My Goodbye to Belfast: The Last 24 Hours
As some may know, I spent a year abroad in 2013-2014 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. These first steps away from home was life changing, and so was my last goodbye to the city.
On Thursday, June 12th, 2013, more than 24 hours before my flight back home from Dublin, my clock alarm rang at 6:30 AM and warned me that the end of an era was closer than ever before. On that last day, I decided that I could not spend it all under my blanket, so I got up, took a deep breath, faced the warm weather outside, and sat against the window where I could look at the sun with hands tight around my mug. Then, unable to think properly, I decided to take my stuff and go to gym, as I discovered that it was the best way to keep my mind empty. I could not allow myself to be overwhelmed by nostalgia.
Once my workout was done, I went back to my student accommodation until I finally found the willingness to go back outside to the city center, 20 minutes away from there. I put my headphones on, did my shopping almost as usual, and then made a last stop at Starbucks (I’m a coffee lover). I ordered a Cappuccino, and found a comfy seat near the window to sit and I let my emotions finally overwhelm me.
That was where everything began. When I first arrived in the city, past the first exciting moments, I felt bad. Really bad. I missed my family that I had never left before and every morning seemed harder than the one before. Thus, the first three days were as good as they were bad, until that moment, the one where, with my new friends, we went to that Starbucks. I ordered a cappuccino, and we went upstairs where the view is unbelievable (Castle Lane), and we just chilled and spoke. For the first time since I came, things where slowing down; I took a deep breath and I said to myself: “Girl, everything is fine. Just look around you, you’re somewhere incredible, don’t spoil it, free yourself for once and be brave!”. That’s what I did. From that day to the last one, I never felt this bad again.
This Starbucks has become the centerpiece of my erasmus there. I came there with my friends to plan trips around Ireland and Britain while there was snow outside. I came there with my best friend when she visited me and we wrote postcards. I came here with my mom and my sis for their first time abroad and to Starbucks too. And it’s where I decided to spend a few hours for this last day. And, as “Skinny Love” and “Let Her Go” (sang many, many times by street singers) was playing in my ears, I started to realize how far I had come and how far I still could go. But I could not overcome the feeling that everything was over. I wasn’t going to sit in that Starbucks again. I wasn’t going to wander around that beautiful city. I wasn’t going to have a nice chit-chat with strangers again. I wasn’t going to be called “luv” again. I wasn’t going to hear music from the pub and take in all the Irish atmosphere. No, I could come back, but I certainly would never feel it this way again.
So, when I left the coffee shop, with tears in my eyes, to go back home, I felt that a huge hand was crushing my heart, as if trying to reanimate it but only choking it even more. I kept rubbing my palm against my chest until it burnt, trying in vain to erase the discomfort. As I walked between dozens of people, I held myself back to not run at them and scream in their faces how lucky they were to be there today, tomorrow, and how stupid they were if they didn’t realize it. I spent 9 months here, and not a single day passed where I didn’t feel extraordinary lucky and alive.
My flight was scheduled for Friday, June 13th at 12 AM from Dublin to Toulouse. So, that Friday, I woke up at 5:30 AM, still not ready to leave the island where I first felt in love, where I grew up, and changed ‘till I became, as Queen’s University’s (where I studied) motto says, “exceptional”.
I was feeling tired, unprepared and angry when I came into the kitchen for the last time to have a last breakfast and sit against the window again. I had planned to have a quick breakfast alone, but then my flatmates came into the room, drunk. They’d been the loveliest human beings on Earth that morning, making our separation even harder that I believed it could ever be.
I managed to leave and load my way-too-heavy luggage into the taxi whose driver opened the conversation by asking me if I was leaving a brokenhearted guy from Belfast out there. Somehow I wish I could have said “yes”, but I was the only brokenhearted one in the picture.
The taxi left me just in front of the bus station, and I boarded the bus to Dublin with music in my ears and tears in my eyes. I was leaving, for good.
If you read the Bristol article I wrote a few weeks before, you may know that one of my mottoes is to keep some things unseen during a trip, in order to have a very good reason to come back. I saw almost everything that Belfast had to show me, so the only thing that I left was a big part of my broken heart. And I swore to myself to come back five years later to see how it has survived. Until then, the world has opened its boarding gates for me and now I know that I can make myself feel at home anywhere. I just have to slow down, breath and open my eyes.
By Kelly Videira