The hood’s changing, and so am I. Nothing looks the same anymore, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve got this new set of eyes. See, I go to university now. Big fancy place. The classes smell like libraries, and the people look like they’ve been rich their entire lives. My neighborhood reeks of shit, and has homeless people sleeping at every corner.
Everyday I travel between both worlds. Wednesday is currently my favorite day. It used to be the same when I was fourteen and still in High-School, because it meant we stopped classes at twelve-thirty. Now I like it because my classes start at nine and end at six in the afternoon. I don’t like that it means I have to wake up at seven, and bike to central station to be there at eight-thirty, but it’s a small price to pay.
I take a special pleasure in biking through the streets in the morning. It’s quiet. Everything looks clean. People haven’t popped up like sore pimples on the streets. The drunks are still asleep, and the bottles and cans haven’t emptied yet. I pass through China Town, it’s nothing special. Just a long cobble stone road full of Chinese grocery stores and bakeries with a large arch with red and yellow dragons at the exit that drops me off near Central Station.
I jump on to the train, and the journey looks like a faint dirt road. People pass by, but never enough to develop an easy path. I get to watch the sun-rise, and sometimes sleep through it. If I’m awake, I admire the houses in the middle of the large fields. I watch horses run and sheep eat grass and clean cows.
Then I get to Leuven. A city dedicated to academia. There’s only students, and those who serve them for money. I stick out like a sore thumb with my hoodie and suspicious skin. I feel like an alien on another planet. One would think I’d adapt and get used to it, but that’s shaping up to be an impossibility.
It’s my lot to be an outsider. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain sense of pride in it. But even golden sheep feel like they have black wool sometimes. I walk through the streets with their beautiful gothic architecture, and I can tell I’m being watched. My focus is unbroken, and I make my way to class.
I arrive half an hour early. So I sit back and watch the people. Everyone looks weird to me. Like I’m in a different country inside a country. I feel like a tourist that stumbled into a wrong city. The music in my ears stops me from hearing them. Their glances pass me by, and my scowl welcomes them.
If I could get up, run around and kick everyone in the shin, I would. Instead, I sit back, scowl, smoke my cigarettes and get into the classes. The teacher smiles at me, and it’s the most warm smile I’ve gotten. I get up and ask her a few questions before classes start. I always have something I’m wondering about, and she loves it.
They look, but I don’t mind. I wear my apathy like a middle finger. In classes, I excel. My eyes say “Bring it”. I’m excited, I want to devour every tidbit of information coming out of my professor’s mouth, and I keep my attitude up until the last class. Then there’s no one left. It’s me again.
Me and my music. Sometimes I read a book while the sun sets. I share the details of my day with it. Then it’s dark, and I’m back on the train. My legs are pulsating with exhaustion, and my mind is throbbing. People look at me weird because I lay my legs off the side and drift into sleep. The train conductors always wake me up with a look of disgust.
Then its’ right back to China town. I walk through it, I don’t like biking back home. I smell the roads. No one looks at me wrong. It feels like I’m in the right place. I pass by the Chinese restaurants, and the grocery stores, and the loud smokers and the laughing drunks. In the past five months, seven African shops opened up. The wannabe gangsters stand outside them with their hats cocked back, and their drugs shoved somewhere in a nook for easy access.
We stare at each other. I’m not in the business of getting into fights with a gang of monkey ass assholes, but there’s no money in being a little bitch, either. They usually nod. I nod back. The street is cut in half when I reach a cross road. On one side, the blacks take the corners, nod and smile, and ask you if you want some ‘bomb ass weed’.
On the other, the Morrocans sit back, and smoke. They don’t offer you anything. You have to ask. They don’t seem as eager, and maybe that’s why the blacks are moving in and growing on their turf. I throw my hand up to the guys I know, and they ask me how my day was, and it goes something like this:
“Ewa, philosopher.” they yell. “Learn anything interesting today?”
I throw a joke their way, and sometimes share something, like the world being a simulation, or free will an illusion. They laugh, and we shake hands, and they offer me a toke of their blunt, and I say “I’m good”. I continue my walk, and I dodge the empty bottles, and the cans, and the rest of the salesmen I have nothing to do with.
Maybe things changed. Maybe I see them differently. Maybe it’s both. And maybe I’m just an African shop in the middle of China town, hungry, starving, devouring everything in my way. Maybe there’s no right place for me. Be it the train, or the class. Whether I’m supposed to be there or not, I simply am. And I’m making it my spot. If you think you’re taking it, I wish you nothing but harm. If you feel like standing with me, don’t stand on my toes.