Posts Tagged ‘Hackney’

Hackney Dusk:  “This is the gun that shot Gandhi.”

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Dusk sitting on my step smoking a cigarette in a typical London backstreet on a typical Summer evening. On the corner, where my road meets the High Street, the Eastern European accordion player recites a Balkan melody, pausing each time he hits a bum note to repeat, over and over again. His fingertips are bruised purple by the endless playing, fingernails ripped and pitted, at his feet a McDonald’s Styrofoam coffee cup to optimistically try to catch any passing coin. The music acts as a counterpoint to the distant sound of police sirens wailing and overlapping each other in the gathering dusk – an urban whale song.

A few houses to my left I can see the old man dressed as always in a too small sailor hat, white beard and corduroy trousers which end above the ankle. He looks like an emaciated Father Christmas waiting hopelessly for his stolen reindeer to return. Each day, come rain or shine he waits outside his house, motionless, shoulders hunched, head down as if the weight of his life and loneliness has physically crushed him from above.  Despite this he waits leaning on his little wooden gate, a final act of defiance, refusing to accept that whatever or whoever he’s expecting have long since gone, never to return in this lifetime.

Across the street I watch the large black woman walk round in circles in her small concrete yard. She’s always wrapped in a grey shawl, eyes vacant staring into the long-distance sweeping from left to right like a lighthouse beam. Even when I cross her field of vision sitting on my step she looks right through me. Haunted, empty. At her feet she kicks a child’s small plastic football ahead of her, her long and jagged uncut toenails almost puncturing the rainbow coloured ball with each jab. The ball shoots ahead, and each time she seems to panic and rushes towards it, as if scared it might disappear forever. She seems to resent the ball with each violent kick away, but then changes her mind and realises she can’t live without it.

It’s got dark enough now to see into the window of the apartment opposite me. Lights on full blast, curtains open, a man in his early thirties sits on his sofa tearing feverishly into a cardboard wine box. He is sweating profusely as he fumbles with the gelatinous silver pouch trying to locate the wine tap, like an alcoholic baby impatient to suckle on the teat. Most evenings around this time I see him do the same thing and by the time I return for my last cigarette he’ll have sucked that breast dry and will be sprawled out on his sofa having forgotten to draw the curtains, eyes closed as a passenger in a First Class airplane seat, destination nowhere, travelling round his room on an internal flight of fantasy.

I finish my cigarette and flick it into the open drain, missing by a mile now the wind has picked up. The accordion player has finished for the night, off to spend his pennies on another coffee cup ready for tomorrow’s concert. As I stoop to collect the cigarette butt and throw it over my wall I hear the sound of running footsteps.

A small Asian man runs past me headed towards the main road, in his hand he waves a broken china tea cup. Upon seeing me he holds it up, wild eyed, as if it’s on fire or about to explode.

“This is the gun that shot Gandhi!” he screams, before the night swallows him up once more.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”

Henry David Thoreau

 

 

Checkin’ on the Chicken


Marcus Garvey Tower Block. Hackney Downs, East London. Evening.

Quinton Nganbi reached under the hot grill and turned the chicken wings with his fingers letting out a yelp as the hot fat burned into his young flesh. He kicked the bottom of the cooker in frustration and then cussed when he saw the grubby dent he’d made in the white steel. His mum was going to tear him a new ass for this.

His phone rang and glad of the distraction he went to open the back door and out into the garden to try and get a better signal. As the call progressed, he noticed the sweet smell of chicken fat was gradually being replaced by a more acrid and bitter scent and casting his eyes lazily back up to the kitchen door he was horrified to see a black pall of smoke belching steadily out like an volcano. Dropping the phone he rushed back indoors and instinctively reached up to remove the grill, burning his fingers once more.

‘Clot!’, he chastised himself as both the grill and blackened chicken hit the floor in an explosion of grease and smoke. It looked like the bonnet of a burning car after a smash. Now his mum was surely going to dance on his grave.

