I’m in the vein of the city: the Tube. I’ve grown used to the faces. They stare and bore into your soul. The never-ending eyes that surround you, and judge you in the millisecond it takes for them to disappear.
Men with strange cranial growths and eastern European girls in fashionable sneakers line the tops of double-decker buses, fast-food wrappers and softdrink cans blend into the ghostly walls of a twilight city theatre like stubble on the giant face of old man London.
It’s the vile sweat that attacks your forehead, the black plastic bags that shrug their bulging shoulders as you walk past, the music of a thousand speakers pumping out different tunes in a thousand rectangled hives and the people’s feet who beat to their angled rhythms. The refrigeration unit outside my window keeps the clock as it heats and cools and cools and aches my sleep. Going to and fro is no longer a chore, but a meditative fascination. As I lunge into the station, I weave and push my way past the moving statues, thrust my ticket in their faces. I have the stamina to survive in your city, I’m saying to them. Just let me prove it.
Somehow the beer and the strained cheer keep me hydrated in a social desert where the countless encounters recount their minute lives in my mind before I sleep. They are like dying stars in the night. Where do they go in the morning? For a hot dog and a sneaky piss in Trafalgar square at four in the morning. Shuttled back to their shared houses, their fabulous white washed walls in Chelsea or Maida Vale where they groom television sets with the fluttering of eyelashes and wait for the next appointment which will take them away from their solitary lives; or create just enough noise to drown out the gentle humming of their old age.
I step off the escalator. I wish the ride would never end. I always prefer to sit, pensive and erect in a train or semi-reclined in an airline seat when I’m on my way to somewhere new and frightening. I want that trip to last forever so I can turn over in my mind the quickest way to escape as soon as I land. I try not to let it taint my experience of the novel, however for some reason my bowels seize with each centimetre I move away from a comfortable toilet.
Five thirty. The virtues of my council position emancipate my afternoons. I beat the rush to Oxford street where the crowds are in their early swell, only to reach a high tide of shoppers, languages and acid rubber smells. I ride the first wave across the street, narrowly missing a late bus. It’s the one I need. I chase it down the street, my puffing and panting absorbed by a line of expectant commuters. There’s a young girl with a forged weekly pass and an old man who refuses to pay because he had a connecting ticket from the tube. The driver’s mobile rings and the bus stays still. As I excitedly squeeze myself into the front seat on the top deck and look out onto the swarming black traffic, it occurs to me that the place towards which I’m racing has a name: nowhere.