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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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 isĀ 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.

Under Blackfriars Bridge

The bow kissed the taut strings and the violin cried out.

And the glazed bricks on the walls were its lungs. The barrel ceiling’s gentle curve amplified every oscillation.

In the grubby foot tunnel under Blackfriars Bridge the sound thickened the air, obliterating everything else.

The traffic from the road above.

The footsteps of the drunken office workers, filing two-by-two as they passed him.

Their laughter.

Aleksy’s breath.

He moved his fingers across the strings, pulled the bow across them.

The figures criss-crossing his field of vision were noiseless. They were movements without sounds of their own, abstract, like the patterns of the dirty grouting and the frames of the murals.

And the bricks cried louder, the ceiling, the narrow space; and the wall at his back was dissolving.

He closed his eyes.

No one passed him now.

Time did not pass him now, and the baleful strip lighting fell through him and into some other realm.

A lone woman ran through the tunnel of sound, staggering for the last train from Waterloo, an infinity away, and she would momentarily, belatedly, become aware of the violin’s cries only as she stepped back onto the platform at Woking.

Aleksy opened his eyes.

A man, drunk, was dancing slowly in front of him.

He closed them again.

Dissolved again.

And when, an unknown time later, he raised his head and looked around, he was alone.

The lone inhabitant in a fleeting realm of purity.