From Piccadilly to Gatwick
Tahir Mehmood

“So, how do you introduce yourself?” The man asked a mate he had only just met.
“Well, my name is Life, and I am a doctor by profession,” the girl said in a naughty tone and with a grin on her face. “And, you?”
“People call me a soldier, and I am a traveller by choice,” the man replied in the same tone while portraying to be sober.
“Your job is to kill?”
“No Miss Life,” he grinned back, “I endure the wars, and rescue people to the doctor.”
She laughed back and said, “I must enrol you as my assistant.”
“That you have already,” he thought abruptly but couldn’t say it. He only smiled back at her.
They had met a while ago while strolling from Trafalgar Square to Piccadilly Circus. Now they were sitting on the stairs of Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, right under the Statue of Eros. The man was in his early thirties, and the girl appeared to be a little younger than him. This was their first meeting that led to many more in the coming days. They both were tourists from different lands and had planned a short stay in London. With each passing day their feelings of mutual love grew more intense with no such intention of their own, but probably due to the mischief of the stars. In the coming days, it became their routine to stroll around in different places and finally reach the Piccadilly Circus where they would sit until midnight. They would hug and depart in the last underground train service with a promise to meet the next day.

“Why do they call this place Circus? I don’t see any signs of that!”
Life answered him in a sombre tone: “You are right. Though this place is named circus but it has no link with it. It is used in a Latin sense, and here circus means a circle.”
“Isn’t it deceptive?”
Life replied: “Moving in a circle is also like working in a circus; where you daily repeat what have you mastered already. If one begins from the same point, and ends at the same, the journey almost comes to naught. Nothingness becomes the destiny if one keeps moving in a circle,” she said, and then paused for a moment.
“Life, keep going, I am attentive,” he said impatiently.
Life grinned at his impetuosity and resumed, “The power of imagination is the power of creation. Man is not destined for fatalism. But then ideas and ideals do not become reality in a linear fashion.”
“Patience is not mere waiting, it is changing course, surviving the agonies of failure, and keeping faith under the dark shadows of doubt. Patience is continuing the effort, investing in the perfectness of the process, and believing that the journey would not be in vain.”
The tourist-soldier nodded affirmatively in silence. He, too, have always championed the cause of struggle, strife, sweat and toil and vowed to never abandoning the cause.
“You see the big screen there? It once carried the words by John Lennon: Imagine all the people living life in peace,” Life pointed towards big screens displaying various advertisements that had become the hallmark of this place.
“Oh, yes. The neon-lights have such a dreamy quality. I believe in peace, if I am not threatened for survival. Hope you would agree with me?”
“Permanent Peace or Conflict is not in the state of Nature. Nature is nothing but a continuous state of motion and change. Power of ambition and desire for domination are mostly found in Nature that must be regulated for enduring peace,” the Soldier continued while looking towards Westminster Abbey, “Peace is a construct for which we all must work. For few, it remains a virtuous wish, for few it is a ploy, but it should remain the ultimate ideal of those who steer the fate of humanity.”
Life too appeared philosophic in those moments and then she abruptly said to him, “I am a bit hungry now. Let’s satiate our thirst and hunger.”
The Soldier held the hand of Life as they entered a nearby café. They had planned to first visit London Planetarium on Marylebone Road, adjacent to Madame Tussauds Museum.
It became their routine to meet at Piccadilly Circus after midday and stroll to nearby places. Together they went to quiet corners of Saint James’ Park, and also hovered around noisy corners at Hyde Park. A walk up to Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace in the early part of the evening became their routine. They would also go to nearby Queen’s Theatre often. In the pleasant cold breeze of River Thames, they would often stroll and talk for hours while holding hands or succumbing to passionate hugs. But they would always fall back to the stairs of Statue of Eros. This bustling point of Piccadilly Circus had become a kind of second home to them. Those two human souls unwittingly knocked at the door of love under the glimmer of fast shining neon-lights, totally unaware of looming shadows of approaching midnight when they were to part ways to catch the last underground train. One night he asked her, “Why is it called Statue of Eros when it is actually the statue of his brother, Anteros. Isn’t it deceptive?”
