To the Friendship of English Speaking Peoples
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February is LGBTQ+ History Month in the UK! Strandlines invites contributions from past and present Strand-dwellers, visitors, and dreamers all year round, however, we launched a call this year for contributions to mark the History Month.
The story below was contributed by Tam Lin. Thank you for sharing your own ‘strand’ with us!
We are always open for contributions – click here to find out more.
To the Friendship of English Speaking Peoples
By Tam Lin
We first met under the watchful eyes of the two statues erected to commemorate the friendship of English speaking peoples. Frozen in time, I wonder if the slippages within the romance that enshrined the Anglo-American relationship was something Irving T. Bush could have ever imagined.
The southern end of Kingsway became our regular meeting spot as it was right between our two campuses. From there, we would follow the pulsing rhythm of the Thames and drift into the palaces of old after our classes. Basking in the fancy facades imbued us with a certain air of excess that the royals carried with them, but we never dared touch, though there was no denying that tingly sensation between the two of us. Perhaps it was the smallness of the worlds that we both came from but the differences between the both of us was something we could never quite look past. For starts, my skin glowed with a warm, gentle hue just enough to make us look like unlikely friends. Further perpetuating this was also the way the ‘r’s rolled contrastingly off our tongues and my inability to pronounce ‘th’. Still, we kept hanging out with each other just to feel a little less lonely within the big smoke. Just friends.
But one day things changed. I was on my way to class, reading on the tube as usual since it was always too noisy to listen to any music. As the train came to a stop, I blinked up from my book and I saw the lines between fact and fiction blur before my very eyes as he stepped into my carriage. A scenario like this was something I had longed for ever since I found out that he lived along my commute to university but watching my dream play itself out felt both serendipitous and surreal. As if he couldn’t believe it either, he sat across me with confusion plastered all over his face even though he noticed me as soon as the train-doors opened. With some nudging, he eventually moved over and sat beside me. Perhaps there was space in the world for the both of us together, in spite of our differences.
We agreed to meet after our classes that day but this time, he wanted to come over to my campus instead, crossing from Bush House to the south side of Aldwych. The plan was to have lunch by the Thames. The day went by in a flurry and before I knew it, I was beaming at him standing just outside the St Mary-le-Strand, as awkward as a church situated on a traffic island amidst one of London’s busiest streets would be. Seeing his gangly frame wobble around bashfully, my knees trembled with excitement too.
But of course, some things never change. The howling winds made it impossible to talk let alone eat, and need I mention the rain? Thankfully he had an umbrella with him, ever prepared, and we dashed into the nearest tube station. Not wanting to part just yet, we decided to head on to Trafalgar Square to check out the National Gallery. Perhaps it was the traffic lights that signaled the greenlight for people like us, or maybe it was the fact that we had made it past Halfway to Heaven, but the short walk with him sheltering me from the pelting rain felt like a memory that could last lifetimes.
We quickly fumbled our way in, more concerned about drying ourselves than the art around us and we weren’t alone in that, judging by the many who sat around staring blankly ahead while wrenching their hair. He hurried me to see van Gogh and we talked about how he had remained unmarried out of his devotion to art with raised brows and stifled laughs. Breezing through the rest of the gallery, I scanned through the panels describing the likes of Caravaggio and Rubens and I couldn’t help but notice our absence from the narratives presented in spite of what is evident. As much beauty as the art and architecture housed within the gallery, I couldn’t stop wondering if some colours just aren’t meant to be mixed or if some stories just aren’t worth telling. Subconsciously or not, I became increasingly aware of our differences and I walked further and further from the man who just sheltered me from the rain so tenderly. I eventually settled before Hogarth’s series of paintings, drawn to its account of a marriage that is characterized by sexual exploits and squalid greed. Gazing pensively at the love life of the aristocrats, I wondered if this was love or a love story.
Tam Lin is a Singaporean-Chinese writer based in London. You can find him on instagram (@kaikaku_) and support his writings on patreon (@tamlintales).
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