He staggers.

A man treads lightly down a street in Soho.

The Pillars of Hercules is there. So it must be Greek Street.

It feels like a Sunday.

And he’s holding his hand up to his face. The end of his nose is missing. Blood on his fingers.

When he staggers it’s to avoid the woman passing next to him. Who doesn’t look at him. She doesn’t see embarrassment on the parts of his face not shielded by his hand.

What remains of his nose is protected from scrutiny. What remains of its tip is two streets away, up three creaking flights, behind a door whose keyhole is hard to find because the landing light broke seven weeks ago.

It’s in a sink. Blood along its rim.

And if he shouted at the top of his lungs, someone standing at the sink might hear.

No one who uses that toilet has ever seen their reflection in the tap.

The broken bulb will still be there in a month.

Suddenly he’s gone.

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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.