life

Green Lanes

​I was standing on Green Lanes when it began to rain. It always rains on Green Lanes apart from when it doesn’t. Once I walked 6 miles of it because I lost my bus pass and that was during a heatwave. I remember it because the added heat and smoke from the bakeries and kebab houses and the Saturday afternoon crowd made the trek almost unbearable to the point where I wanted to cry but I had no tears to shed because I was so dehydrated, and never will I ever be so happy to see the Palmers Green triangle as I was when I finally made it home on that day. When I met my friend she said I smelled like I’ve been charcoal grilled. I felt like I had been charcoal grilled. 

Anyway, this time it was raining. Big, heavy raindrops, the ones that almost hurt when they hit your skin. I was early for the meeting with my solicitor so I loitered about, opting to murder my finite minutes outside a Turkish bakery a few doors down from his office. Inside the bakery I could see a group of women making baklava and some men congregating near the counter, drinking tea. I could hear the men’s animated debate and the subdued chatter of the women through the open door though I did not understand a word.

I lit a cigarette, holding it within my cupped hand in such a way as to shield it from the rain, and watched the women work. It was mesmerising, truly, seeing them expertly arrange layers upon layers of filo pastry, the filo so thin it was almost transparent, delicate and satisfying in one perfect sheet like when you peel off sunburnt skin, lifting up a huge sheet of it with such care but seemingly such little thought, a technique honed through the decades, passed down through generations. They were wielding rolling pins that were probably longer than the women were tall, never tearing the pastry, never once coughing or spluttering from inhaling the continuous cloud of starch powder that engulfed them, toned arms made strong from years of lifting vats of honey hidden under old cotton dresses, the patterns and colours of their aprons faded with age but their hair as white as sugar and their eyes as green as the pistachios that they crush in the giant pestle and mortar. Traditional, routine, precise, step-by-step, live art.

The women didn’t notice me but the men had their eyes all over me and they beckoned me in. I shook my head and held up my cigarette to say “I can’t come in right now even if I wanted to.” They insisted, but again I shook my head. The women glared at me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, and certain that they were bitching about me in Turkish. The men are probably their husbands. Then, just as I was feeling unsafe, someone came up behind me and grabbed me, digging their fingers in my ribs with an almighty grip. Without a thought I twisted my upper body around and elbowed the person in the face. He immediately let go of me and his hands rushed to his face. He was doubled over and blood dripped onto the wet concrete.

Fucking hell!!” he said, into his hands. “Why’d you do that?!” He stood up and took his bloody hands away from his face. “Oh my God, GEORGE! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it was you, you scared me, I thought you were a robber or a pervert or something!” “No, it’s just me. Fucking hell, you’ve broken my fucking nose!” “No I haven’t, come on, let’s have a look at it,” I said, searching for a tampon in my handbag. “It’s not proper broken. You’re still handsome, don’t worry,” I promised, as I unwrapped the tampon and shoved it up his nose. “Fucking hell, I only came over to say hello and invite you out to this thing tonight!” he winced. “Oh, Georgie, I’m really sorry, let me kiss it better,” I said, before I kissed his nose and he laughed. “You’re a nutter, you are,” he said as he wiped his bloody hands on his jeans.

We went into the bakery, George cleaned up and we had tea and baklava. One of the men in there paid for me. George said, “If you weren’t so pretty you wouldn’t get away with half the shit you do.” I concurred that that is probably, sadly true. My solicitor called to say he was ready for me, so we hugged goodbye and arranged to meet at Frank’s in Peckham at 10 that night. I promised to buy him a drink to say “sorry about the whole elbow in the face thing” and he promised that we would catch up properly later on and that he had some exciting news.

He never turned up at Frank’s that night. Nobody had heard from him. His phone was dead when we tried to reach him, and it’s still dead 4 years later. I ring it from time to time, just in case it might be switched on.

Where did you go, Gorgeous George? You just disappeared. No social media clues, no sightings, no ideas. The grapevine mentioned you running away to Thailand but then it also mentioned you in prison, and it was even suggested that you were living under witness protection and your true identity had been compromised. I don’t think you topped yourself. I just don’t know where you are. No one does. I wonder if I was the last person to see you: I hope I was, so that you didn’t meet a fate worse than a bloody nose and free baklava. And I will always look for you on Green Lanes, especially when it rains.

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