Monday, January 14

‘It would be nice to see London at that hour’

‘ONCE YOU’RE IN the shower, it doesn’t matter what the time is,’ I told myself, my hand in the stream, waiting for it to warm up. I washed, dressed and left the house at five. The streets were quiet. A very fine fog lay on its side, rubbed its eyes and turned over in wisps on the road. Streetlights buzzed. There weren’t even any cars around. I walked and listened to my music and had a smoke. I felt alone; the good alone; the alone nobody can take away from you; the alone that you can hold on to for comfort. Then as I got to the main drag up toward the station an old man was coming at me on his mobility scooter. He was doing quite a speed, in a coat with a fur collar and a pipe hanging from his mouth while the smoke from it hung about behind him, trying to catch up. He looked at me and I looked at him, both of us wondering whether either of us was sane. What was he doing up and about at five-thirteen in the morning? Nothing was open.
The train was warm. I sat down and took out my book. There were two men behind me and I could smell their colognes, fighting for my attention, tickling my nose.
I read.
I fell asleep.
The train arrived in London at six-thirty-eight; given the time it was still very busy so I had to dodge people. I wound through the concourse, up the stairs and on to the street; fast food restaurants were doing business, the odd tramp was staggering, mostly people were going to work. Down and down the street I went and could not believe how busy it was before seven in the morning; what was wrong with these people? They didn’t make any sense to me.
My office was black. To see a place I had always known in light caught off-guard unnerved me. The lights came on above my presence. I went to the bathroom. Something wasn’t right with my bowels. It was all liquid. I sat at my desk and looked at the other offices through the window. The quiet was to be savoured. I rolled a cigarette and left.
With my music, my sense of purpose, my tobacco, I was very glad to be walking down the streets. I didn’t just walk; I coursed. I was a god of travelling. I dodged, ducked, dived. I weaved in and out. I walked in the road, on the pavement, it didn’t matter to me. I was flying. I was making great time.
The building came into view. The tallest building in western Europe. Some of its lights were on, slicing strips of white into the dawn sky.
Crossing London Bridge is still a delight. Such a path does not tire me nor occasion cost me interest. There is the east and the west. There is light breaking out. There is the capital looking like she’s about to get married. I thought, as I always do when I cross the river, what I would do if I fell into it. ‘I would swim to those things, whatever they are, and wait for someone to get the river police. No doubt they were on call. Unless they start at eight-thirty; then, no chance.’ The current didn’t look so severe, but the cold would surely take its toll on my exhausted limbs. All those summers in my uncle’s unheated pool would pay off in one heroic act of treading dirty water.
The station, too, was busy, not just with people coming out but with people going in and people sitting around waiting. A girl passed me with blonde hair. It looked like it hadn’t been washed in a long time. Her hood obscured a lot of it but it was that good natural blonde that reminded me of childhood, of the girl who was fostered around the corner, who kissed me against Leanne’s garage and demanded that I kiss her again and again. That colour blonde hair always reminded me of her and the summer when she met me.
I bought a bacon baguette and a cappuccino and then stood on a street corner to eat it. It was a side street. I watched the people going about – careful not to look too messy while eating – and the workers from the site, who stood around in different shades of fluorescent yellow. It was cold January. January couldn’t help it. January is to the year what Monday is to the week and all the lousy feelings that go with it. I just stood there eating my bacon baguette, waiting for my boss to show. He wasn’t answering his phone.
Finally he showed.
‘Ah, you got a coffee! I’m gonna get one, too.’
He went to a little independent caf’ instead of the chain store; I liked that.
‘Get a bacon sandwich, too. It’s delicious.’
‘Nah. Trying to lose weight.’
‘Bet you ain’t drinking either,’ I said.
‘Nah. Done eight days now. It’s good. I was just sick of it.’
I held the door open for a gentleman and as he said ‘thank-you’ I thought it was Christopher Lee, but I didn’t want to chase him to find out. I just liked the sound of his voice. His voice sounded like the underside of a big ship.
We queued up with the other people waiting to get inducted. Some hard girl with a Monroe piercing and a badge told us all to get into single file. One man behind me shouted out – ‘It ain’t fuckin’ school! It’s like being back in fuckin’ school, innit?’
We all waited to get into western Europe’s tallest building. The entrance we queued next to was very inconspicuous. I watched a forklift squash a metal box in a skip. The sound was very loud and not at all uncomfortable to hear. The metal box didn’t stand a chance.
The light was very carefully becoming brighter and brighter. Soon it would be day, from dawn, and the capital would be back to normal.

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