Letters from Lockdown 88: Zara Antonia

Dear Wales,

It has been a long six months without you.

It felt like lockdown in England before it was actually lockdown in England. I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted yet I still felt trapped in a city that didn’t belong to me. I had friends lined up like the soldiers at Buckingham Palace but the unfamiliar accents made me feel so alone.

If I close my eyes, I can almost feel home. I can feel exhilaration rush over my body as I imagine walking through the forest by my house, the Welsh wind caressing my ear. I can hear the gentle hiss the River Taff makes as it slowly flows through Cardiff, moving in sync with me. I take a deep inhale of the fresh and crisp air, which my lungs absorb gratefully after being tired of inhaling pollution for so long. I close my eyes to darkness and see light. I listen hard to hear nothing but nature, silence and peace, something that has now become rare.

I’m sorry Wales. I took you and everything wonderful inside you for granted. Two years ago, I packed my bags and told my parents smugly that I’d never come back to such a boring, dreary place, where nothing exciting ever happened.

Two years after, I realise that isn’t true. You are the opposite. You are the most fascinating and lively place I have ever witnessed. Your excitement lives through the sky-high mountains that guard my beautiful city, the same ones my puppy hiked everyday, following the footsteps of my childhood dog. Your excitement breathes through the powerful tides that crash against the beach I used to skinny dip in late at night. It buzzes around the air on a Saturday night, racing through different bars and making me feel dizzy (or maybe that’s the alcohol?) as I stagger through the city centre foolishly with my friends at 4am, the same friends who have loved and understood me for years.

Your energy flows through to the edge of the city, where I sit and gaze over at the Bristol Channel, past the docks which are rooted with Welsh black history and culture, and I think about how life has been difficult but my support system is strong. My big sister’s glowing smile; my mother’s contagious, high-pitched laugh; the patter of my dog’s footsteps as she runs through the house to greet me; the inappropriate jokes my best friend makes as her unapologetically huge hoop earrings swivel in time with her laughter; the confidence in my walk as I strut through a city I know like the back of my hand but is really deep in my heart. Rooted so deeply that I bring it to university with me in the form of giant chavvy earrings and a loud Welsh accent. I still wear high heels even if the nightclubs aren’t as classy or are full of mucky sneakers and creepy men. I’m still brutally honest, a value of Welsh people I have always appreciated and a value that English people seem to despise.

Lockdown made everything seem uncertain, but made me realise the importance of the concepts in life which have always been certain. My family, my heritage, my voice, my opinions, my memories – they have all been influenced by you and weaved consistently into you, Wales. They have been celebrated every time I come back to you. There is no “Can you speak Welsh?”, “Gavin and Stacey!” – only acceptance and love. I feel understood. I feel heard. I feel part of a family of over three million people (and 10 million sheep!)

I can’t wait to see you for a classic, cold, Cardiff Christmas. I can’t wait to sit on my patio with my mother’s signature milky coffee and watch the ice frost over the green grass, reflecting the warm festive lights that have been streamed all over the city like a Welsh winter wonderland. Of course, you are still a wonderland without the winter, Wales.

This is a love letter for you, Wales. It’s an apology letter for underestimating and neglecting you. I hope you can forgive me. I left you as a young, naïve girl and I’m coming back as a proud and accomplished woman, one you helped to raise – which is something I will owe you forever.

Lots of love and hopefully see you very soon,

Zara xxx

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