The kitchen is almost empty, and the light bulb shines down without so much as a shade around it, shockingly naked, giving the light it emits a hard, brittle feel.
The only things left are an electric kettle, a now empty water filtration jug, a small enamelled tin, and a Chinese lidded tea mug, that stand on a worktop counter, next to the sink.
The cupboards are bare, and there are ugly gaps where the fridge and cooker once stood, making the room look like the mouth of an assault victim who has lost a couple of teeth.
The kettle clicks off, and I reach for my phone. I activate the kitchen timer app, and set it to two and a half minutes. That, I know by many months of experience, will allow the water in the kettle sufficient time to cool down to where I want it to be.
I open the tin, and using my finger flick out the last of the contents, two teaspoons of an Imperial green gunpowder tea, into the mug’s removable ceramic infuser.
I bring the mug up close to my face, and inhale deeply. I’m met with the aroma of dry hay, and a subtle smokiness, almost like the smell of pipe tobacco.
The phone beeps at me, and I pick it up, and reset the timer to two minutes. I gently pour hot water over the leaves, replace the lid, and start the countdown.
120 seconds later I remove the insert, and drop it into the sink. The last few drops of tea bleed off the leaves, and disappear down the plughole.
I take the tea, and go into the living room.
That, too, is empty except for the mirror on the right hand wall. The entire apartment is empty. I’m leaving.
I sit on the floor near the door, back propped up against the wall. I take the lid off the mug, and enjoy the pale green tea’s aroma, before taking a sip. I close my eyes, and see summer fields.
I needed this. I needed to take a short respite from the pre-move administrative maelstrom. I needed to make sure that everything was in order before I handed back the keys. Most importantly, I wanted to say goodbye to this place, and it was important that I said it with a last, ceremonial cup of tea.
I’d started my tea journey here, tentatively at first, with green tea bags, before moving on to loose leaf teas – Jasmine, Oolongs, fermented Pu-erh, black teas from China, India, and Sri Lanka, and the green gunpowder I was drinking now, at the end of this chapter of the story.
I take another sip, and it echoes in the stark acoustics of the empty room like a firecracker in a phone booth.
Back then it seemed as though I’d stumbled into a curious world, one that had been hidden in plain sight, like young Mr. Potter’s magical civilization.
Tea rooms, tea shops, tea paraphernalia, books about tea, it was everywhere! How had I possibly missed it?
I’d crossed the frontier into that new country, and set up a base camp. I had some good maps, and a couple of excellent guidebooks. I was on my way. No need to rush, I had decades left to explore. But not here.
All my tea related possessions were packed and ready for transportation, bar the few I had set apart for this special moment. Tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock sharp they would be loaded into a car for the journey to the ferry terminal and passage across the North sea to their new home in Scandinavia.
The kettle, however, would not be making that trip. I was giving it to my great-niece as a going-away present, as part of her efforts to furnish her room at university.
The water filter jug would be taking up space on my sister’s kitchen counter. She was growing tired of constantly de-scaling her own kettle, and was eager to give filtered water a try.
The mug was going back to the charity shop located a few doors away from my apartment, the same place I found it so long ago. I’d only paid a small sum for it, and by using it had learned so much about tea. It seemed appropriate to give someone else the chance to do the same.
As I stare into the last of the tea in the mug, I realise that far from finding something new, I have in fact rediscovered something that had always been there, just mislaid.
Tea runs through the story of my life like a carefully hidden seam in a shirt. It has always been there, from the times I dug through my mother’s new packets of PG Tips looking for the collectors card, or those tea-breaks where nervous young men at the start of their careers in engineering bonded over their complaints about the quality of the tea in the training school’s huge urn, to this moment and beyond.
It occurs to me that in the future tea is going to take me to new places, both “out there” as well as “in here” – a tea shop in a new town, a misty mountainside, the infinite quantum Zenspace that exists between my own thoughts.
All this and more, for a few pennies a cup.
I blink, and find myself pulled back to whatever passes for reality by the sound of a number 8 bus thundering past outside.
I check my phone. It feels as though I was lost in thought for hours, but less than 10 minutes have elapsed.
I look down, and see something caught between the edge of the carpet and the skirting board. It is a single, perfect, dark Oolong leaf, a black dragon’s egg, curled up and fast asleep. I smile, and drop it into my pocket.
I gather up my things and prepare to leave. As I close the door for the very last time, I’m happy that my last memory of my old home will be the smell of that last cup of tea, hanging in the air, but fading fast, as transient as desert dew.