Clapham Junction – Aldgate

It all started in Europe’s busiest railway station, a kind of troglodytic labyrinth: sixteen lines, no way out. You enter, as I did, through a grossly underwhelming shopping arcade, glorified thoroughfare. Whitewashed corridors lead inside and then up. A vast runway of tracks and platforms, a boy in a blue tracksuit spitting at the rails, and beyond, the close menace of tower blocks. The speed is astonishing. Not the speed of the train, but the speed of forgetting. The streets below do not exist. Battersea, Nine Elms, Vauxhall are just the shitty verges of this eight-laned beast. I reach into London. Waterloo greets me with its velvet concourse, its has-been grandeur. The crowds have been expecting my arrival and block the way. Outside, the air is moist. It is 10pm. A fat baby gurgles from his or her pram. A skinny man in a grey suit sits with his back to the station wall, his skinny legs drawn up to his face. He has no shirt and no shoes. The mother swerves to avoid the warm trickle of urine. There are so many people here. The heat brings them out. Below the footbridge, three obese tourists pose with Nelson Mandela’s head as a disintegrating fireball of ash scuds along the concrete. I am moving so fast. In one ear, tinny samba. In the other ear, a raging chorus of violins. I am stereo. The river has drawn back. Rest In Peace, Timo Baxter, skateboarder, thrown from the bridge when it was Hungerford, rusted, unlit, high tide. In the middle of the river, the stink of weed, an oil slick. I am moving so fast I almost miss her, poised, phone raised in right hand, head covered with a white lace scarf, on the exact point of speech. A boat passes below, heading east. The water disturbs. I am moving so fast, take the steps down two at a time. This is another place. Motion is a good name for a club. Young men in off-the-rack suits refuse to queue. Dark poppies appear on their white shirts. This is a bad place for a club. The sudden light of the Tube is like waking from a dream, or falling into one. Something gathers inside. I apologise. The woman is so large, I struggle to get by. I find a seat. We pass through Cannon Street without stopping. The lights are dimmed. The Israeli girl with the palest face and jet-black ringlets looks back at me in the window. When I stand up, I am taller than the man she is with. When we arrive and he struggles with a suitcase, I begin to hate him less. I am thinking about Zoroastrianism and the White Tower. I am thinking about how fast I am moving towards Aldgate. I am thinking about the cunt outside the hotel, and the man he is with, his olive skin and pencil moustache, and what my chances are with the girls on the Minories, or the American who says as I am passing it is brutal and sadistic or the City boy crossing who says win or lose, he’s gonna get fucked or the rude by the church who leans in as I lean back and in the alcove someone’s sleeping, foetal, wrapped in white like a mummified corpse, a horseshoe of ham in grease paper. I never expected the hole, an absence behind hoardings, diverted bus routes, a space for the sky, and I see now how things are made vertical. A renamed avenue. The empty car park. The butcher’s hooks swinging in the wind. This light is like falling into a dream, or waking from a coma. I don’t care what you think, this is landscape. Goulston Street falls away. The city spreads out to the north like an endless ocean and I’m just on the edge. Salt on my tongue, tonsils, lips. I swerve to the right. Nobody is watching. Everyone is watching. Somewhere a casserole has been served. Somewhere unembarrassed laughter. My laptop boots up. The screen whitens. I am typing this now to make sure I forget.

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