Tuesday, June 17

After She Left

I WALKED BACK DOWN the train platform. It curved around slightly, half in natural light and half in fluorescence. Occasionally I looked behind me.
Stood at an open door, before the whistle, was a couple; the stout young man was stood half in the train, his slim girl stood outside, holding his hands and weeping softly so that he smiled at her weeping. It was his weeping with his name on it. She looked up at him so that the half-and-half light fell upon the shape of her face and made it angelic. I passed them by.
In front of the departure boards I stood and ate a sandwich, then I rushed on to the tube and headed back into the city. Football fans were making their way into the capital’s pubs to drink for many hours before watching the game. She was going on holiday for two weeks and I was alone. It was too soon for me to go home; thinking about its emptiness and dirty washing and the heat forced me to stay away, at least for a little while, though I had no money and was sad. Why are you sad? I thought, it is summer and you have nothing to do and you are in the city.
I was tired and near to fainting; a strong sickness gripped my stomach; hunger, nerves, coffee sickness. In Brick Lane a busload of tourists were wandering around, snapping photographs and taking their time with it in the giddy grey of the east. I spent some time in a record shop and gazed at the wares desirably. It was pointless, I knew, because I could ill afford anything. I started to find the young people around me most irritating. I hurried out but on my way someone pointed at me; panicking, I spun on the spot, turned and left even faster. A stall was set up selling Chinese food and its sickly smell filled the space between the buildings.
Knowing the area, I took quieter paths, where I knew it would be less busy.
I spotted a cafĂ© with very few people out front and butting on to no beaten track. I ordered a cappuccino – worried slightly that it would worsen my nausea – and took my seat staring out. It was very peaceful. Immediately I felt better. A man next to me was reading and two girls on the other side were eating sandwiches and salad. The bushes and trees rustled carefully and shimmered their green lights effectively in the thick warm air. Cyclists passed. How I loved the cyclists! To me, their swift flights were wonderful to observe, calming; and from their faces the backways of London bowed down to them and they grinned. The women, especially. Their legs moved in hypnotic motions, their backs straight, the spray of their hair, the elegance as they ease off the pedals and just glide right on by.
Finally, having drunk my coffee, I got up and went back to my flat where it was as quiet as I had expected. I got an ice-lolly out of the freezer and called my mother for the first time in a week. We did not talk long – sixteen minutes – but I knew I would see her the next day, Sunday, my grandmother’s birthday and father’s day. When she hung up, there was all loneliness again. I did the washing-up, sweated terribly and was unbalanced on my feet. I lied down on the sofa and fell into an unsettled sleep that didn’t rest me.
The sun had fallen no lower.
It was late when I decided to cook dinner. It was a scrap of meat fried in some spices, some salad leaves and two wholemeal pitta I found in my bag. I sat there with the television on and ate all of it up, picking bits off the table with my fingers and putting them in my mouth. I reclined in my chair and lit a cigarette.
There was a film on at nine that I had watched at university eight years ago. I put it on and the song of the opening credits took me back. The melody had haunted me since the first time I had heard it. From out of nowhere I would start humming the song, having only heard it once all time ago, as though every event at the time was making a remarkable impression upon me. I count the years on my fingers and cannot believe them, all of them, eight; a grand, strong number; an upright infinity, a spring. Where have eight years gone? Such a large slab of my life, nicked here and there by an Irish folk song.
The film is over and the football is due to start. I get a beer I’ve been saving from the fridge and get comfortable. I cheer and roar to myself. I curse and shout. I am very excited by it and, somehow, I feel as if I am part of something that extends from me out to my countrymen and to all of the people of the world. It is all nonsense, of course, but I bathe in the dark light of the set and do not blink.
Then, the solitude of disquiet night.
I pat away at the keyboard as though the keys are on fire until dawn comes although they are not on fire and I am not getting anything done. Since I have lived here, I have never been up with the sun on a Sunday morning, and when the sound of the birds came through the window that I kept open all night I was completely empty. The railroad men had arrived, too, napping in their cars. I retired and struggled to fall asleep. I looked up at the ceiling and saw that the blue was thickening, swirling in patterns, and dreams filled my half-awake mind but, still, in the empty bed, I could not drift away from anything, much less two pillows.

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