Quinton stood arms out stretched, mouth open, shaking his hands like he was trying to take-off and cool his own burnt flesh. But as the smog dissipated he saw above the cooker a face he knew well. A face his mum dragged him to see every Sunday come rain or come shine. Staring back at him was the son of god.

‘Christ!’

Quinton gawped in disbelief at the perfect imprint of the face of Jesus Christ left behind the cooker on the smoke damaged wall. It was undeniably the messiah, each twist of grease and ash perfectly finding the contours of his bearded countenance.

Quinton stumbled back, catching his foot on the grill and causing the remainder of the grease to stain like blood round the linoleum. He rushed to the living room and pulled his mother’s bible from the shelf, flicking through the rice-paper pages not quite sure what he was hoping to find but needing to do something, as he then stood in the doorway staring back through to the kitchen and feeling a sudden sense of dread. He didn’t want to go back in there under any circumstances. Instead he ripped a few pages from the bible, stuffed them in his pocket and left the apartment without looking back.

 

Shoreline, West Reservoir. Hackney. Half an Hour Later.

Quinton sat on the concrete edge of the lake, his trainers just kissing the skin of the water in the evening sun. With the thin paper from the bible he rolled a joint and holding it tightly lit it hoping to draw a line under what had just happened. He breathed in deep from the blue smoke resisting the urge to blow a smoke ring in case that face should reappear. He felt an unnatural stillness to the lake this evening, even the birds had become silent in the trees and as he stared at his reflection in the mirrored water he noticed a slight ripple begin in the image. Perhaps it was just the weed messing with his mind? There was no breeze. He mouthed the words to a tune that had been on his mind as he drained the joint, pleased by how he looked in his reflection. He heard a sound behind him and turned to see a man crossing the path with his dog. Quinton felt his ghetto dream disappear and remembered that he wasn’t in East L.A but self-conscious and skint in Hackney. He kissed his teeth at the man for the interruption and turned back to the lake hoping to recapture the moment.

The dog came up to him and nuzzled under his arm. Quinton couldn’t resist stroking his head and patting him even though it didn’t fit with the image he was trying to project. He’d always wanted a pet growing up but had never got one. His mum always said she had enough trouble finding the money to feed him let alone another mouth. The dog rolled over onto his belly and Quinton stroked the soft skin, liking the total submission to his mastery that the dog was displaying. The man whistled and the dog quickly rolled over to follow him off into the brush.

Quinton found himself aroused by a sense of power but almost immediately felt frustrated. He was desperate and paranoid that at fifteen he was still a virgin, but he couldn’t find any girl who looked as great as they looked in the R&B videos: and he knew more than anything that if he got with an ugly girl then that would show his friends just how much he didn’t respect himself. Was an ugly girl really all he could get? No, his self esteem was worth more than that, how would people think he rolled if his woman wasn’t ‘peng’? No, it was more important to have respect than to be liked in his world and as not many people liked him he felt things were just fine.

His legs had remained still against the concrete wall but the water had began to tap the bottom of his trainers at regular intervals. He looked down between his feet to see there was now a definite disturbance in the water, at first like the oxygen bubbles of a large fish, but gradually a circle of water was beginning to broil like a hot kettle was being held just beneath the surface. Quinton found himself standing up and moving back from whatever he felt was coming feeling reminded of the cartoons he still sometimes watched, guiltily, caught on the bridge between child and manhood. Godzilla? In Hackney? Again he felt foolish and threw the joint roach into the centre of the bubbling cauldron. Something was coming, like a sliver of silver an inverted V shape broke the water as delicately as a hypodermic needle. Up the shimmering silver strip went into the evening air, catching the sun before it set over the surrounding tower blocks. Finally as the hilt broke through the water, Quinton recognized it to be a sword.

A green glow continued to bubble beneath the water, lit from some hot unseen source. A delicate hand twisted around the sword handle, diamonds of water and fish scales falling around the wrist. The sword too now began to glow with a bright green luminescence. Quinton was totally sucked in by the sight,  the sword seemed to beckon him, willing him to come forward and take it. He felt a sudden sense of ownership and right, he knew this gift was for him and him alone.

