Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All the Pennies in the Thames will not make it how it was

"I can't stay very long," he said to me. "I have to be back in Crouch End to move out of my flat, you see..." I nodded, silently. I was silent in a manner that suggested I understood, not silent in the manner that suggested I was offended. But I was offended, you see, for it was my first night back in London and I had wanted to see my old friend. I had wanted to talk about music.

He smiled and humoured me, suggesting that we walk along Southbank as the sun went down. I took note of the things I had missed, the OXO Tower glazed in a gooey sunset, the ruins of another nameless church and its pulpit, flooded with cigarette butts, but we promptly ignored the beauty and the ugliness of our surrounds and retreated to our own world of blazers, musical love and lyrical sincerity. I had waited years to see him again and just when I felt most grateful for all of it, he said he had to go.

I sat alone on a water-filled barricade at the door of the Houses of Parliament. I had treated myself to an 88p dinner, an imitation Red Bull and two bananas. The light grew dim, I could not use my phone camera in such low light. I could only watch strangers and chortling tourists pass me by. I attempted to get onto my brother Andrew, but he was raging at a party in Hackney and would not answer his phone. Neither would any of my other friends.

As I ambled slowly up the north bank of the Thames, I contemplated what it was to feel so ill at ease with my city. In the silence of my own company, I could only think of those I had lost due to carelessness and indifference. For all the beauty, adventure and promise of London town, it all seemed to mean very little if I could not have those lost friends alongside me.

I stopped when I came upon Somerset House. The cream-coloured Georgian bricks glowed in a sodium vapour hue and I smiled. Loud music echoed and bounced off the walls, I realised that it had been five years since my first love and I had been there. I cried at that concert, even with his arms tightly wound around my waist. It was not an emotional response to the music, as such. Three days before, a bandmember of the performing band told me that he wanted to end our friendship. He never wanted to speak to me ever again. At the time, I could scarcely describe that disappointment, not out loud anyway. Instead I took a photograph that said it all to me: the night was over, the courtyard was deserted, the spotlights stretched out to reveal bent cups and indistinguishable debris. Every foot of that opulent space had been desecrated and I felt so completely wretched.

I started to walk towards the Strand when a woman suddenly accosted me. She grabbed my wrist and explained breathlessly: "I have to go now, but here, have my pass. It'll get you in for nothing. Here, take it, take it." She desperately attempted to reattach a fluorescent pink paper bracelet around my wrist, then she ran to her partner who had already hailed a cab. Confused and uncertain, I walked to the security guard of Somerset House and showed him my wrist. He told me to have a good night.

It was Noah and the Whale. Everything happened as it meant to. The band performed, the audience sang and the lights glowed. Upon hearing the first few chords of Five Years Time, a baffling sense of serendipity crept over me, a true sense of wonderment. There was the promise of meeting soul mates that night, new friends who could understand my every feeling and intent. But as I stood there alone with my broken paper bracelet, I wanted everyone to leave the courtyard immediately. I wanted to be alone with that moment I had lost.

Almost immediately after I recreated that photograph, my phone shrilled and vibrated. It was Andrew, agreeing to come to the Strand and save me. I later told him of my riverside loneliness on the 2am busride back to Paddington. I told him in the knowledge that I did not know true loneliness. It was not possible to be acquainted with such a thing. I live in the certainty he will always be there for me, even when all the others have gone.

No comments:

Post a Comment