Wednesday, July 20

Dealing With Silence

The platform stretched east to west and down its length a long sparkle of sunlight glanced. The hot air did not move. People stood about lazily. One girl lay down and put her head on her arms. The only sound to pass through the arrival announcements was that of laughter from a nearby group of friends. Eight minutes late it arrived, one of those grand, intercity trains that heaves and puffs like no other. There is a cafĂ© in the fourth carriage, between first and standard class. The coffee is bad. It was Saturday night. The train was quiet, the carriage unoccupied. I had left the Saturday day behind me. A pair of girls I recognised from the platform sat in the booth in front of me, facing each other, dainty handbags on the table, phones out. The lamps overhead paled into insignificance next to the beaten yolk of sun that came in through the western window. There was no one else about. Everyone sleepily listened to the sound of the rails clop-clopping. I was curled up, a little weak, still sweating and all of my clothes clinging to me. At the beginning of a doze, a man arrived to take my ticket in his thick fingers—‘Cheers, mate’—and awake now for the rest of the journey into a nine-thirteen arrival. Liverpool St, cocooned in its own activity, bustled loudly. Crowds criss-crossed my path; some on their way out, some on their way in. It is a short dash across Bishopsgate before I am into the quiet of the backstreets that do not see any crowds at the weekend, save for tourists staying at a cheap hotel. There is a homeless man I saw earlier, in the same place but sleeping. He had been sleeping when I passed at one in the afternoon, but with his eyes open, his hands in the shapes of seashells and his whole body trembling.
As I am alone, so loneliness creeps back in. I walk amongst the crowd, but I suppose that is what I have come to desire, secretly. I have pushed myself away, and now I wander at the periphery, lingering at the edge of the boat-less quay, suspicious of anyone who looks over or walks too close. Yet anyway I walked out one Sunday afternoon to enjoy the sunshine. All of the pathways around the docks were busy but there were no boats to enjoy, no rich sunning themselves. I sat on the bench for a while. There were two benches empty so I sat at the end and no one disturbed me. Couples walked back and forth. They were pretty with their fingers interlocked. They took photographs of each other, posing casually in front of old buildings and the boat-less dock. The man would pose on a bench, very elegantly, and the lady would photograph. They lady would pose next to a tree very coolly and the man would photograph. They paused for passing pedestrians. It was a game, a fun game for them. It was foreplay, something that built up to something greater and more magnificent. As I sipped my coffee I watched them and jerked my head away if they spotted me. I just wished to observe their sport. Somewhere far away from me was a whole stack of photographs of them in front of various earthly features and architectural monuments. They fingered over them while I foolishly closed my eyes for sleep.
Leaving all of that behind, I took up past the other crowds in the warm winds. Everything that came off the Thames blasted my face and left me damp with perspiration. There was a boat gliding along, tossing up the froth and stirring white into a tail. Everybody was eating ice cream. Everybody’s skin was out. The women looked beautiful, the men athletic. Everybody healthy. I found quiet streets and followed them. When I got back to my local, I bought an ice cream and a few beers and then went home. It was still early evening and hot, the sun still bright in the sky and all the activity abound. A large amount of city silenced as the door to my building closed behind me. Was I missing out on something? I unwrapped my ice cream and ate it at the window, looking out. The sun was beautiful, the sun was all sorts of colour. I was alone again.

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