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Short Story: Arriving at SOAS

Francis Martin, MA Religion in Global Politics

The staircase corkscrews from the street to the underground platform and you’re climbing against gravity, circling round and round as your bag seems to grow heavier. Then it levels off, there’s a corridor, one final flight of stairs, ticket hall, barriers, and you burst onto the street, sped along by the smell of coffee wafting from the hatch by the station entrance. Well-dressed office workers sit in the square between Starbucks and Caffe Nero. You barely glance at the other benches, the ones round the back where cans and bottles are strewn amongst the dead leaves. A man is slumped next to the mound of grubby blankets under which he slept last night. But you have to hurry on—the pedestrian lights are turning green, and you need to cross to the other side.

A faint odour, slightly sour, rises from a bundle of duvets beneath the window of Habitat. On the other side of the glass the sheets on the beds are as smooth and spotless as untouched snow. The bedding outside, though, is covered with stains as virulent as bruises, fluff haemorrhaging from scars in the material. As you hurry on, feet clapping against the pavement, the chrysalis of a sleeping bag twitches. Bicycles whistle past. There’s no time for a coffee or a quinoa at Planet Organic, but you turn your face to the open door to take in the aroma. You don’t admit to yourself the other side of your gesture: to avoid eye contact with the beggar who pleads for your attention, gently rocking on her knees. It’s easier to listen to the accordion player. He’s there every day, squeezing out chords that never quite cohere into a tune, but at least he never calls out.

The farmers’ market is on, and as you stride past the eager customers and growing mounds of polystyrene takeaway boxes you pass through a spectrum of smells: the fragrance of lamb and herbs give way to Mughlai spices which cede the air for the heady perfume of raclette… but you keep walking—your six-quid selection can wait. Students are bustling out onto the avenue between the main building and the Brunei Gallery, the atmosphere a-buzz with chatter. You mount the steps to the revolving door and are propelled inside by the momentum of the swirling two-way traffic. The man by the desk sees your card and nods you through. You’re in, you’ve arrived—you’ve left the world outside.


Photo Credit: Francis Martin

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