Sunday, January 26

Walk

NOT FOR LACK of trying, I found myself without any money on my travelcard, or in my bank account, and, at the end of a miserable week, I decided it best that I walk the four miles into work. It is true that all week I had been miserable and nostalgic and, as such, had found myself listening over and over to an album from my adolescence.
On Thursday night, I was distraught, angry, attacking things around the flat. I called my mother after I had cooked and eaten dinner. She, with my father, was preparing to go on holiday the next day. Even though we no longer shared the same roof, their absence from this speck of land would prove a test. After we spoke, I decided not to drink, at least for the evening; this is how saints get started. Leaning against the counter, I made a cup of jasmine tea and sat down to read. The book was a gift and on the second page was an inscription that caused me to pause.
What kind of gift is a book without an inscription?
I set my alarm for a half-hour earlier than usual and went to bed.
In the morning I could see that the sky was young and still dark, but that it would be a bright day. My flat was cold and to put my feet on the floor was a discomfort. When I went to the window to check the frost, a fox was right in front of me. It was the biggest fox I had ever seen and its slinking redness froze and adored me and I it. We had a moment. Its fur was matted, tufts had been removed in neighbourhood scraps but it was still alive, skinny and cool. It moved on. I watched until it was out of sight. Good morning, Mr Fox.
Preparing for such a walk at that time of the morning excited me. I made sure that my laces were tied tight. When I was positive that I could hear no activity outside of my front door, I left.
There was no one else around. What a difference those few minutes made to the life on the street. The main road through my part of London points somewhat longingly to the City, a protruding ruckus of buildings on the horizon cast in glass; I have only to follow it to be where I have to be; the buildings over there guide me like shining stars do to seafaring captains. It seemed a decent pursuit to me to be walking down the road, knowing that I had many miles before me. The air was cold and only a slight wind disturbed my open coat. All the tube stations my regular train stopped at were marks above ground, on the roads I would take. I looked forward to passing them. They would be the clicks of my journey. As I walked I noted that the light and everything about the day—aside from the temperature—reminded me of a summer morning. Full of intention and route, I was so happy that I could feel my legs trembling. I could not think of work, nor any of my troubles; the frailty of my mind evaporated. The abandoned and would-be building sites caressed my path. Still, towers of glass propped themselves upon my destination. The charm of East London, with its immigrants and community, sang hymns to me. I smelled the grocery shop deliveries and the little cafes opening for business.
Just after Mile End I noticed that I had an unwitting companion. She was dressed in a tan woollen coat and her hair was notably shiny, bouncing with her every step and she, like I, was listening to music. I had chosen Ray Charles—his love songs, specifically—so I was free to guess what she was listening to. Her cheeks were painted and her pace was as keen as my own. Straight away, I made a competitor out of her. I dreamed that she, too, had done the same to me. We were bitter rivals who, at the same time, were enamoured by the other’s talent.
I was leading the way. I overtook her and, though it was very difficult, I tried to make it look as though I did it with the greatest of ease. She got the better of me when we got to the crossings—where, underneath the bridge, cyclists rang their bells and small dogs yapped at the metallic shift—and I had to struggle to make up lost ground. As I passed, I studied her. Her cheeks were rosy. She wished to beat me into the city.
A telephone in a telephone box in Stepney Green rang out. I picked it up. It was my mother, enjoying a champagne breakfast at eight in the morning in some airport or other—‘We put forty-quid in your bank account. Enjoy your weekend.’ I thanked her profusely and rushed on my way; I was indeed happier than I had been all week, and full of a fluorescent and longing kind of love.
I examined the shop-fronts around me. They were startling, awkward and beautiful. I picked up on grammatical errors in the signage, things like’—‘Retailers of Adults and Childrens Jean Jackets Since 1984’. That particular sign thrust on me a peculiar string of fascination and its graffiti’d metal shutters looked as though they had not been lifted in a great many years.
Still, my female competitor was on my heels.
As she stared over my shoulder, I wondered if she was admiring the scenery, too. When I thought I was a fair distance ahead of her, I turned in my step. She was right there, not letting up. Clearly I had underestimated her.
I was passing along a road and was looking for a hotel where I had had sex some months earlier. It was sex that had left me bruised and bleeding. I could not see the hotel. Soon enough I realised that I had my roads confused and I was more lost than I cared to admit. I carried on toward the lingering glass monoliths in front of me, though the people around my feet were not pointed toward any such monument.
At Aldgate East—a station where I always checked my watch—my competition left me for a road I have not traveled before and, sadly, I saw her good-bye. I wished to know more about her: where she worked, her name, what music she cooked dinner and fucked to, what time she woke up, the names of men who knew her date of birth.
By that point, I was so hot and sweaty I had removed my jacket and coat. I could not have been happier. Tiny paths from the here and there were abandoned; I had the width of the pavement to myself. Only a moment ago the buildings of the city had seemed miles away, yet then they were towering over me as though they were about to tap me on the shoulder. So I nodded my head at them.
Then, the streets I knew so well from working among them for seven years.
I arrived to work fifteen minutes late. I had left my flat fifty-nine minutes ago. My co-workers noted the flush on my cheeks. Of the day I already knew so much as I had hurried through it—and what a delight was the city I lived in, because I was so much in love with it that I could not have asked for a finer setting for anything, spare my own bed. Indeed I was infatuated with the capital and my insignificance within it.

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