Chapter 2 - Big City
I didn’t want to go to a British university, it felt too much like the educational treadmill: school, college, uni. I’d be trapped forever in a normal life.
Nor did I want to piss my life away “seeing the world”, teaching English as a foreign language or similar dead end non-job; hanging round with a bunch of ex-pats because I hadn’t bothered to learn the native lingo and neither had they.
Independent University seemed the ideal solution. I could live abroad, in Big City, a throbbing metropolis on the borders of the third world and the new world – the Independent Nation.
I had to sort out the finance though. My parents had had to choose between a new car and funding my university education and went for the former. “Son, you can get an education anywhere at any time, but the Ford Focus is a once in a lifetime investment.”
So I put in for grants and scholarships, spent a month filling in forms and the next month following up with emails, letters and phone calls. I wanted to do computer programming, but applied for any course where there were funding available. I didn’t just apply to Big City, I tried Karachi, Brasila, Lima, Beijing and Casablanca, but Big City was the only one to offer me a place with that all important scholarship. I didn’t get my first choice of course either, I ended up on a Technology and Music scholarship. I was the only student without musical knowledge, or, depending how you look at it, the only one with musical knowledge. None of those fuckers had even heard of the Smiths, can you believe it?
It was a sweltering hot October day when I arrived alone at Big City airport, dressed in my autumn English jeans and cardigan armed with a suitcase of essentials, an A4 map of the city and a letter from the university to confirm that I existed. I was overwhelmed by the crowds, by the heat, by the noise (London is busy but in a very quiet British way). This was my first time in a third world country, a mass of people of all races, every language in the world spoken at once, loudly, from every corner. On the streets donkeys mingled with cars, bikes and buses. A city, no doubt about that, but busier, bustlier and smellier than any city I’d been to.
English is one of the four official languages of the Independent Nation, but nobody told the airport. I had to ask around for nearly an hour before I could find a taxi, which wasn’t really a taxi just a guy in a car, an ancient Civic Honda, which frankly has less horse power than the donkey and cart next to it. I realised this when we were overtaken by the donkey and cart shortly into our journey, but by then it was too late. The car was as decrepit inside as it was out, the cooler fan whirred noisily but all it did was push the warm air around, making it seem even hotter. I wasn’t used to this type of heat, I was already streaming with sweat, none of the nice, polite, British heat I was used to.
The taxi driver took me to the address in the letter from the university. The address is a new building, a state of the art student accommodation block, a development recently declared open by the Minister for Housing, Development and Expansion. So new, in fact, that it hasn’t actually been built yet. The Minister was apparently ‘visioning’, as was the university. Pre-vision all there is to see is waste ground, a sign, with the name of the prospective building, and a recently cut ribbon lying abandoned in the dirt.
“Welcome to Big City,” my taxi driver said.