Without thought for his new trainers, he lowered himself into the water and swam out the short few metres to the prize. Treading water, he grabbed the sword with both hands and felt the cold and smooth hand let go her grip and the digits slip round his own enclosing palm like the tentacle of a squid.

Not quite daring to believe it was really his, Quinton swam back to shore, behind him the hand slowly disappeared back below the water line and the birds began to sing for the dusk again.

The sword clattered on the concrete retaining its eerie green glow. Quinton hauled himself out and sat next to it. It was his. He admired it in the dying light full of strange symbols and inscriptions lost on him, but fearing the glow would attract too much attention he felt exposed and the moment’s spell had been broken once more. The bark of another approaching dog, sure to be accompanied by an owner, sealed the deal. He must go. Quinton carefully shoved the sword down his left trouser-leg and pulled his T-shirt over the hilt which protruded up from his belt to around his chest. Walking like a man with a wooden leg but feeling self-conscious like a man who’d shit himself, he staggered back to his mum’s consoling himself that he’d sure be laughing tomorrow when he sold it.

 

Next Day. George Antiques, Angel Islington.

With the sword concealed under a long coat Quinton moved through the crowds as inconspicuously as a two foot broadsword would allow. Even at the best of times he still felt uncomfortable in this part of town. He didn’t understand the rules or what was expected of him in a place like this. The antique shops wound their way along the cobbled street, the old buildings leaning in like gossipy hunchbacks over his head. This was out of his postcode and he could easily be in trouble if the wrong gang was passing. Quinton looked out of the alley and onto the main road searching the telegraph wires for shoes slung over them by the laces. His worst fears were confirmed. He comforted himself with the thought that at least for once he was armed. He wasn’t sure which shop would be best to sell the sword, but figured the one with a small dagger in the window was probably a safer bet than the ones he’d just passed with their china dolls and lace bullshittery on display.

He went in and was surprised by the large bell which rang with his entrance. He felt like a greyhound out of a trap and ran forward with the sword pointing out toward the equally startled owner.

‘You may put your lance down, son. I’m not jousting today’ the owner quipped, the unease clearly heard beneath the sarcasm.

Quinton lowered his weapon and took a deep breath. This shop smelled old. Old like his grandma’s coats at the back of her wardrobe. Old like money. He felt sure he’d come to the right place.

‘You buy swords and shit, innit?’

The man had regained his composure and leant across a large oak desk playing with a clay pipe, the burned gray tobacco in the bowl matching his own hair.

‘I deal in metallurgy if that’s your question, although I’m not sure you’d be interested in any weapon pre nineteen eighties?’

‘Whatever. I’m selling not buying… So how much for this..?’

Feeling like he had the biggest dick in the world Quinton produced the sword in one elegant swoop.

The man’s eyes lit up in disbelief.

‘Jesus Christ! Let me look at that would you.’ All traces of sarcasm had drained from his voice.

Quinton handed him the sword expectantly, blade first.

‘It’s just an old sword though, hey?’

‘No it most certainly isn’t. You’re not old enough to appreciate beauty yet. You haven’t had the life-experiences to know shit from Shinola, son.‘

‘You don’t know me.’

‘True, true. But you don’t know this…’ He cupped his hand at the tip of the blade and carefully, gently, allowed his palm to run down the edge of the blade to the hilt, where he twisted it in his palm, reading the inscription.

‘Old English most certainly. The metal in the blade has clearly been folded more than the date would warrant… Ah, here we have a crest, Arthurian. Platinum! Solid bloody platinum…’

The sword began to throb and the green glow now familiar to Quinton grew from somewhere inside the blade. The shop owner dropped it fearfully onto the oak desk.

‘Jesus Christ. Where did you get this?’

Quinton shrugged his shoulders, ‘I don’t know, round the…’

‘WHERE?’ the man’s voice came impatient and strong, the clay pipe shaking in his mouth.

‘Fuck you prick. What’s it worth? Gimme two hundred and you can have it.’

The man’s jaw became slack and a bubble of hot snot began to build out of his left nostril.

