Out loud, Zayn had always shied away from saying anything that could possibly be construed as ungrateful. He was happy with his life, in spite of overwhelming fans, racist remarks, and the cruel rumours that came with being a member of the world’s biggest boyband; he didn’t want to make it seem as though he didn’t realize how good he had it. In his head, however, it was a different story. While he loved touring – seeing the world, striving to improve his singing with each show, messing about with the boys on stage – he always felt like a part of him was missing.
Tour to Zayn meant a lot of good things, but it also meant being away for months on end, away from his true love. Even when he wasn’t on tour, they were often so preoccupied with goings on in London that he was still unable to visit his most beloved. It didn’t help that the object of his affections wasn’t exactly conventional or at all easy to explain. If it had been a girl that Zayn loved, he felt it would probably be quite easy to arrange visits, rather than hanging about, depressed and lonely, at his home in London. As it was, Zayn couldn’t envision himself telling anyone about his clandestine love affair; it wasn’t even something that the boys knew about. Perrie, certainly, he had never told, although sometimes she would say things that made it seem like she suspected something was off.
“You can tell me anything, you know,” she would often say to him, seemingly apropos of nothing. Or, at other times, “It’s alright if you don’t want to be with me anymore.”
Zayn always shrugged off her assurances, knowing that the world would never accept his true relationship. He felt it better to stay with Perrie, and hope that he might one day fall in love with her instead. Perrie was understanding and sweet, and he liked that she could relate to how he felt about being thrust into the public eye.
Wonderful though he knew Perrie was, she was nothing in comparison to his real love. With Perrie, he never felt that same passion; he never felt ardour and excitement building up in him at the mere mention of her name; the image of her face was not one that filled his mind while singing songs about love to a screaming crowd each night.
Zayn knew that, as a 20 year old man, he should not be moping about like some angsty, misunderstood teenager, but some nights he couldn’t help himself from feeling dreadfully alone, knowing that no one else knew what it was like to be so cripplingly lovesick over something so unusual.
When Zayn did get a chance to visit his beloved, however, he was an entirely different person. He was bursting with energy and good humour, full of a desire to ensure that everyone in the world was consumed by the same beautiful happiness as he himself was.
Zayn spent the entirety of the first few shows on the Take Me Home tour antsy and withdrawn, giving outstanding vocal performances as always, but being too caught up in his own anxiousness to visit his love – to visit Belfast – to really take much part in the crazy antics of his bandmates. By the time they hit Dublin, however, the excitement and joy was beginning to build.
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, in Belfast, tomorrow, it’s only a daaaaay aaaaawaaaaaaay,” he sang on the tour bus after their second Dublin concert, high on both the adrenaline from their show and the anticipation of at last being in the capital of Northern Ireland.
“Show tunes?” said Louis, curiously. “What’s got you so excited to be in Belfast, then, mate?”
Zayn stiffened immediately, his former glee making way for tenseness. “Uh, nothing,” he said defensively.
“Come on, out with it,” Niall prodded. “You were excited when we were in Belfast last tour, as well. And whenever you come to Ireland on your own, you spend more time traipsing about Belfast than you do with me. And that’s just wrong, mate. What’s got you so fixed on Belfast?”
“There’s nothing going on with me and Belfast!” Zayn exclaimed, stomping to the back of the bus. He pulled out his phone and was instantly calmed by the picture he had set as his lock screen. He smiled gently at the sight of it, a simple “Welcome to Belfast” sign, one that few others would find much meaning in, but that meant the world to him.
“Beautiful,” he murmured. Spurred on by the sight, he decided not to concern himself with what the other boys might say, and he quickly typed a message to twitter, his first tweet in rather a long time.
“BeLFaSt hERe we come !!! :) x” it said.
Zayn was too blissful to finally be going back to where he belonged to pay the other boys any heed as they each raised their eyebrows at the sight of his tweet.
“Not long now,” he whispered, gently caressing the picture on his phone.
The next morning when he tweeted again, the boys refused to let it go.
“Zayn, you haven’t tweeted in ages, and suddenly two tweets, just for Belfast? What’s up with that?”
Zayn considered the question, although he had no intention of answering it honestly. He had once taken great pleasure in tweeting the most random of things, but now he found he couldn’t muster up the will. Every time he tweeted something, he’d be confronted by thousands of replies, and knowing that he could never satisfy everyone made him reluctant to try at all; this reluctance lead to him being unwilling to tweet anything, even apart from replies to the fans, lest his followers discover him to be online. Beyond that, whenever he was away from Belfast, he found it difficult to even think of anything inspiring or humorous to say; he found it easier if he stuck to tweeting promotional links, as well as various thanks to the small businesses that deserved the sort of attention that would come with his tweeting them.
