Two black boys get on the back of the bus. They beatbox and make up rhymes as the big diesel rumbles through new estates in Broomfield, good-naturedly threatening to shank each other as we arrive at the big hospital where my Dad was a patient 18 months ago and where all of us will eventually end up if we don’t get out of here soon.
On the way out of town I see our co-habitants from the caliphates with their hijabs and pushchairs walking home to old-fashioned houses. Unlike us they are still having children. They will replace us when our race has finally run itself into the ground.
Red Sky, 2020 |
What I remember most is the winter light and the sky as it turned a pale red in the morning. That meant there would be a storm coming – shepherd’s warning, as the accepted wisdom said – but when the day dawned it would be bright and cold. I lay in bed in the house where I had grown up and dozed, thinking of a past life. When I finally got up and went down to the kitchen it was almost lunch time.
My mother, nearly 70 but still active in the local art scene, came back from the shops. Outside a horse trotted by, branches sagged listlessly and the retarded child next door shouted at the clouds from his garden. I knew the talk was coming about how I was 30 something now, didn’t earn enough money, and I needed to buy into the corporate combine so I could one day own 30% of a leasehold property…
“Aaargh” said the kid next door. I knew what he meant. He and me were like two peas.
I had tried to explain to my folks any number of times that it wasn’t my fault that the print media my degree had trained me for had died out even as I racked up my student loan, and that my tutors couldn’t hope to advise me on the new digital economy as they didn’t understand it at all, but this time I couldn’t really face the arguing. I decided to suck it up and get everything ready to leave again. This dusty house in which I had lived from the age of nine to eighteen or so was beginning to bother me, and every time I came back only seemed to be so I could leave again.
I had just got everything arranged neatly and ready to go when mother said “your flies are undone,” and suddenly I was the kid again in the garden, yelling up at the sky…
Outside the autumn was lovely, all yellows and greens and clear sky. I arrived back at the station to catch the Government/Corporate train behind a crowd of people going to a beer festival and had to risk jumping on without a ticket, even though I had got there in good time, mindful of my experience with the bus the previous day. This time I got lucky and didn’t get inspected all the way to Stratford – oh happy day!
In London the sky was grey, but still it was not raining yet. I rolled down the sleeves on the pullover that I’d found in the old wardrobe that morning. It had looked like one of mine – now I wasn’t sure that it was; there were also some tweeds, but I left them be. Those would have been good for walking around the farm in _______* where I lived, pretending I was lord of the manor.
In London I had business to transact. I ran a business selling old collectables – books, if you must know. As I said, print media died as far as producing new content was concerned, but there was still a market for the old stuff, and in ancient shops in dusty basements hanging on down back streets in remote parts of the old city I still found allies. I also wanted to go to the British Museum. By the time the day was done I was sick of the motherless grime of the London Underground, I still hadn’t done half the stuff I wanted to do, but was ready to climb on the train and crawl back quietly towards the coast and home.
Then, at London Bridge, she got on the train…