I currently live about 20 minutes away from school. Walking. Or otherwise on lazier days, an 8 minute bike ride. But on more lazy days, when I’m not bothered to fix my flat tire or bike through the cold only to end up sweaty in the lecture theater, I live 20 minutes walk away.
After a whole year of walking to school since last year, I have become more familiar to the faces I often pass by during the 8.30 rush to get to school, to get to work, to get to life. Most faces only register as someone familiar, but there is one person that I often see walking in the opposite direction, and had caught my eye the first time I saw them. They weren’t wearing anything special in particular, what was different was the way they walked, the way they had a skip in their step, the way they smiled as they walked. He’s the boy with the red backpack.
It’s been a while since I’ve smiled giddily at myself looking at leaves falling from trees, since a simple walk to school in rain or shine brought an unconditional kind of joy that is not dependent on words, actions or circumstances. It’s the feeling you get when you know that even though everything is not alright at the moment, that it will be. Soon.
In May last year, I was cafe hunting, hoping changes in scenery would motivate me to study just a little harder for end of year exams. I had spent many of those days sitting at coffee shops on Bermondsey street. The ones which have a hipster vibe to it, the ones that overcharge you with special imported coffee grains, the ones that never played the generic UK Top 40, the ones that always had some form of home-made beverage that if labelled anything else, would probably not sell as popularly.
On my walk to these overpriced coffee shops, I’d often pass by a small residential street, where a quiet white building stood, not much taller than those around it, but with the sign ‘School House Coffee’ on it. A blackboard stood in front of it, ‘We’re open from 8.45 – 15.15’, thinking that the time permitted to sit and get comfortable would be too short, I always walked by it without a second thought. But one day I actually searched it up, looking for reviews and maybe make it a potential study spot, their Facebook page came up with this description:
The Cafe has been established by Spa School to provide work experience placements for young people with autism.
The next time I passed by, I went in for a quick takeaway coffee. Knowing that it would be worth it. I entered into the coffee shop. It wasn’t unlike any of the other over-priced hipster coffee shops I had been working at. Though, I saw a familiar face. The boy with the red backpack.
I’m quite sure they don’t recognize me, I would’ve been just another face on the street. Though I realized that at that moment, that they had that spring in their step because they were so excited to come to a place where they enjoy what they do. A place where they belong, a place where they are supported. A place where they are loved. A place entirely their own.
I woke up this morning. Face-timed my mum. Got frustrated at absolutely nothing more than not being organised enough to pack my lunch, make breakfast and have a conversation at the same time. Hung up. Went back to my room with my breakfast. Contemplated not going to school. Thought about how overwhelmed I already was with the piling mount of un-annotated lecture notes. Gulfed my breakfast. Didn’t enjoy it. Changed. Got annoyed at the bathroom that’s constantly unoccupied. Rinsed my mouth with water. Headed out.
Then, I walked by him again on my walk to school.
Up until that moment, I had just been thinking about how much I dread the day. How it started too early, and how it ended too late. Until I walked by him, I hadn’t noticed it was a bright sunny day. Although there was a chill in the air, and it seemed like my shoulders and arms were too warm, whereas my fingers, nose and toes were too cold, it was a sunny day nonetheless. And I wasn’t able to notice it.
I want to notice sunny days. I want to have the same hopeful step whilst I walk to school. I want to be like the boy with the red backpack. I want to be happy again, not just the joke-responding, situation-demanding happiness, but an unconditional joy.