“Anteros was Greek god of selfless love.”
“What does it mean?” prompted the Soldier.
“Selfless could go nameless. They could suffer lack of recognition.”
“Can love be selfless?”
“Love is more about giving than asking. It is unconditional.”
“How can love be selfless when one finds it sprouting from the inner caves of the self. Isn’t love an expression of the self?
“Love resides in the inner seals of the heart and flies on the divine wings of the soul. Love is expression of one’s longings but it never imprisons the beloved. Love admires, adores, worships the beloved, but love is also an act of freedom. Love espouses a deep longing for the union but it is also a let-go choice. Love loses its soul under the imposed strings of obligations.”
“Why seek permanence in love? Can love stay at one point?”
“Desire for permanence is inbuilt but it kills the very soul of love. Change is Nature and fear of change replaces love with suspicion, possession and aggression. Love grows to a point where it must change. Love then is a freedom which falls back or goes away but never wears the shrouds of burdens and temporal commitments. Surrender in love also means freedom from expectations.”
“What should be done to endure love?”
“Respect the moments. Live in the moments. A beautiful moment is more powerful than spiritless ages. Love is divine, one may not touch or measure it but certainly it can be felt and believed.”
They both continued the dialogue spanning many nights. Unknowingly they were both gradually seeking permanent union. They were falling in the eternal trap of love: staying together forever. But on one night, it dawned upon the poor souls that the next day was their last day together.
Life was to fly back to her country in the late hours of next night. She was to catch the flight from Gatwick Airport.
They spent the whole next day together. They sat under the sun in Hyde Park, had lunch at a café on Oxford Street, and lay down beside a beautiful quiet lake of Saint James’ Park. There they slept for a while and became oblivious of the fast approaching separation. Then they began a long stroll and reached River Thames. Time was fleeing and the journey tiring. Life was resting on the heavy shoulders of the grim soldier when both reached the Big Ben. The soldier was tired too, but he did not stop. Life had to catch the flight at night to go back home. Their gaze was now fixated on the huge needles of Big Ben showing the time. It appeared to them that time had stopped as the big needles were continuously moving in the same circle. The soldier then remembered what Life told him one night. She had remarked that Time was constant as stars and planets move in permanent elliptical patterns and never change their course. She had almost said prophetically: “Time is constant. Time is lifeless and does not grow. It does not change. These are Life’s cells that bear growth and finally decay and meet death. If the decay is controlled, Time would not interfere to bring death to humans.” They almost felt lost in the moment but then the two needles joined at one point, and clamouring bells announced the end of fleeing hour of the Time. It brought them back to reality, and they hurriedly moved towards Piccadilly Circus. The hour of separation was approaching fast, and they both wanted to spend these moments in perfect union; the union of souls. The pangs of separation were eternal but the blissful moment of love appeared more powerful to the two.
They finally reached the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain where both witnessed the Statue of Eros welcoming them with wet eyes.
For long the Soldier remembered the journey from Piccadilly Circus to Gatwick Airport. The train to Gatwick was moving very fast on that sombre night. The people on the train were passengers chasing their destinies. Those sleeping in the towns adjacent to the train track were oblivious that Life was going back to her home.
The last scene on Gatwick Airport stuck in the Soldier’s memory till his last breath. Life went inside the lounge, but before check-in, came back rushing to the soldier. She bitterly wept the tears of love, gave a final hug and ran back to the lounge without looking back. The soldier stood silent. He had learnt to value Life forever but never shed the tears.
The Soldier’s unshed tears were absorbed by his land many years later when he fought and died for the peace on his land. Life never knew the fate of the Soldier but she could never forget him either.
The writer is a traveller and student of human history. He can be reached at tmabbasi@yahoo.com______________