Monday, August 15

People, Scenery, Structures

King’s Cross stood empty and coldly yellow in early morning light. There was the occasional businessman wandering from the tube to the national rail entrance, the odd traveler, a solitary man with a backpack and a can of beer. I suppose I was one of the businessmen, dressed only in trousers and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. A colleague emerges, too, from the tube exit and grimly looks at me, the face of a heavy weekend, he exhibits a broken phone in his palm and we go inside for coffee. It is too early to eat. We sit on opposite sides of the carriage and doze. I wake often, trembling softly on the edge of sleep, warm and breezed about by the passing English countryside. It is the first time I have ventured north since I visited my ex’s family in Liverpool, over eighteen months ago. A part of me, the English part, the minutiae of patriotism I have in me, misses the north, its people, scenery, structures. A damp excitement is within me. The coffee from the train’s buffet cart tastes synthetic, whipped out of plastic and pissed away. In Leeds the pair of us join another train, full of day-trippers to Blackpool; there are children playing card games and eating breakfast, parents shouting down the train to distanced friends, an air of excitement, and a bitter breeze whisking down the aisle. I play with the dust in the mastic around the window.
The factory is buried within an estate, up a hill in Halifax, trees smothering homes in the distance, despair about us in the England I pity and feel not a part of; my countrymen abandoned. Nausea in the passenger seat. There is quiet amongst the disquiet. A factory made of yellow brick, beautiful to touch and smelling of oil and grease, surrounded by so much vacancy. The client’s representative turns up late—‘I was driving around some shithole council estate for ages trying to find this place,’ he shouts loudly in front of the locals. We go inside. A man in overalls addresses us blankly. We commence the test, the sole purpose of our trip. The test is carried out on the factory floor. All around us – although fashioned with earplugs – is the smash and banging of hammer on metal, the ting and clanging. The plugs fit in my ear nicely. We examine the machinery: its complications, its metallic bur, the line & fault, function grimly laid out before us. I smoke in the yard where a shelter has been hastily constructed to keep the rain off a table and some chairs. Plastic cups of coffee stand cold and left. Sometimes one of the employees – a dozen of them across the floor, in their individual cells making something or other, the reflection of steel, a radio playing over the p.a. – joins me and we talk for a bit; the long silences; I have nothing to say to him, so disheartened by how my countrymen live while I am tucked comfortably in the capital. All around us are empty buildings with their windows smashed and their occupants long gone. Weeds grow from the cracks, their flowers, tender and wide, sprout out toward me happily. In the evening we go for a curry, walking out into the town, but it is quiet, dead, there is barely a soul around. Where is everyone? After some time we find the curry house down a narrow alleyway, it is quiet inside. We eat a large meal and wash it down with cold beer. The food tastes good. Apart from our group, there is a family celebrating a birthday, a couple on a date, and another couple away on business. After we have eaten, we go to another pub and I pump money into the quiz machine. Later on, when I am quite drunk, I fall into the hotel bed exhausted and sleep soundly.
In the morning we are not feeling fresh, despite the day being so. I cannot stomach breakfast. The factory greets us again, its bay door is open fully and a cold wind fills the shell, diluting the smell of oil and welding. The second day of testing is a disaster; we sit in a meeting room, wood paneling all around, paper cups of tea & coffee, eating complimentary chocolate bars and discussing the test being a disaster. Often we fall into silence. The other men work on laptops but, as I have none, I am free to sit there and stare at the ceiling. I smoke in the yard and the men from the factory talk to me; kind, big and grizzled. I walk through the factory, seeing what is going on, the men talk not to each other, each focused on their task: photographs of children, a silver rectangle of sandwiches, cup of noodles, tea, the boxes are dissected for whatever has been prepared for them, respite, the peace between half-twelve and one, the silence of lunchbreak. The test is called off. We are taken back to the train station and the mood is terribly sombre. I doze once again, trying to catch up on sleep. The scenery fades.
My city is warmer. There are new developments going up. People move about everywhere. No building is empty. No one acknowledges my presence. The wind has changed. My country.

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