prosetry

Pablo 2.0

For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.

*

I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.

A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY

and then:

OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.

The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:

REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.

I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.

Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.

*

I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.

She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.

At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.

Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.

*

Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:

Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.

A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.

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poetry, prosetry

Remember, Remember

Fireworks over Ally Pally
A child cries, afraid of the noise
We flock to these annual events
Paying £8 for the privilege
Unconsciously celebrating an evil scheme
Finding entertainment in the destruction
Romance in the smell of gunpowder
Joy in the spit of crackling flames
Beauty in the violence in the sky.
Adding to the mix a stabbing, some muggings
A bottle of acid in a stranger’s face.
No such thing as ‘nice’ anymore.
Much to complain about:
Too muddy, too loud, no parking, long queues, overpriced beer.
We feel like we have to ruin everything.
Fun for all the fucked-up family.
“This city has gone to shit,”
“Yes, and we did that to ourselves,”
“All by ourselves!”
Bombs into Aleppo
A child cries, afraid of the noise
Or perhaps the child does not cry at all
So used to the shelling, the sound of terror
That they barely flinch
Actions of a different kind of rebel than ours
Imposed upon them, without having asked
Only ever daring to breathe when the sky was empty
When there was prolonged silence
When their house still stood
When family and friends had pulses
Knowing that celebration is pointless
Because there will soon be a repeat
Knowing that it’s out of their hands
They didn’t ask for this
None of them did
And still they harboured hope in their hearts
And dreamt of living somewhere safe like we do.
(Or should I say, like we once did
Before kids starting killing kids?)

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fiction, photography

THE LOSS

Chris R-0868 Image by Mark Renney

Despite the lack of evidence, Carter was utterly convinced he was missing a body part, that he had lost something, a piece of himself. He couldn’t stop checking and wherever he might be he would hold his hands up in front of his face and count off the fingers. Or was it a bit of his ear or part of his nose? Or was there a hole in his forehead or in his side or was it a toe? No matter that he always rediscovered he was complete, that nothing had gone astray, he didn’t feel reassured. But he had no scars nor wounds. All of him was in its place and working properly.
Carter decided that if he could pinpoint exactly when and where it had happened he would be able to move beyond it and stop obsessing. He had been suffering from this strange affliction for no more than three months and so the time frame was at least narrow. He was a creature of habit and lead a routine existence, his movements confined. Even so, retracing each and every step he had taken during that time would be difficult.
Carter took the same route to work each day. He walked the same pavements and rode on the same bus. He frequented the same café and pub close to the office and a newsagents nearer to home. He shopped at the same supermarket on Saturday mornings.
He realised that he could have dropped ‘it’ anywhere, whatever ‘it’ was. One of his fingers perhaps or a thumb or an eye. He could, of course, have lost it at the office, and someone else had picked it up and taken it or mistaken it for rubbish and thrown it away. But Carter sensed that it hadn’t happened like this. Not at the office, nor at home nor even on the bus. No, he had lost it out on the street whilst walking en route to elsewhere. In transit as it were. And he had lost it in the way one might lose a wallet or a watch or a single ten pound note. The chances of finding it now were almost non-existent though Carter didn’t need to find it but simply to remember.

Carter quickly understood that his world was small and although he had believed it would be difficult re-tracing his footsteps and remembering what he had done and where he had been it had proved depressingly easy. As he moved through the familiar streets, searching again and again, he became more and more aware of how intricate the City was and how dense.
He rifled through the waste bins and sifted through the detritus and debris gathered at the curb side and in the gaps between the buildings. He scoured along all but forgotten pathways and cut-throughs. At first these ran parallel with his old routes but gradually he was pulled further and further from his little patch of the City and he was exploring parts that were completely alien. He realised also that anything lost would remain lost but he wasn’t able to stop looking, not quite yet.

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prosetry

RudeTube

The day after the November 2015 Paris attacks

I was standing on the platform with my eyes shut, listening for the familiar rumble of the northbound train. As the train was pulling up I saw how busy it was and thought, Saturday night, last tube out of town, of course it’s packed, I definitely won’t get a seat, bugger. But then the carriage that stopped in front of me had an empty bit where nobody was sitting or standing, an uncharacteristic gap in the sardines. I gathered that somebody’s obviously thrown up everywhere or that perhaps there’s an unconscious drunkard lying on the floor. Wincing at the prospect of the smell of piss and/or vomit accompanying me all the way to the last stop, I got on the train. But there was nothing there. Only a young man, dressed in traditional Islamic clothing, sitting quietly with two bags of groceries at his Adidas-clad feet. I was baffled. All of the seats around him were free and clean and dry and yet everyone else was standing by the doors and acting shifty. I looked at the other passengers for an explanation, thinking I must have missed something, but they all looked away or looked down or inspected their fingernails, so I said What the fuck? and sat down opposite the young man. I gave him a brief nod, took my book from my handbag and began to read, and then the man said to me, Thank you, and I said, I’m sorry

 

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