The window seat

Sade, the sweetest taboo playing in Starbucks on Wardour Street

A man sits down next to another man and they’ll leave separately.

The people passing the window look the inhabitants square in the face. They can afford to be brazen, secure in their anonymity.

The denizens of the cafe experience the world through the periphery of their vision. They look at phones, laptops, iPads, plausible objects of their attention, giving the lie to side glances and edgeward stares.

Yellow and red light against the roof of the black cab.

Indicator lights flash suddenly in the glasses of an old man in the road, who jumps back from an onslaught of rickshaws.

He looks out of place, though he comes to Soho alone every other evening and wanders in thwarted hope.

Acrylic hair tumbles from shoulders as a woman inspects a broken heel on favourite shoes, and swears.

Silently.

It’s all a silent film from the window seat. Only the traffic can be heard alongside the blaring music.

Alison Moyet.

The milling thousands, the shouting, spitting, laughing, drunken thousands outside are silent.

Shoulders are knocking against shoulders in the crush, eyes are touching each other across streets and from doorways polluted with exhaled smoke.

Only Whitney Houston can be heard in the window seat. Bodies are examined at the edges of vision by eyes attached to screens.

Outside, the swagger.

Inside, the forced languor.

Attention solicited.

Eyes fixed on screens

Peripheral vision finely honed.

Madonna.

“Is this a parody playlist?” Says one man to another.

Almost.

Nothing could be said here that wouldn’t sound like an opening line, in this refuge for people who lack the swagger of the world outside the window. Hopefuls who can only speak in reply.

And the man leaves and passes the window seat.

A silent film.

Mint tea.

Michael Jackson.

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Book shop cafe 

She might be retired or she might not be. It’s impossible to tell from the bobbed hair, which is of no distinct colour.

Or from the clothes, which fit very well and are not cheap.

But she’s not young.

And she’s in a bookshop cafe, reading a paperback, with a cup of tea. Or coffee. And it’s Monday morning. On Charing Cross Road the commuter torrent has ebbed.

But now she rises, and since she said a polite good morning to the woman sitting opposite her at the communal table, she parenthesises their shared forty-five minute silence with a smiling goodbye.

And the young man two tables away swiftly revises her character profile. He decides, finally, that she’s seventy two, and that she reminded the woman opposite of her favourite lecturer from university.

Warwick.

English.

Her laptop screen is facing him, and she (or rather the back of her head) seems ponderous. He can almost read the open document, but would have to lean forward conspicuously. It would be obvious to everyone around him.

The bookish-looking, floral-patterned young mother to his left.

The five people tapping at keyboards who’ve bagged the individual tables and have probably been in situ for days.

The server manning the coffee machine, who probably carries out a version of his character-profiling endeavour every single shift.

So he resists.

He can’t defy his programming.

Much to his frustration.

The Queen’s living room

Jamie: Can’t you speak to Susie about it?

Carla: Mmmmm… I want to but I don’t really see her that much.

Jamie: Really? But you’re in the same town??

Carla: Yeah, but London’s pretty huge! 🙄

Jamie: Hasn’t she shown you round?

Carla: She’s shown me places. She’s actually been really nice but I don’t want to seem clingy. I just wish I knew people. I thought it’d be easy but when I landed at hetare, it just felt weird.

Jamie: Hetare?

Carla: *Heathrow*

Jamie: Oh, sorry. What happened? Why weird?

Carla: Well Susie met me and she was hung over (huge dark glasses, downing water – that look). Hardly any convo between us. Then the journey to the flat it took ages and we just sort of… didn’t go anywhere near London.

Jamie: What do you mean? Uxbridge is part of London, no?

Carla: Yeah I mean technically, but that’s just it. I wasn’t expecting the train to circle Big Ben and cruise through the Queen’s living room or anything but it just felt like… I don’t know. Like ‘London’ was somewhere very far away.

Jamie: And it still feels that way?

Carla: Yes! More so now. When I do visit Susie I get on the train and it takes the best part of an hour to get there. And as it gets further and further into the city the energy changes. The buildings get denser and you know that the streets all around are busier, and when you step off there’s this sense of arrival. Like it’s been waiting for you. But when you get back on the train to go home you realise you’ve just been a prisoner on day release.

Jamie: Shit. But is it really so different to Wellington?

Carla: Oh my god yes! The suburbs here are so different. They have this deadening haze over them. You can’t see it but you can feel it. They’re just a massive carpet of dwelling chambers that spreads for miles in every direction. People just exist there. It’s just streets and streets of old brick boxes filled with little rooms. Stuff happens in the rooms but not between them. It’s like – there are none of those accidental collisions between charged particles that make real life feel real.

Jamie: So will you stay?

Carla is typing…

The last of her clothes

A few taps on his screen and the sound of trumpets fill the little flat.

“It’s my favourite,” he smiles.

For a few moments she struggles to make sense of the cacophony.

Had she been walking past a bandstand in a provincial park, or pressed to the edge of pavement as the tourists at her back thronged to snap the marching band on its way from Buckingham Palace, her brain wouldn’t have demanded a moment’s thought.

But in the cramped studio three floors above a pub, the trumpets and the trombones and the tubas

(Where they actually tubas? What is a tuba anyway?)

didn’t occur to her as music.

And his hair was curly and immense and vaguely red, and as he had bent to retrieve the contents of her split bag from the pavement she’d caught the scent of it.

Two hundred and fourteen pavements away, if she were to count.

A moment’s high embarrassment as the withered hand of fate snipped the fibres at the bottom of her over-sized, over-loaded brown paper bag, filled with the last of her clothes from Georgio’s flat.

Her toothbrush.

Her underwear.

All on the pavement in an instant.

And he, a perfect stranger, simply scooped it all up.

And two minutes later he returned from a nearby shop with a large plastic bag and everything was neatly, deftly taken care of.

Coffee.

Cake.

More coffee.

And after the third hour slipped delightfully by she allowed herself to wonder

“Are we on a date?”

And now, in his flat, he’s just put on a brass band compendium.

So no, then.

Chewed at the edges

Molten turmoil deep beneath.

Collisions are occurring 

by the hundreds 

of thousands 

of trillions 

of hydrogen atoms. 

They’re forced upwards in turbulent, somersaulting convection currents to the surface of the sun, and the better part of them, their collective soul, is thrown out into the great vacuum, which on Earth we call the heavens, seeming far more densely peopled with celestial bodies than is proper.

Like Villiers Street viewed from the Strand on a Saturday evening at 10.45.

The squeezed perspective, the diminishing visual field crushing bodies together.

And they form currents, oozing into Heaven, circling the dance floors, colliding at the bar, staggering along the platform of Charing Cross, eddying two steps from the homeless woman and her proffered, almost-empty cup next to the shut-up flower stall. 

And the soul of the hydrogen, the sunlight, strikes the moon, bleaching it a skeletal white, and it’s stunned by the impact, falls helplessly towards her, tumbling downwards from above.

And it’s slowed by the thickening air.

The noise, rising above the artificially dense crowd. 

And it falls lightly, like a whisper in the roar of Villiers Street, on the once-white rim of her paper cup, dyed orange by the street light. 
Chewed at the edges.