I clatter along the bridge over the tracks, past posters and timetables, hands waving, eyes daring anyone to get in my way. An old lady steps back abruptly, oh my! With hands out in counterbalance, I step step step step step as fast as I dare in front of many gathered people who will me, want me to fall, arrogant prick. The last five steps I jump, slam my feet onto the platform, feeling like I’m about to stamp out crime, ready to leap into action, muscles tensed. The train is on the left platform, so I leap that way, to see the passengers hurry away from me, with their closed shoulders to me, hunched over. The gap is so wide, it seems like the train is leaving from the next platform. That’s when I realise it is. I see the third rail and other death-giving cables camouflaged in the innocence of dust and grime, and all the superhero drains out of me. I turn on my heels to make a businesslike, impatient pacing along this platform, and explain red-faced to a commuter “I normally ride my bike.” He gives an eyebrow raise as if to say “One of them.”
The next train was in 40 minutes, so I decided to take a walk around the block. As I leave the station and turn onto the buzzing, hurrying main road I notice a slim metallic object on the red plastic of the bus stop bench. I pick it up like its a power-up or charm in some computer game. An iPod! Get-the-fuck-in! Concealing it in my palm, closing my coat sides around me like a cape, I hurry along the road, eyes darting for a distraught-looking owner, but none is seen. I turn into the High Street, full of ramshackle market stalls spilling into the pavements, the reek of fish, drains blocked with cloudy water and, nodding to the drinkers by the anchor, feel that this is the place to examine my ill-gotten gains.
A thumb hold and it switches on, the pixels fire into life and start doing a dull greeny-black dance on the display. Then I see the words:
Spoilt Victorian Child
This Nation’s Saving Grace
Wow. This is perfect! I take the earphones from my pocket (their cables look like a puzzle from the back of a Kid’s Menu) and slide the gold-plated connector slowly in, the little bands of black insulator ease past, the metal thickens until it is tight, and a connection is made with a ‘click.’
“The servants, with their other knowledge / Clank in the cellar.”
The High Street opens up in one burst, my head rises and my gaze meets everyone else’s. I’m able to look the world in the eye once more, proudly march down Deptford like my father’s father had lived here for years. I nod to the Vietnamese guys outside the bookie, strong cigarettes.
Feeling my confidence return, like I’m sidling down a rainbow, clicking my fingers with a little bit of groove in my arse, I take the iPod from my pocket proudly, and examine the hallowed ‘Library.’
Screamin Bob Harris
Irate Irie Ireson
Aslan “Ike” Always
Deep Sea Now
Badass “Mac” McKeane
Willie Dean Lewis
What the fuck’s all this? Some blues stuff, I guess. And techno. I like the sound of whoever owns this. I suddenly feel less proud of having nicked it. It sounds like the sort of stuff my friend Nathan, who lives in the next district would listen to… I wonder… I scroll through the music with my finger in that nipple-teasing way that Apple insist upon in search of Nathan’s band (I bet he’d listen to his own tunes, and often). ‘Thee Insurrectable Template’ scrolls by and out the window. That sounds like his sort of thing. You see, his bands begin with ‘Thee.’ The word ‘Thee,’ not you. Burroughs, Crowley and all that. Look it up.
I should return this to him.
I get to the top of the hill that he lives on, imagining it from above, a little peak on the edge of the town, covered in tall old houses of multiple occupancy and little flatblocks, gardens, vintage cars, and wardrobes and ironing boards and obsolete speakers left on the street for anyone who wants them. I buzz his flat bell, which buzzes back at me and I bound up the stairs, my head ascends into his room from the open stairwell and I look around as Nathan greets me, very warmly, handshake warmth and eyes glowing and a sideways smile, warm room. What’s going on here? I think, he is unusually happy for an unannounced visit at 8am on a weekday. Oh shit, I’d best get back to the station… I imagine emptiness in the space where I normally am at work.
But I am distracted from that. God, I love him! There is such joy in him, and for that I am truly grateful. This isn’t his usual mode. He seems electric, throwing open curtains to let the grey-blue light gently in, the wood pigeon cooing. He seems to know I have something for him. Maybe that is why he is so excited. I feel like I have passed a test with him, laid down for me, all planned. He knew I’d miss that train, couldn’t stand to wait, would walk around my beloved streets, eyes cast to the floor in avoidance, and see this object (by the half-eaten kebab) and would be just the sort of person to nick it. And the Fall tune, well, he knows me well. I think all this lends him a God-like essence this morning. I should have listened to his tracks on here. I bet there was a message within them! I am reminded of Charlie returning the Everlasting Gobstopper to Willie Wonka.
He knows what I’ll say before I say it. “I found an iPod down in Deptford just now,” I don’t say I found it by the station, in the shelter, trying to throw him off for some reason “And I looked through it and there was all these blues artists, and some electronic, and some Fall – and there was a band beginning with ‘Thee’ – I just wondered if it was yours.”
“Yeah, it is.” he replied, pocketing the proffered iPod.
OK. I didn’t expect a reward, but that was a little underwhelming. His excitement seems to have diminished a little. Maybe it was my excitement, projected. No, its still in him:
“I’m thinking about getting a rug, a massive one, put it here, across the whole floor, brown, blue, woven… Who knows, just something that completes this place.”
Nathan has only lived in his new flat a few weeks, just up the road from his old house. Should he be more happy about my return of his iPod? Last time I do anything nice. That thought fades.
“I’d go for a small, bright magenta one, just here” I gesture at the empty space in front of a table with an incense holder and ashtray with one rolly butt in it. Nathan looks there, then beams up at me.
We descend the stairs, me explaining about work and the train, he says not to worry, which is very unlike him. The sun has got so much brighter since I went in, and the slant of light revealed by the door opening knocks us both back a little, I stumble over some shoes.
In unison we leap forward, out, and crunch across the gravel drive. Through my lens-flare and eyelash riddled vision I see him smiling. I feel like we’re in an Orange mobile phones TV ad. At last! I put my arm over his shoulder, and he does the same to me. I hear a cough and look round to see two lads smoking a spliff (I presume) on their balcony. I go to remove my arm from Nathan, thinking that maybe he wouldn’t want to look gay in front of the local Neanderthal youth of his new flats, but it seems that that was just my hang-ups, prejudices and insecurities kicking in. He is fine, arm in arm, as we turn the corner round the bristling green hedgerow, and I should learn from that.
London unrolls at our feet, like a carpet found on a wasteland, covered in bits of moss, brick dust, stones and smashed glass. The glints of light from variform buildings wink up to our hill. The sky, the day, the potential energy, all Aurora Borealis.
I’m going to be pretty late for work today.
Turn the car off, stand back, and silence descends.
The silence of new noiselessness, the absence of sound where there once was.
Warm and fuzzy.
The metal ticks and clicks and the gleam moves as you move your head, looking at this machine.
And the springs relax and creak.
And the leather exhales.
And deep within, a dipstick measures, for no-one but itself.
The ladybird along for the ride drops off the underside with a ‘tick,’ rolls over and hurries off.
The metallic tang of exhaust dissipates on the tongue, some of the gases into alveoli, some into atmosphere.
And the Magic Tree swings pendular, slows and stops.
It does one final twist.
Then almost at some death-proofed point the car park ticket falls from the windscreen and is trapped like a butterfly beneath glass.
I made it to work on time. Thank you, Nathan.