Monday, November 24

Brompton

I WAS WALKING DOWN Middlesex St. with the usual enthusiasm I am able to muster on my journey home. There lay all the dark shops, closing for the day; shutters down with big letters painted colourful on the dull metal slats, with the dim lights of flats above. Some shops remained open, bright and unoccupied but usually people, other shop owners, talking in the doorway, many scarves and fabrics of foreign cloth lined up inside; shutting soon. There is a man playing football with his son underneath some stairs that lead to the flats above. He is training him. His trainers squeak on the pavement and they stop when people go past – despite them looking with interest. There is a pub on the corner, barely illuminated but for the small orange pinpricks of punters outside, bobbing. There are more coming at me than going with me.
But that is when I see someone I haven’t seen in a while.
Paradoxically he is pushing his bicycle in the road. He always looked to me, when I saw him in my hometown, like a writer who never fell in love enough to become a writer. I will recall his features to you, though at the time, in the dark street, I could not entirely make him out: he is all yellow, his hair and his skin and his eyes are all yellow. His eyes have no colour but a brief rim of pale pink and then bags and tightly skinned cheekbones. They always seemed to be watering. I remember him from my hometown and yet there he was walking down the same street in London as me, again – a coincidence! He does not see me. He does not look up. He is always dressed in the same tatty coat, no matter the season.
He always rode his bicycle past me when I was near the sea.
He puffed down the street, with that torch tied to the back of the seat. A Brompton is being pushed along the side of the road, up the one-way street. We no longer share the same train. What business did he have in Aldgate? I should stop him. No, I should ignore him! I keep my head down low. If he saw me – if he even looked up from the road for one moment! – would he recognise me, what would he think? Would he stop me and thus cause me to act all surprised? ‘Shit, yeah, I know you!’ We could talk as strangers pretending to be old friends! Seven years on the same train. He always puffed down Skelmersdale, going the same direction as me, but hurrying on those small wobbling wheels.
The night was very cold, my coat was buttoned up and my hands in my pockets with my elbows out so that I appeared bigger than I was.
Seeing him in the back streets of the city I am caught by surprise. He is a long way from home, and I not so far. He spoke to other people on the train, whereas I would not, and he always carried one of the free papers – again, something I abstained from religiously – and he waved those strange people good-by at the station, mounted his bicycle and took off into the night, between the flashes of headlights. What does it matter that I see him here or there, because that night he would have slept in the same town as my mother and I did not. This caused me some sadness. After all, my collar was pulled up against the wind.

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