Thursday, January 30

Birds Lay Down to Rest

IT’S FLU SEASON but you wouldn’t know it because all of the bodies on the tube are rubbing against each other. Today I was trying to read a Hammersmith & City line tale, when the man next to me started breathing through his clogged nostrils; the snot goggled itself and racketed; the noisiest breathing I ever heard in my life, so that not even Woody Guthrie—my morning soundtrack—could smother him up. Yesterday the train was packed enough that a young lady had no option other than to put her bum into my crotch. She stared at the dark tunnel. As I angled myself to come into her handbag, she pulled, from nowhere, a paper cup of hot chocolate; the smell of which was so noxious that I held my breath for two stops and lost the will to travel.
Conspires the weather against the northern crowd to make us feel miserable, but we ring out in subdued joy the thought that Summer is coming, in the tilt of the earth and the prettiest patterns of ocean currents and the algae that drift within them. I could go for summer. I want my beer glass to sweat once again.
‘Ow’s yr weekend?’
‘Okay, man, I did fuck-all: just laid around at home.’ We were sat in this terribly run-down office with its toilets flooding and the lights flickering and draughts and heat and no comfort anywhere—‘It’s strange. I leave work and I don’t talk to another living soul all weekend … how many hours is that? I might say ‘Thanks’ to the guy in the shop, but that’s it. I suppose that’s kinda strange to me, not something I’m used to. I just walk around the place on my own, sometimes talking to myself.’
When I lean out of my window for a cigarette, I can smell all the chefs of the building and their chopping boards and their cooking skills.
The man behind the till of the little stall outside of work loses a lot of his customers to the supermarket. His eyes are somewhat cluttered down and his smile is crowded by a moustache. He is from West Asia and I like him very much that I ask him how he is and I never ask people that. So he asks how I am as I tremour all over my spare change and some gum—‘I’m okay, man, it’s payday, I’m okay.’
‘Ah yes, I can tell it’s payday because everyone gives me twenty-pound notes.’ He is short. His wife is stacking the shelf and another relative—even in this tiny stall—is taking inventory next to some half-open crates. ‘Then, as the month goes on, they pay with ten-pound notes, then fivers.’ He chuckles and his little body shakes and I like his little body shaking because it is not shaking because of the cold but because of something else, something sunny.
So I say—‘Yeah, that’s me! Then I’m fumbling through loose change. And then I’m just nicking the chewing gum from you.’
He laughs.
We laugh.
This is London laughing underneath its armpit.
I hear a strange sound, so I get up from my writing desk to the window to see what is the matter. It is a high-pitched stabbing noise coming from outside. It is, I suspect, a bird being caught midflight and it is now slowly dying with teeth in it. I open the window. I hear the flat next to me open their window. We are listening, both of us, united in our intrigue. The bottled night is a case of blue and gold and the bird is now dead. There was no flutter of wings, just the chase of life out of a beak and the silent wheezing ceasing.
There is quiet music playing, so I follow it.

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