Our Manchester was the green spaces that skirt the peripheries of the city. The parks and lakes, canals and manor houses where we would tromp through long grass and hidden paths, weekend after weekend. Our old favourites and newer discoveries – Dunham, Tatton, Lime, Jumbles, Hollingworth. Each one became our garden for the day.
They say Black men don’t go walking, but you never took much notice of what was expected of you. My sister and I would skip and trot to keep pace with your long strides, break off to hide behind trees, drag enormous sticks like trophies, create elaborate stories for you to play along and do the voices. You hoisted us on to the lower branches of trees and let us take turns riding your shoulders.
Later, our walks became therapy. We told you about boys, friendships, our studies and then our jobs, cradling coffees for warmth as you endlessly listened, never losing interest in our minute dramas and tiny calamities. You knew the names of all of our friends. You knew the names of birds and trees, you knew the fields we could cut across and which gates would be locked. You always knew the way.
“We watched the city rebuild itself, better than before. The wet concrete of the centre of town became our common ground, an equal meeting place from just about anywhere.”
Our Manchester was the city centre. You pointed at the helicopters that circled the Arndale the day the bomb went off. Your senses – attuned to disaster from years in the newsroom – warned you to get us home. We felt the shudder of the explosion as we sat on the tram minutes later, you told us not to worry.
We watched the city rebuild itself, better than before. The wet concrete of the centre of town became our common ground, an equal meeting place from just about anywhere. On the rainiest days we huddled in shops, hanging around the sportswear, giving just enough longing looks to a pair of Nikes for you to eventually roll your eyes and take them to the till.
Some languid Sundays were spent in the cushioned darkness of the cinema. The Cornerhouse for something French and fancy, the AMC for blockbuster sequels, shoot-outs and car chases. There was no hierarchy, you loved them all the same. You rustled your sweets too loudly, and laughed too enthusiastically. You always said ‘how much?!’ when you paid for the popcorn.
“None of us were born in Manchester, but we were drawn to this city with the inevitability of a tidal pull. By now, we are all Mancunian on a molecular level.”
Our Manchester was opposite ends of the Met line. You just outside of Bury, us in Altrincham, but closer than most families who live under the same roof. Our bond transcending the M60 as we shot up and down it in your car, battling for the front seat – for the right to sit next to you. You would pick something from your playlists especially for each of us (90s hip hop, or some UKG) and mutter to yourself, “yeah, you’ll like this one,” as you hit play.
Your house, the house where we had living room discos and ate sandwich spread for breakfast, is empty now. We have to sell it. We don’t really know what we’re doing.
“I look for you at Piccadilly Station every time my train pulls in. My eyes lift just above the line of the crowd, searching for your giant headphones, for your tall frame decked out in oversized North Face.”
None of us were born in Manchester, but we were drawn to this city with the inevitability of a tidal pull. By now, we are all Mancunian on a molecular level. Our accents visible through our body language, our mouths holding on to our vowels for as long as possible, even as we talk to each other at 100 miles per hour.
But right now, the streets of this city are agonising. They scream your absence.
I look for you at Piccadilly Station every time my train pulls in. My eyes lift just above the line of the crowd, searching for your giant headphones, for your tall frame decked out in oversized North Face. Waiting for the smile and the dip of the head as you spot me, waiting for you to hold me at arm’s length and say; “it’s good to see you Miss Morris”, knowing that you mean it is more than ‘good’ to see me.
“You’re etched into the very fabric of the streets, the buildings, the lakes and the trees. It’s easier to find you, to visualise you.”
In London I distract myself with manic energy, work, friends, the frantic pace of the capital. I can almost forget – even for half a moment. But in Manchester, the fact of your gone-ness is unavoidable. It smacks me in the face, waits for me to get up and then hits me again.
You never realise how flimsy and insubstantial memory is until it’s all you have left. I imagined I would be able to play it all back like a movie, pausing to linger at my favourite parts. Instead I’m grasping at the echoes of feelings, piecing together shards of fragmented moments, clinging desperately to the sound of your too-loud laugh and the rustle of your pic’n’mix.
Manchester is where the pain is worst, but it’s also where these memories are their sharpest. You’re etched into the very fabric of the streets, the buildings, the lakes and the trees. It’s easier to find you, to visualise you. And, beneath all those layers of aching, I know this city holds your DNA at its core – I can feel you here.
None of us were born in Manchester, but it’s ours now, and always will be.
This is the place where we lost you. But it is also the place where we had you. Where we loved you. I hope for a future in which I am able to wrap this feeling around me, no matter how much it hurts. I hope to be able to look directly at this city again. I hope I won’t have to search for you, because I know you’re here.
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