‘What’s it worth…? It’s priceless.’

Quinton kicked the bottom of the oak desk in frustration, once more leaving a grubby indent on the soft wood. He quickly stepped back hoping the man hadn’t noticed, but he was lost in a reverie.

‘Shit though. Priceless? Not even worth a fiver? Come on man. That’s bullshit. You know it and I know it. There’s got to be a price we can agree on. It ain’t priceless you’re just trying to stiff me.’

Quinton went to grab the sword but the shop keeper brought to his senses defensively pulled the sword in close to his chest.

‘No! No, It’s too important. There’s no way this is yours. No. No way.’

With a convincing left hook, Quinton caught the man on the corner of his jaw sending the clay pipe splintering to the ground. The effect was impressive and immediate. The man let go the sword to instinctively protect his face, leaving Quinton free to run from the shop and back along the cobbled alley, charging with the sword as if running to some epic battle. The lunchtime shoppers parted around him like the Red Sea as he made his charge. Once clear of the antiques alley he leaned against a lamp post to catch his breath, the sword hanging from his side. Quinton looked up straight into the window of a passing police car. The officer in the passenger seat couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The squad car burst into life with sirens and flashing lights, turning viciously in the road, almost hitting an approaching cyclist. The officer in the passenger seat jumped out brandishing his night-stick but Quinton was already ducking into the nearby shopping arcade.

The officer launched himself through the glass doors and quickly gained on Quinton disadvantaged by the heavy sword. He caught the back of the boys legs with his long black truncheon causing Quinton to barrel into a popcorn stand, the ready-made bags cushioning his fall. The policeman was upon him about to rain blows, instinctively Quinton pulled the sword from his coat and deflected the first of them. The huge broadsword connected with the truncheon and split the vulcanized rubber down to the metal. This gave the officer pause for thought. Quinton got to his feet and began a running sword-fight through the shopping centre. The policeman was relentless in his pursuit and seemed oblivious to the distress of the shoppers caught up in his swashbuckling. With each parry and thrust Quinton played back in his mind how he’d got himself into this situation, what had he actually done wrong? One thing was now for certain, things had gone too deep. There was no turning back now, he was committed to getting away. He ducked into a supermarket and with a huge sweep of the sword he quickly took out an aisle of wine bottles, the glass shattering around the chasing officer and hopefully slowing him down. Without looking back to see how much, Quinton ran for the store-room and through to the loading bay sneaking out towards the high street.

Quinton continued running, he tore down the smallest alleyways he could find, zigzagging through the borough like a rat in a maze, the sound of sirens now all around him and shutting him down. Risking the main high street he caught his reflection in the large glass-fronted Camelot National Lottery offices, he liked how he looked with the sword at his side. Running round the side of the building he found himself in front of Hackney Town Hall, the steep stone steps leading up to the main entrance and a smaller side alley off to the side of the vast building. Behind him the sirens grew louder. Daring a look behind him Quinton saw the police car mounting the pavement, bathing the first few steps in a revolving blue light.

They came from the left and the right. Quinton knew he was cornered. His only chance of salvation was the side-alley at the top of the steps. He bolted for it taking the steps two at a time, trying to keep the sword up in front of him, but the tip of the blade dipped down and caught the final step acting like a pole-vault and sending him over the hilt and crashing against the wall. His left hand refused to let go of the blade and it arced over his rolling body embedding itself in the Town Hall wall. The sword shuddered through the concrete in a burst of unnatural green light, brighter than any soldering iron. A sound like the crying of a thousand souls in pain shattered the night air causing all those in the immediate vicinity to hold their ears. The sword tore into the wall like a knife through butter right up to the hilt where it stopped and remained firmly lodged.

Quinton rocked on his spine in agony, he was sure he’d broken his left arm. He twisted round to look back down the steps and saw three policemen, their nightsticks drawn, lurching up the steps towards him, their faces as eager as ravenous pigs. Clutching his broken arm to his chest, Quinton headed for the side alley and out of sight, his pain driving him on to impossible speeds. The policemen stopped their short chase and returned to inspect the sword. They were dumbfounded. Each took it in turns to yank on the ornate handle but it was clear it wasn’t budging. The fattest officer lifted up his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow, his matted hair stuck to his forehead.

