Sunday, November 10

Pixellated Journeys

IN THE NINE o’clock Saturday I left my new home for the old, taking with me a backpack filled with clothes and a book for the journey and the small weight of tiredness. I leaned against the window of my d.l.r. carriage, looking out on the smoky fogged grey latitudes of the east end, shuttered, as it was at that time of the day, by sleepiness and drawn curtains. There was a quiet bustle at the station. I bought my ticket, found my platform wrinkled with puddles, and waited for my train to take me away from the place. Remembrance weekend. The train rocked on the tracks. Slowly the buildings and the greys fell away, so that green trees, dampened by fog, rallied up around us. A quintet of old men got on, singers, vocal harmony, matching blazers, red noses, clambered aboard and took to telling merry stories and exchanging laughter. Looking out between chapters I beheld the old landscape—unchanged but for the leaves and weather—and felt unfamiliar to it; the scenery, both inside and out, was identical to that which I had known so well but now it was hostile. So quickly had the seasons changed and taken with it all that I knew. I longed to see my parents again, my mother, but not to return to the town I had grown up in; the very thought filled me with terror. The carriage was warm. I wrapped myself up back in the book.
To be out and about so early made me feel good, so I strode with purpose, determination, and a freshness that betrayed my sleep patterns. I followed a couple of girls into a coffee shop, bought a cappuccino and a panini and took them outside to where I could smoke and watch the pedestrians, from whom I had detached myself. The coffee warmed me up; flakes of steam rose from the tomato innards of the panini; the early couples—no doubt with plans for the rest of the day—passed me by and the street was not yet fully alive. I flung myself down the road and passed a girl with the most breathtaking eyes so that I had to utter—‘Fuckin’ ‘ell!’ and when I took a seat in the hairdressers—not fifteen minutes later—she was there, working, a new employee; and I was able to—as she discussed eyeliner with the manager—take in her eyes and be in awe myself, and the streets started to rain heavy and the heavy water came down on the slabs, blotted out the black gum and reflected the bristled white sky.
Coming in from the heavy rain, dusting her coat off and hanging it up, a young lady took her place behind the till and began to talk to the manager, who was, with a perfectionist spirit, cutting my hair. I listened to them while gazing blankly into the mirror and the soothing flick shut flicks of the scissors. I learned she had two children whom she had offloaded on to her ex-mother-in-law for the day—‘I don’t like the zoo,’ she said. ‘Who the hell doesn’t like the zoo?’ I wondered. Her. She had large eyes and large lips. She had white teeth. She was hypnotic when she spoke because her accent was not English, and I didn’t recognise it. She started to untie her hair so that it fell down and she ran her hands through its wetness; the hair was deep black and thick and shiny as a river. Soon enough I joined in the conversation so that she came and sat beside me with her legs crossed on a spare hairdresser’s chair. She wanted a man. She didn’t want a man. She wanted passion—‘Englishmen have no passion!’ she told me. I shrugged and said—‘I suppose you’re right, but we’re talking in generalities here, though.’ As she talked, she spun on her chair, brushing her foot against my calf. It was good to talk to her; I wished to know more; as she asked me questions I wanted to know what her children were like; in the occupied hairdresser’s chair I wondered what time I would get to see my parents. I was sad to leave her. She asked me where I lived and I told her, then recommended she go for a drink down there. She was as playful as I expected from a Mediterranean, her eyes swimming in the subdued sadness she had grown accustomed to. I did not want to leave her—as she asked me what I did for a living and I clumsily gave my answer—but I did go out into that rain and walk away toward my goal and the canaries in the pet-shop fluffed between their bars and tweeted so that it could be heard down the streets, between the rain.
Back on the train. I did not wish to see out of the window—other than the village that inspired me to write a collection of short stories, each of which I have given up on—feeling neither here nor there. Then I was back within my crowd, the crowd I have grown up alongside yet whom I do not know. Big girls wear leggings that are stretched just so across their almighty plump frames that ever dimple can be seen clearly in their podgy bums as they wobble down the platform; where young men with shaved heads look for fights and drink drink drink and look for fights and talk about where the streets are washed of their blood and their dreams that never even existed are allowed to wander like ghosts and no-one takes their shoes off when they enter the house.
My parents pick me up from the station and whisk me off to the pub where a wedding is being held. We order sandwiches and a couple of rounds, the condensation of a lovey congregation forming on our glasses, cigarettes in the rain. I am due to look out of the window once more where the sea is pale and rotting into winter, where the wild horizon merges foggily with the sky and all is one, not quite solid or satisfying, but there if you can rent a boat for the day and then cast your eye back on all you have left behind.

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