Flotsam and Jetsam

In Saint James’s park I pause above the lake, and crook my elbows over the railings of the bridge. Pelicans teeter on the ugly rocks, moorhens bicker in the bull reads. The gibbous moon blinks under speeding clouds, its pale light rolling across the skin of the black water like milk from a tanker spill. 

Some days I ride the circle line for hours. People here are always moving with a purpose or a direction, purpose on their lips, in their briefcase, prepaid purpose on their oyster card. I huddle on the underground, and watch women’s faces in the glass, and their novel bodies, their sultry bones swaying like puppets to the tube’s sledgehammer pulse.

Black swans and white swans, like flotsam and jetsam, are passing under the bridge. One is looking up at me, with a red bullseye on its beak. The Westminster dusk has settled like duck-down over the park, and in the distance, tourists are flashing cameras from their dark seats on the London Eye.

People avoid me on the underground, and on the buses and bus stops. I sit beneath the shelters fumbling with my shoelaces, feigning activity, or else I board, wave a dead ticket and slide behind a seat to close my eyes, and dream circular dreams, a sleeping satellite in corduroy.

Out of the park, and onto the streets, where the spent chewing gum and pavement cracks make hand-holds for the drunks, who on all fours, between fits of vomit, climb the paving shakily like shivering mountaineers. I follow the embankment, with the river on my right. It’s important for me to look busy, look occupied; I attempt an air of ambition and impending conquest.

There are yellow lights swinging above the water like cooped canaries. I pass people on the riverside, they hardly notice me at all. I think they can tell that I am not really moving, at least not how other people move. It’s like I’m sat on a train at a standstill, watching the other trains grind past, convinced I’m sliding back. I’m a swan in a current, like flotsam and jetsam, I have freedom, complete and unabated, but no purpose and only a pretence of direction.

I will eventually become part of the architecture. The copper change in my pockets, the zips and nickel teeth of my jacket will ball together, and spread across my skin. The gravel that scuffs my hobnail boots will creep over me. It will most probably happen in the early morning, when the wind blows cold and the night shift workers begin to bawl in the bars like frightened birds.

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