‘That’s not going anywhere, is it?’

‘Ok, best call it in then,’ replied the second.

The third officer scrunched up his neck and began speaking into the microphone attached to his dark blue jumper.

‘Two Seven to base. We’re going to need a drill down here… Yes, that’s right… drill.’

The voice squawked back harshly, seeming to bounce off the metallic hilt. ‘That’s a negative Two Seven. Be advised not possible till morning. Secure area.’

The officer released the intercom button and turned to the other two men who were now sitting down on the top step of the town hall, sweating from all the exertion.

‘Fuck it, I’m giving it one more try…’

With a base anger not befitting his uniform the officer pulled on the sword. He put his foot to the wall to get better leverage and yanked until he felt his eyes would pop out of his head. He groaned, he wailed, he cursed at the sword, but it would not move an inch. The seated officers began to laugh but quickly fell silent when they noticed an eerie green glow emitting from the hilt and travel up the policeman’s arms.

‘Shitting hell. Get away from that mate. Look…’

The officer saw his hands illuminating and quickly let go in fear.

‘Fuck that. It’s electrified or something, I ain’t touching that. It probably hit a junction box or live cable as it went in.’

The other officers got up and moved towards the squad car.

‘Well I guess it isn’t going anywhere, so balls to it. Just call it in and let the morning shift deal with it in the morning.’

Quinton had run a huge circle around the building and had taken to crouching unseen by some bike racks across the road behind the officers. He watched them return empty-handed to the squad car and drive off into the night. He felt an overwhelming desire to have the sword. He knew it was meant to be his and despite the risk he was damned if he’d leave it to be stolen by the council. Looking left and right he made a run at the steps, taking them three at a time. With a last power leap of four steps he found himself face to face with the hilt of the sword. With his right hand he reached out, closing his fingers around the cold steel and feeling the bevelled uneven surface of the ancient hilt. Quinton took a deep breath and pulled hard expecting no movement, but to his amazement the blade retracted from the concrete as smoothly as pulling out a birthday candle and the excess energy caused him to stagger back violently almost spilling down the steps.

Now free, the sword continued its wide arc, swinging into a low mounted CCTV camera and neatly chopping off the lens. Quinton heard them before he saw them: the unmistakable whining siren like a massive and dangerous baby. He spun round just in time to see the blue light of the police car. The two officers were already on the bottom step but their over-weight bodies allowed them only one step at a time in their ascent towards him. Quinton raised the sword above his head and shouted at the sky. His cry rang out across the borough as if amplified by the sword. A brilliant green light burst from the blade bathing the whole area in a supernatural glow. The officers threw themselves down on the steps, fearing an explosion, leaving them prostrate and kneeling a few metres down from Quinton who pointed Excalibur to each in turn as if knighting them.

‘Right, you fuckers. There’s gonna be some changes around here…’ he said.

The Dolphin Dalai

 

3am Outside the Dolphin Pub. Mare Street, Hackney, London.

Walter Sikhart stank of piss again, only this time it wasn’t his fault. At some point earlier in the night someone must’ve found him drunk and asleep in the shop doorway and actually urinated on him. It was probably another drunk, caught short on his way home from the pub, unaware that tonight this darkened doorway was Walter’s bedroom.

Walter preferred to believe this rather than think they’d done it on purpose, few people deep down were that rotten, he reasoned. These were part-time drunks after all, mere amateurs at the craft, not full-time masters like he who’d studied for years at the altar of disappointment and despair. It was a Friday night and these drunks were off the clock from their regular office jobs. Jobs where they got to use staplers and paperclips for their original purpose and not to hold up their trousers, where correction fluid was used to mask mistakes on paper, not drunk as a shooter to mask mistakes in life.

