Waking up, I notice that there are more people in the room now. They're all pretty quiet, being content to mill around, grabbing something, putting something back, before finally leaving, never saying a word to anyone. I sit up, considering my options for the night. This is my first night in London, and the hostel I'm in just happens to be in King's Cross—one of the busiest and most populated areas of London. I climb down carefully from the top bunk of my bed and proceed to walk out, hearing nothing but the slightly irritating noise of snoring along the way. The presence of heavy sleepers in hostels is something I'll have to get used to, I think to myself as I continue walking, finding the door to reception.
I feel like I'm on another planet, and hardly anyone has said a word to me yet. It only takes fifteen seconds or so to reach the entrance area. The first thing I notice are cars, and they all have yellow number plates. Yes, I'm definitely in the UK now. A man smokes not too far from me. He looks vaguely Spanish or Mexican. I consider saying hello, only to opt out at the last second, feeling too shy to do so.
Most of the other people at the hostel seem to be European travellers or backpackers, and by that I mean German people, Spanish people, French people, Polish people. I can only imagine who they think I am or where I've come from. Most likely nothing. Fellow Aussies aren't easy to meet in this gargantuan urban beast. The European ones all speak in their own languages, of course, and this intimidates me for some reason. I guess it's a real sign that I'm no longer in my home country, that my usual comfort zone has abandoned me for an action I never thought I'd accomplish: travel to the other side of the world.
Now that I'm here, it's actually not that overwhelming. Well, the jetlag was overwhelming, but everything else, much to my surprise, has been reasonably manageable. It's a much smaller world these days, and this is soon evidenced when I decide to take a walk down the street. There seems to be such a wide range of people walking past me, so much so that I begin to imagine where they've all come from. Many of them are probably local to London, but many of them probably also aren't.
I unequivocally belong to the latter group, for several anonymous individuals seem to look at me strangely as they pass me, their thick coats hugging their bodies as the cold tries to penetrate through them. I ignore them, scanning the quaint shops and cafes and restaurants that line the street. It seems to be getting colder. People huddle together near shopfronts in a collective effort to stay warm.
People say London is a glamorous city, a luxurious city. It is if you can afford it to be. But it doesn't seem to be, really. On first observation, it seems to be a city of juxtapositions, of visible socioeconomic constrasts, its winners commandeering expensive BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes while its losers sit homeless in isolated lumps at train stations. I see one at King's Cross Station, for one. Plastic bags, blankets, and old clothes surround him. No one else seems to see him. I feel sorry for him. I debate whether I should go over and give him something, feeling sad that no one else has done it.
A wave of selfishness then envelopes me, telling me I should go and get something to eat. I duly do. But, as with so many other things in life, the image of the homeless man remains etched in my subconscious, haunting me as I walk back to the hostel with my food. I suspect that he'll be there for a good while to come.