into the late afternoon air. It was still overcast but without any of the misgivings that the greyness carried on our way. Instead now there was the smell of pizza and the light of the Square as we neared the City Centre and then walked into the lovely Durham Indoor Market. What struck right away was the feast of the senses inside; for here the smell of soaps and coffee beans fused with the lovely colours of all the umbrellas spread for sale in the stands. The murmur of the closing day was particularly alive with all the necessities being bought and sold through the lovely counters run by the lovely old couples. After a rather extravagant bout of shopping, I walked out to the square again, with my newly bought umbrella, brushes and shampoo, only to see a drop of golden sun blazing up all that was around.
It was nearing 6.45pm and I had never seen a twilight so late; so red. The sky seemed to be making up for its heaviness all day and falling back upon the colours that know it best. I stood by and drank it all in. For here I was, in Durham, a place where I mean to stay and study in the years to come, make new friends; establish happy relationships with a culture very different from my own. I didn’t know then, any more than I do now, how successful I would be in doing all I wished to do here. But I was thankful for the beauty of the beginning. The sunset, the colours, the life and voices around, all fused into what seemed a very warm welcome. The walk back uphill to St. Aidan’s did not feel so cold. I knew I had struck the right note to begin. Rather, the note spread itself out for me beautifully. I had only to step into it…