Saturday, November 29

Madonna & Child

IT WAS A PLEASURE, of some sort, to make my way to Cambridge on work duties because it afforded me time out of the office; a habitat that, of late, has been particularly unbearable. I was in a Great Pit, which I have been finding myself in more and more lately. A perpetual drizzle filled the air outside. The meeting was short and devoid of its usual aggressive and confrontational arguments. I walked around site for a while and then made my way back to the station (driven by a cabbie who, upon hearing me laugh at a news article on the radio, turned it up and we both laughed at a popular story that featured an argument between a cab driver and his client that had, through the fault of comedy and class divide, made national news) and discovered I missed my train by two minutes. It was forty until the next one (I could’ve skipped on to another train but such dodges make me paranoid and unable to relax – the sole purpose of a train journey, I believe).
I wove between some housing blocks and found a chain café that was quite busy with small groups of people out of the drizzle.
A cappuccino and a flapjack; not to read but to observe and observe and observe as to do so is a wonderful use of time, especially when waiting. Mostly the customers were students. Across from the me were what appeared to be a teacher and a pupil. The teacher enthusiastically hovered, pen in hand, over a series of untidy papers while the pupil looked on. The pupil was of indeterminate gender, before at last becoming an androgynous female with thick lips, elegant hands, glasses and the most inconspicuous of breasts beneath her thick woolen jumper. Her teacher cooed. He was very interested in her potential, I thought, and just as much by her mystery, for she hardly said a word but listened and sipped her tea. Maybe she even thought that she didn’t require such extra help but appreciated the effort and occasion all the same. She looked up at me suspiciously, adjusting her glasses, putting down her teacup, and I flinched away. A monarchial-looking male sat with his friend and they, too, worked over papers; the papers always interspersed with the printed and written word. All students and young people.
I felt alien sitting there.
Of course there is the much-recalled story of me in my younger days visiting that pompous city and being enamoured by the charm of it all and exclaiming—‘I will go to university here, too!’ only to fall much farther from the tree. Sitting amongst them, if only for the duration of a half-finished cappuccino, made me feel perhaps even worse than when I entered. Still, outside the drizzle fell invisibly and the cars hissed past the hissing cyclists. I should leave as well.
Back through the housing blocks toward the station; they are grey, as is everything in the weather, and their lights are off. On the balconies hang silent plants and bikes up against the wall, redundant tables and chairs, the shade in shadows of a window into an unoccupied living room.
One window, up there, catches my attention. The light is on but it is dim through the rainy mist. I see a naked woman holding her naked child. They are in the pale parallelogram of their bathroom, the window edged ajar to permit steam and both of them looking out. Her hair is slicked back wet and she holds the infant close to her big, bare chest. That is all it is. It is quarter-to-two in the afternoon and she is just emerged from the shower. Unashamed she is all pink wet flesh. I look up at her and she looks down at me. The baby looks at me. I can see her solid face and that corner of the ceiling, the underside of her breasts, the way a mother holds her child. I look up and up – finally I turn away and keep my eyes down, having seen enough of the scene to know what happens next and to not tell anyone. For a moment, I was in the bathroom and that warm, bathroom mug was all over me, the three of us sipping bathwater and comparing wrinkles. It’s an odd thought. I begin to wonder who else saw them, or was it just I?
Builders are hammering a piece of wood off the board it was nailed to. Fine, damp splinters spray and land in a coffee puddle. This is Wednesday. I buy my lunch and am constantly pondering the sight of the mother and child. I eat as the train journeys back to London. After I am full, I lie next to the radiator and fall in and out of sleep. Slowly, with the twist and turning of the carriage, the towering giants of the city come into view. They are chalked in office lights, twelve watts a square-metre. And again I am thinking of the mother and child, now dressed and getting on with their business, as I, alighting, am getting on with mine.

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