Walter moved over to the bus stop, hoping the orange glow from the overhead bulb might give the illusion of warmth and dry him off a little. He looked down at the floor and saw a cigarette butt with a good length left on it, probably thrown down in the arrival of an unexpected bus. He carefully straightened out the crumpled end between thumb and forefinger and put it too his lips, rooting round in his overcoat for a match.

He hadn’t been born an alcoholic, in fact he hadn’t even been born Walter Sikhart, he had become both in the intervening years.  He’d actually chosen the name himself when he’d first come over from Nepal some ten years ago, for all the good it had done him. He’d been born Wai Sikhinn, on the northern shore of Lake Rara in the west of the mountainous Himalayan kingdom. Even this harmless twist of fate had gone against him, because if his mother had decided to take the ferry that day then he’d have been born closer to civilisation on the southern bank and wouldn’t have been brought up to believe he was a demigod.

The town elders had decreed that nineteen forty-eight was the year the next Nepalese Lama would be born and they searched the villages in their flowing orange robes scattering lotus blossom as they went and ensuring Walter could never again have a normal life. He remembered nothing of the determining test, laid down for millennia in their sacred teachings. When all the different animal bones had been spread out in front of him that early spring afternoon, smooth and rounded from the years of having been wrapped in silk, his four year old hand had naturally just reached out for the one that interested him the most: the sacrum bone of a pink bottle-nosed dolphin.

He did recall how this action had changed the electricity in the room, the energy had picked up and the people in the funny orange sheets seemed to become animated and talkative. The necessary astrologers and numerologists were consulted and charts drawn up. All had agreed he was a shoe-in for the top job. The stars were in correct alignment, the dolphins were crooning at night in the nearby lake, the bone had been correctly selected. And so for the next twelve years Walter Sikhart was trained and instructed in his future role as spiritual leader of the Limbus people.

Then, about a week after his sixteenth birthday his world changed forever and his destiny gurgled down the plug-hole like the mulch of so many dead lotus flowers and pointless tears, culminating in his inexorable sluice down the drain to exit here in Hackney. His mother had taken ill and deteriorated fast. On what was to become her death bed she confessed to him that she’d got the date of his birth wrong all those years ago. She’d realised soon after the monks had taken him to their monastery, but knowing that they could provide for him better than she ever could, she held her tongue, until the guilt and cancer had eaten away at her and now she was dying. He found it hard to come to terms with either situation. His whole life had been a based on a lie. Having spent his formative years being revered as a saviour he was suddenly reviled as a fake and shut out in the cold.

After much thought and in what was looking likely to be the only moral stand he’d take in his life, he told the elders of his village the truth and relinquished his destiny.

He’d tried to stay in the village but the constant looks of pity and suspicion that the fix had been in from the get-go, had eventually forced him out. He became a fisherman, using the dolphin bone that he still kept with him to call the pink bottle-nosed dolphins close to shore.

Each morning, just after sunrise he’d stand with his bare feet in the turquoise water and sound the bone, relishing the ghostly noise bouncing off the residual fog like a skipping stone and echoing up through the tall pines. What followed was an amazing symbiosis between the land mammals and our aquatic distant cousins. Each time a school of fish congregated in the lake, the dolphins would corral them up and push them towards the shore so the waiting fishermen could catch them. So deep did the relationship run that once the fish were rounded-up, the porpoise would give a flick of their tail to show it was time to cast the nets. It never failed!

What amazed Walter most about this relationship was that there was nothing in it for the dolphins, they were purely doing it to be helpful. It was then that he realised the true connectedness of life. The inter-dependency and co-existence between everything, all alive with the same spark of life-energy linking as one on a sub-atomic level. All relying on each other for survival and a purpose. A purpose in life that had so cruely been robbed from him. The bone had of course been lost in the pissed mist of time, along with any last dreams of redemption.

