On Sundays, in Wapping, church bells ring. The cobbled streets are quiet, save for the sounds of some intermittent conversations: the old women at the bus stop, complaining about that excessively rude bus driver; the bespectacled gentleman in the cosy little café rustling through the sheets of his newspaper, creasing his nose in disgust at the general state of the world; the ladies walking their dogs through the small enclosed fields, and giggling like schoolgirls, reminiscing about days gone by, their faces kissed pink by gusts of wintry winds; the baker greeting the butcher; the greengrocer joining in, puffing away at the cigarette in his hand.
The priest next door no longer wakes up for church; “fed up of religion,” he says he is. These days, he much prefers to spend his time within the comfortable confines of his flat, flicking through different channels on the TV (and eventually deciding on watching the BBC Proms) while eating some freshly-made beef stew he has prepared for himself, or occasionally, some lamb biryani that we have sent over.
On one end of Wapping Lane, the woman who works at the laundrette is talking to a tall bespectacled man, asking after what brings him here, to Wapping. He tells her all about his new business, and about the apartment he is staying at. The laundrette woman listens attentively as she neatly folds the man’s white shirts. This is her favourite part of the job, maybe: speaking to all the people who walk through the shop’s doors… and, of course, trying to decode her clients’ identities by assessing the things they bring to wash. She seems to have the sort of face that is unable to conceal her truer emotions…
Outside, a dog is barking frantically; it has been tied to a lamppost, while its owner sends off a parcel to his aunt in Scotland, at the nearby Post Office. A bus or two passes by, wheels making the rain puddles spit water onto grumpy-looking men in business attire, on their way to Central London. They are too glued to their smartphones to acknowledge the splendour of Wapping’s beauty: the old warehouses (which have now been converted into studio apartments) that loom above them, the golden sun peering through the clouds and reflecting on a (for the present moment, at least) undisturbed Thames.
In this area, where samosas are sold at chip shops, and where the owner of the local Indian takeaway has a cockney accent, East meets West. Poverty meets affluence; they are a mere zebra crossing away from one another. And, freneticism –
taxis being hailed by sleep-deprived caffeine-dependent beings; working mothers propping up mobile phones on their shoulders as they hold their children’s hands on the way home from school; the little boys whose more ‘traditional’ school uniforms consist of caps and knee-high socks, and the other little boys in polo shirts, whose ice creams now find theirselves smeared across their chins. Nannies, and mothers, and suit-clad fathers, pushing prams.
– meets stillness. And pigeons flocking speedily toward bits of bread that have enthusiastically been thrown to them by the old woman from down the road; the old Bengali man with the wispy beard holding a walking stick in one hand, and a blue carrier bag filled with vegetables in the other. The sky is still; the atmosphere is lazy, unhurried, parochial. This is Wapping, a place that feels quite trapped in time. Dickensian, and always in a hurry. Rebuilt, over and over again, but still, its Victorian cobblestones remain.
Sadia Ahmed J., 2020