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A little whiter

With a dull flick the day was switched on, going from pitch-black to a shade a little whiter than full pitch-black. Bits of mashy clouds lightly thudded around an otherwise ambiguous sky and as far as I can make out, just after digesting the picture, any other meteorological descriptions would be adding pointless detail where there was none. I got to the high street fairly early but market stalls were already laid out and the route to the station already well-trampled. That idle, everyday municipal hum had allowed itself to seep in: although it was barely noticeable to the long-time dwellers here. The background lullaby.

Someone I brushed past was shouting along the street to a woman further ahead, but, either, she didnít hear properly, or didnít want to, because she mumbled a few words in Polish and carried on going. Within seconds she was engulfed in the tidal mass of people getting on the first leg of their journeys. And when I rounded the bend I was swept up in it too, until the throb came to a sharp halt. Marine-like scents flurried over the concourse, as well as those of ink, cheap perfume and rustiness. Seeing the warning lights were on, I didnít linger for a second longer than I needed to.

After a dart I was quickly back to the top of the stairs and on a makeshift route, reeling in my desired numbers, willing them to stop close. And the overall depth of sky had shortened, so it looked as if the leady broccolis were steadily pounding all the miniature-in-comparison commuters. I loved the effect, but I also felt compressed and weary, and didnít like it at all. What a conundrum, eh? No wonder I was dizzy. Luckily the red carriages were on hand, a series of them, and I could take my pick. The beeps of street things were beeping on the coldish air Ė although I held my head so the annoyance didnít filter completely in.

Headphones on, riding the top deck. This route is one of my favourites, even when itís an alternative, like this, because of the terrain it eats up, because of the districts it scythes, because of its momentary cutting up of other lines; the ones you canít see drawn on the road when you look out the windows. There are variations in the nature of visibility straight ahead, mists sealing the sun and then not, and then again. Roadside lamps firmly draw out the shape of the way we are going, and temporary traffic lightsí beams pierce into the sides of the bus. Iíve been engrossed in my darkside techno so I havenít been that aware yet of whatís in my surroundings Ė how the locale is populated. But now Iím looking around, checking out who I exist with here.

Not too bulging, actually, up top, an oldish guy with a greying beard and long black M&S coat, a duo of Londony fashion girls, choosing their gesticulations carefully, the odd scruffy bloke, with stubble and pinstripes, plus a couple of suited geezers, who were too big - or thought they were - for the likes of this mode. Nondescript moments follow. I am almost mesmerised by the monotony of it. Daydream billboards, flickering senses. The same as the last morning, although with extra edges thrown in to the mix, and strange FX I canít quite nail. They are there, though. Like the borderless energies are there.

Nearing the river the mood loosens. The bloated boroughs get calm. So Iím startled when I spot the familiar outline of a face I think I know bobbing along the pavement: and itís so overcast I canít work out if Iím dreaming. The bus is slowing down. I saw the shape, the one with the symmetrical features. I saw the hurt stare. I saw the trodden half-smile on the lips when she briefly appeared close to the side of the bus. So I smash on the bell, Iím running out, a sickly feeling emerging in my tummy. The ghoulish beats drop off suddenly when the headphones fall to the floor. After doors open and I step out itís a quick dash to where I think I saw the waxen face, yet now there are only a few lost-in-the-background cut-outs that roam icy paths. Confusing moments. Maybe I got it wrong? This place is filled with spooks and almost-friends, so much that once or twice everyone is pushed briefly into foreign spaces, despairingly hunting down the physical concoction of a memory. Is this my chase? I up the pace, weaving between morning-moon-lit characters and side-stepping shopside obstacles; cardboard boxes, discarded baby seats, joggers, dogs Ė and then a version of the shadow motions slightly ahead, about to get on a bus. But a few school kids are in the way, distorting the clear image. The bus isnít moving so I sprint through a few more sinister bystanders and made the dive.

Weird, but I had the chance. A little pocket of opportunity I might not get again. Stepping on the bus, thereís no one on the bus. Going upstairs. Itís deserted. No. One elderly lady whose papery pale face slices into mine when she notices my own puzzle-face. Something urges me to talk to her, to ask her how she is; yet Iím also struck by an essence of strangeness, and it puts me off. Feel unsettled. The seed of how odd the moment is is planted, but I focus on it only briefly, and then itís stored elsewhere, because thereís no time to think about it now.

Maybe my out-of-window vision didnít get on; those kids were in the way at the time, it wasnít easy to see. Weíre moving and I knock the bell (again) for a final chance at a final chance. The city of this time of day can mess with heads, no matter what the state of mind at first point of dawn. Anything can seem possible; abstract games take on a salient significance. Maybe itís the way the light shines and gives warped hues to whatever is nearby. A series of tricks. To make you think youíre winning. Even though I know it all isnít real I fall into it anyway.

The huge red tin pulls on the breaks for me to climb out and look back down the path I just came from. Still no clue. Slight rain lazily dribbles down Ė I am beginning to get tired. Will I ever get to my B, even when I start from A? Iím back at the point where I first saw the presence, from the top deck of my intended route. The row of shops stretches out longer than I first thought Ė a bakery, a charity shop, a launderette, a newsagents, an Indian takeaway. Roughly at the spot where I thought she stood I now stand still, thinking, pondering the explicit nonsense this borough brings with it. A radio in one of the shops is playing out underwater-style ballads that canít quite be heard completely through the windows. Looking up to the still-dishwater sky I consider and then execute the perfect smile for the moment. Back on the pavement the slight breeze sweeps along a broken stiletto heel and a pair of gloves.

© Copyright 2016 John Maher