Walter smoked the butt down to the filter before tossing it back to the floor of the bus shelter, such memories were dangerous for him, they invariably led to bitterness and more drinking. He exhaled slowly, savouring the last puffs of the chocolaty smoke and looked round at the city, surrounded as it was by rat-maze walls of man-made concrete. The exhale became a sigh. There were very few places left on earth where humans still understood this precious symbiosis of life. Here in the artificial urbanity there was only humanity and machines, and both seemed pretty heartless right now. Man appeared hell-bent on an unstoppable rush into the dark and unnatural blending of flesh and silicone. A Cybernetic marriage without possibility of a divorce.  In only a few hundred years we’d gone from being surrounded by the ecstatic hum of life, to the incessant whir of cold anti-life in metal, stone, smoke and plastic. To Walter what was most crazy of all was that we’d done it by choice, but the physical comforts we’d gained sure as hell didn’t add up to the spiritual reality sacrificed.

He was starting to feel the bitterness well up inside himself again. Damn, he wanted a drink. A chemical cosh to beat the bilious monster back down again for a few more hours. He shook the can of barley wine between his legs but it didn’t even make a rattle: more empty than his pockets. Maybe if he had’ve been a demigod he could’ve magic’d up another can, but not here, not now.

His train of thought was broken by the clatter of dustbin lids behind him in the pub alleyway. Twisting his neck in the damp, piss-stained coat Walter watched two teenagers kicking at a trash can. They looked detached, malevolent and empty, surrounded by artificial things he guessed they’d never known how to live connected and real.

They saw him staring, Walter turned quickly away and stared at his feet imagining invisibility, but it was too late. The taller of the two youths swaggered up, the angry vinegar piss coursing inside rather than outside on somebody else’s coat.

‘Hey, what up, clot? You wanna get shanked old man?’

Walter buried his face in his coat. The smell of stale urine was stronger here, he felt there were hints of hops and wheat, definitely a drinker.

The youth was immediately all up in his face, posturing and looking for an excuse to escalate their encounter.

‘Hey, I is talking to you. Want to get robbed?’

His friend had caught up and grabbed his arm.

‘Leave him, he’s just a bum, look at him. He ain’t got nuffink. Fuck it blud.’

As if to show he’d given it careful consideration, the taller youth kissed his teeth and snatched the can from Walter before turning away. He watched them go from the corner of his eye not daring to turn his head, leaving the majority of his face concealed by the coat. On discovering the can was empty the youth drop-kicked it at a betting shop window across the street only for it to bounce off the advertisement for some perfume none of them would ever get to smell.

Right now Walter was smelling piss and he didn’t like it. The smack of the can startled a fox which had been rummaging nearby through a discarded fried chicken box and it started across the road towards him.  In the relative safety of the bus shelter the fox cowered under the red plastic bench, covering three of its four possible avenues of attack.

Walter leant forward and peered between his legs to get a better view of the fox. It was shivering and wide-eyed with a mix of fear and adrenaline. Remembering he had a small piece of kebab left in his pocket he retrieved the greasy strip of meat, grey and glistening in the orange light. He flapped it on the grooved seating and the fox instinctively got up to inspect the offering. As it slinked up to the rancid meat Walter could see something clasped between its teeth, a white bony protuberance sticking out either side of the jaw. The fox cautiously sniffed the meat, then stepped over it towards the scrunched up material of Walter’s coat. Locking eyes with him, the fox bowed its head and dropped the object on the urine-soaked clothing, before retreating back and hastily gobbling up the meat.

Walter recognised the gift instantly and poked it with his nicotine and shit stained finger, just to make sure. For the first time in weeks he forced himself to mentally focus and cut through the drunken stupor. It was undoubtedly the cranial bone of a bottle-nosed dolphin and as he reached out for it he felt again like the innocent four year old selecting the thing that was most pleasing to him. With trembling hand he put it too his lips not daring to believe and exhaled…

Above him in the bedsits and studios of Mare St people found themselves being roused softly from the depths of their slumber to hear a haunting sound that had no business on a London street. Walter took another breath as it began to rain. The droplets danced over the air-hole of the bone making the sound even more watery and ethereal in the blue dawn. The gently haunting sound wailed out, soft yet insistent like a candle against the darkness, becoming a Pied Piper’s rallying cry quite impossible for the sleeping city-dwellers to ignore in their artificial beds.

© Michael G Zealey