creative non-fiction nature

CITY GIRL | Nadia Henderson wonders about identity, place and change in her essay about saying goodbye to the city.

Creative non-fiction

by Nadia Henderson

You’ve lived in the city for most of your life. You have a borderline-irrational fear of missing trains; you wish you were more supportive of your local library. You prefer summer to winter; you’ve spent long afternoons basking in the relative peace of the city’s many green spaces, sun fierce on your skin. Important decisions have been made with your hands in the grass; secrets and truths shared with blades sharp against bare legs.

People have called you a city girl, and you’ve wondered what criteria have to be met in order to qualify as one. You suppose it requires a spiritual connection, an affinity; a sense of ease and belonging in crowds, an innate ability to navigate the streets without hesitation or aid. You wonder, too, if it demands you see charm in all the things you’ve grown tired of. Because you have grown tired of the city – of its noise, its perpetual light; its rising prices and social injustice. You and the city have branched out in opposite directions, split roots curving themselves towards different suns.

Soon, you’ll be leaving the city. You’ll be moving to a country with cleaner air, wider roads and a language you haven’t yet grasped despite months of evening classes. You’ll be living in a place that you’d barely describe as a village, more as a cluster of houses a short distance away from a lake. You will own your home for the first time; you’ll drive nails into walls with abandon, study colour charts to settle on paints. 

You don’t want to go. Everything you know is here: your family, your friends. Familiar buildings – the council estate you grew up on, your favourite pub – tug at you, demanding final goodbyes. You’ve lived so much of your life here. You’ve fallen in love, and out; made new friends and lost old ones. You’ve seen favourite bands at now-closed venues, been lifted through crowds by strangers. You’ve attended weddings, and funerals. You pass through the places you know well and wonder if it’s for the last time, though you know you can never know that, and that everything is done both for the first and last time in some sense anyway.

“You and the city have branched out in opposite directions, split roots curving themselves towards different suns.”


You want to go. It’s time. You’ve imagined a different life for yourself. You’ll learn to cook all manner of dishes, mixing spices and making broths from scratch. You’ll mend your own clothes, grow your hair; finally watch Twin Peaks. You’ll marvel at how time and space expand outside the city, how you’ve never known silence before. You’ll pick mushrooms in the autumn, plant a herb garden and wait for saplings to sprout through soil.

*

From the top deck of the bus you take to work, you see buildings covered in moss. Creeping green has moved across grey facades; pigeons have nested in crumbling walls. A reclaiming – a taking back by nature – has happened, and you see yourself in it. Little leaves spread in thin vines down your arms, birds perch on bent joints. Bricks fall away from your structure, and small, furry animals take up residence in their place. Soon, there’ll be nothing left of the city girl: you’ll be nothing but twigs. There is no end to it, nor beginning. It is cyclical: growth and decay.

But you resist it, ask questions. You think about the nature of things, of yourself: is it in you to take this leap of faith? You lived overseas as a child: three years of tanned limbs and rolled Rs. Children take so much in their stride – a quality not often brought with them into adulthood. You worry about everything: missing your family, and being missed; what you’ll do to make money; not learning the nuance of regional customs that make interactions flow. You worry this rewilding will not be a transformation but a stifling: a repression of identity, history.

*

When you go to see the house that you’ll live in, you sit alone in the kitchen. Outside, there’s less snow than is normal for this time of year, but the ground is frozen and the air bites. The seller tells you he’s tracked wolverines in the woods and, though he’s never seen one himself, sightings of bears aren’t unheard of. Coffee is brewed on the stove, grounds bitter on your tongue. You look around at a house you yearned for months before, gave up hope of being able to afford, then – phone calls, emails and lots of paperwork later – discovered you could. You believe in fate, manifestation – a natural way of things – and you marvel out how it’s worked out. When you think of the journey here, you can’t help but smile.

Perhaps city girls can stretch and expand in nature’s winds.

Perhaps fear can be bargained with in unfamiliar places, vulnerability exposing thicker skin. 

Perhaps everything you worry about will come true; perhaps none of it will. 

Perhaps you have the power to guide yourself through any and all terrain; compass in hand as pavement turns to green earth underfoot. 


Nadia Henderson | @notsoquietgrrl
Nadia is a London girl living in Sweden, hoping that the fresh air and excellent coffee are conducive to good writing. She writes short stories, flash and creative non-fiction, and aspires to one day have had enough interesting experiences to put into a memoir. 

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