City of London: smile of a stranger

City of London (Photo credit: Karolina Kulach)

This is London: nobody’s judging and nobody cares. This statement may sound familiar to many Londoners.

You can wear whatever you want and people won’t probably give you strange looks. You can cry on the Tube and people won’t probably give you strange looks. However, when you trip over when you’re in a rush to catch your train, people may not care or notice, either.

This is both liberating and scary. This is both hopeful and hopeless.

Do people in London care about others? Is there hope in the city of strangers?

London: anonymous city

In London there’s a lot going on. There are a lot of people and events. There’s also a lot of chaos and information to keep track of. Thus, Londoners may get desensitised by the sheer amount of everything.

Sadly, yet another person reported dead under the train may be background noise. What may attract more attention is the announcement which tube lines have been suspended as a result of it.

Hearing sad news is not convenient. It may inspire questions:

  • Did the killed one fall under the train by accident? Were they pushed by the crowds?
  • Did they commit suicide?
  • If they did commit suicide, what must have happened to make that person take their life?

As a consequence, it may be more convenient not to think about the imperfect world.

  • But is ignorance bliss?
  • Is pain real?
  • Do people who find living on this planet unbearable exist? If so, do we know such people?

Ignorance is illusion

Living in a metropolis like London doesn’t mean people are entitled to the lack of empathy. Ignorance is illusion.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures. But illusion is eventually a source of pain for those who believe in it. Short-term gain, long-term pain.

The distractions and excitement of living in a big city can help one ignore many harsh realities of life. Unfortunately, indifference and ignorance may reflect an individual’s own feeling empty at their deepest level.

The bottom line: to care about other people doesn’t mean one has to drown in the tragedies of this world. It’s about stepping into another person’s shoes and understanding their perspective. It’s not about ignoring, but it’s about knowing.

It’s about seeing “you” in them.

The City of London smiles at you

One day, in the corporate City of London, I was watching people in suits. It was at the time when I lost my job and was wondering whether my next job should resemble my previous one. I was fed up with office politics and the corporate language. Garbage language in my mind.

On that day the people in the City of London were either rushing to places, having their sandwiches on the move or staring straight ahead, blankly. I was also staring: at their faces and into their eyes. Interestingly, nobody would notice I was watching them.

On that day I didn’t see happy workers in the City of London. What I saw were exhausted zombies and robots acting as if on autopilot.

But something amazing happened, too

Whilst walking around the City, I entered a more deserted area near the Gherkin. I was walking along an empty pathway when a lady on a bike started approaching me from the opposite direction.

Gherkin, London (Photo credit: Karolina Kulach)

I looked at her face just like at everyone else’s that day. It was at that moment when the lady gave me the most warm-hearted, sincere smile: a smile in the city of zombies.

A single smile: so little and so much at the same time.

I needed that smile badly: I had been in the zombie mode for a few years myself. I needed to wake up. I wanted to start noticing the people and world around me. It was time for me to see them for the first time.

That smile was a new beginning. The ruthless London machine had a human heart after all. It was my personal moment of promiscuity in London: this intimate smile exchange with a complete stranger was my one-day stand. And it did make my day.

This was London.



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Karolina Kulach

Non-fiction writer & content manager. Author of “The power of displacement”. Keen reality and people observer. Loves writing catchy, rhyming poems.