However, the joy at being nearly back in Belfast had bubbled up inside of him, and he could not keep it contained. Gone were the concerns of disappointing fans by tweeting and then disappearing – he couldn’t explain why, but he needed everyone to know how delighted he was to be back in this particular city.
Instead of saying all of this, he tried for some nonchalance. “Just buzzin’ about the show, I guess,” he shrugged, feeling guilty for undermining his love. The boys all looked at him skeptically, but Zayn was barely aware of them, conscious only of the fact that the bus was beginning to pull over into a parking space, meaning that soon he would be out and about in Belfast, rather than cooped up and physically detained from his love.
He all but ran up to the door of the bus, eager to escape, but his bandmates weren’t yet finished quizzing him.
“What’s the rush?” asked Liam, before Zayn could push his way through the door.
“Uh,” said Zayn, casting about for an excuse, “I really need a smoke.”
Liam frowned at Zayn disapprovingly, but Zayn didn’t feel too guilty, since, in truth, he had no plans of smoking while in Belfast at all. It would be difficult, as it always was, but smoking here cheapened the experience somehow; he didn’t like the feeling of blowing smoke into the enchanting Belfast air, polluting the environment of his very favourite place. He wanted the precious moments of time spent here to be pristine, and that couldn’t happen if the air in his lungs was tarnished by the burnt flavour of cigarette smoke. The air he inhaled needed to taste like Belfast.
The vehicle was stationary by now, Zayn’s hand settled flush against the door, impatient to shove it open and feel Belfast once more around him, but first he looked to the boys, as though awaiting their permission.
“Go on, then,” sighed Louis. “But make sure you’re back for sound check. And don’t forget to pick up some food, because we’re not saving anything for you!”
The words were hardly out of Louis’ mouth before Zayn was stumbling forwards, through the door and out into the air. For a moment, he spun slowly in a circle, looking up at the sky and letting the long lost feeling of contentment settle through him.
“Belfast,” he whispered cherishingly, a smile ghosting across his lips. “Belfast,” he repeated, as though his tongue and his lips could not quite get enough of feeling the word. “Belfast.”
Zayn figured he couldn’t stand there all day, lest the other boys catch him at his odd behaviour, so he set off, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t be spotted by fans. He wanted a few hours of privacy to lose himself in the city, immerse himself in what he loved so much and let it soak into his skin.
Zayn was in love with the city. Not in the way that some people would claim to be in love with Paris, or New York, or their hometown, not in a way that meant ‘it’s a place that I enjoy being.’ Zayn loved Belfast in a way that left him weak-kneed and breathless. He loved it the way that he should have loved another human being, should have loved Perrie: passionately and desperately. He felt the emotion in the very core of his being, a relentless ache whenever he was parted from Belfast, but a dizzying thrum of joy and excitement when he and the city were once more united.
His time was scant, but he made the most of it, meandering through the less populated areas of the otherwise crowded city. Although cold, he removed his heavy jacket, wanting to savour the feeling of Belfast against his arms, seeping into his pores. Before heading back to meet the boys, Zayn stopped in a small tourist shop, purchasing a hoodie that boasted the phrase “I’M BACKIN’ BELFAST.” It would be nice, Zayn thought, cuddling it against his chest, to have a bit of Belfast with him wherever he went.
The hoodie would make this tour easier than the last, Zayn hoped. Last tour he’d had nothing but pictures and memories to remind him of what it was like to be with Belfast. Lack of communication was just another reason Zayn wished he’d fallen in love with Perrie instead. While he wouldn’t be able to see her much more often than Belfast, he would be able to call her and hear her voice. With Belfast, Zayn didn’t have that luxury; cities didn’t have their own phones, nor did they have their own voices.
With phones on his mind, Zayn had a sudden thought, and he took his own out of his pocket. He found the video feature and began to record everything around him. A video, he thought, would never be as good as the real thing, but it would hold more of his Belfast in it than a picture would. A video would show more of the city’s stunning personality, and with the combination of the video and the hoodie, Zayn hoped that the ache during this tour would be less biting and more dull.
With an uncharacteristic lightness in his heart, the kind that could only be achieved by spending time with a loved one, Zayn returned to the venue, ready to give what would undoubtedly be his best performance of the tour.
Serenading a crowd of people was always easier when the object of your affections was part of the crowd; when there was a distinct lover to whom you could direct your lyrics. On stage, Zayn felt Belfast all around him and inside him, love giving his voice more strength and splendour than ever before.