Her heart raced with the train along the tracks. Music gave her a sphere, a bubble of her own, flooding her brain through tiny rubber buds in her ears. It didn’t push all the anxiety out though, it didn’t keep all her fear out.
Trees and bushes blurred past, odd glimpses of animals grazing – calm and nonchalant, just letting the world go by. A part of her ached for that, to be that careless. But that would mean giving up the dream she was racing towards. She couldn’t do that. Not after everything she’d done to get there.
Her backpack rested at her feet, bumping against her legs when the train slowed, reminding her that another rested above her head. The suitcase that contained her life. She clutched her phone in her hand, as if it could save her. Who would she ring if she needed help anyway? No one that could come to her, no one that could really do anything. She was alone. And even though she would be living with five other people, she would still be alone.
The train pulled to a stop, easing into the bustling station, so many people with suitcases, women clicking in heels, men with ties and slicked back hair. Important people with important places to go. She swallowed, her throat a lump, and stood. Her bag came down with a thump, competing with the thuds of her heart. With shaking hands she raised the handle of her case and pulled it along behind her off the train and onto the platform. A chill wind fought with the heat of the sun for dominance. She shivered, yet knew she would be too hot in her hoodie by the time she reached the university. It was a half an hour walk, and she could have got on a bus, but she was hoping the walk would ease her nerves.
Her music kept her in her own world as she followed the arrows to get out of the station. Then it was over to Google Maps. The route should have been burned into her mind – she had looked at it more times than she could keep track of. But anxiety blurred her thoughts, her memory, it blurred who she was.
The streets were busy. A queue of people, students she guessed, waited at bus stops, in the taxi rank, waiting to be taken to the university. They would get there before her. But she couldn’t face another cramped public vehicle, more noises and smells. The fresh air was easier to breathe in.
Her anxiety ebbed and flowed, rising and falling like the tides of her home, as she walked the pavements, rolling her suitcase behind her. What would it be like when she got there? God, she hadn’t even been on an Open Day….would the pictures online be accurate? Would she like her tutors? Would she like her flatmates? Would they like her? Would she like the course? What if it was too hard? What if she’d made the worst mistake? She had no home to go back to. She had to like this. She had to fit here, belong here.
The little red pin was close now, on her map. A glance up, and a fence parted across the road, beside a sign proudly displaying the name of the university. Her stomach turned over. She was here. This was real.
She crossed the road, and rolled her suitcase up the winding path, up towards the great stone buildings that had stood for hundreds of years, amongst fellow students, staring pale-faced just like her. Were they wondering, too, if they had made the right choice?
Signs pointed to different buildings. She double-checked where she had to go, and followed the green arrows. People smiled at her, and she had to extract herself from her musical world. She tried to reply, tried to make her trembling voice work. She was led into a large building, put into an elevator with several other suitcases. Up she went, breathing getting harder. The elevator pinged, the doors slid open, and she followed a girl who said she was in the same flat as her. She seemed nice, blonde, her hands shaking when she lifted them from her bags.
Inside the flat, inside her own room, with the door closed, the sound outside muffled, she sat on her bed, and let the tears come. She didn’t know if she was happy or sad, or excited, or afraid, or everything all together. The room was tiny, with a slim view of the campus and the river beyond. She missed her home, her flat, her living room and sofa and bed. She missed the paths she walked to the shops and back.
She clutched the flat, plain white pillow to her body and took some shuddering breaths, willing the tears to stop. She had come here to change her life. Change can’t happen while things stay the same. It would be okay – it had to be.
In another life she hadn’t chosen this, in another life she had stayed where it was safe and comfortable, she had denied her dream and held herself back.
And she would never know what the right choice was. Because she could only choose one.
She laid the pillow back down and began to methodically unpack her bags. Someone laughed outside. And somehow, after it all, the moon still rose into the growing dusk.