London Lane

ommuters were filing obediently from the exit of Hackney Central Station down towards Mare Street and home. On London Lane, Ron was admiring the flittering birds around the balcony, choosing where to land and depart, swooping in carefully for crumbs and leaving for nests. In the yard, the shots and shocks of sunset were starting.

Susan was in the middle of the placid catastrophe of a flaccid afternoon. She had done nothing all day, nothing. Pots won’t make themselves, she said to herself, pots won’t make themselves and neither will money. She sighed and looked out of her window at a maudlin sky and the iridescent white vans moving along Lower Clapton Road. A maudlin sky. Quelle cliché. Les idées reçue sont affreuse, she said out loud. Les idées re: Sue. Les pensées de moi. She laughed to herself. Maybe she could paint that on her next vase and explain it to people who asked her what it meant at the craft market on Saturday.

Simon was still in the middle of leaving work. The receptionist was trying to make him laugh with racist jokes and he was trying to find his swipe card to get out. It was in his lunch box. Leaving the building, he looked over to a gleaming regal Canary Wharf, the cosseted world where all needs are catered for. The office drones over there could get their upmarket takeaway sandwiches and eat them in the closely tailored grounds if it was sunny or, if raining, buy a few comestibles and get their shoes shined in the weatherproof environs of the tower’s ground floor. Everything was neat and organised, like proto-Communism. He walked around Canada Water. There were dead stars in the lake. He looked again. They were red leaves. Teenagers, smelling of lard and bubblegum and biscuits, parading putrid pitbulls passed him. He got on the heat-infested tube, which had the odour of epidemics about it. It was that time of the year.

Pina coladas in Colindale, thought Jolene. Or was that tomorrow? No, it was definitely this evening. With Kyle and Thomas. Or was it Kyle and Tim now? She could never remember other people’s boyfriends’ names, she had enough trouble remembering her own. It was all a nebulous jelly. She breathed in as she locked her front door, the smell of pollen falling and dope rising in the west evening air.

At the bus-stop, Lisa, beautiful in hairspray and cigarettes. Michael says: “The worst pain is the emotional pain”. Stephen, drunk, falls in love.

Yonis was trying to find the perfect place to tie his shoe lace as Halima tugged on his arm. Her Ridley road shopping banged against his legs. She put one of the bags through the bus door but the driver snapped it shut and she had to yank the bag out again. Bananas and potatoes tumbled into the gutter. She cursed the bus driver in Arabic and Somali and English.

Stephen squished on the seat next to Michael even though he knew Mike would rather sit next to Lisa. Michael wanted Lisa to stop smoking, stop working and have his baby. Lisa wanted to be a model. She was talking to Jolene who had the bad feeling that she was on the wrong bus.

Jolene looked out of the window but couldn’t see any buildings or roads she recognised, only the evening lights shining on the traffic light leaves.

Simon, sat behind them, wished the black girl would stop chattering and the white one would stop fidgeting. His head hurt. The books didn’t balance, the budget was overspent, there was a huge black hole where profit should be. He could get rid of the receptionist, he thought. Staff could answer their own phones. Yes, he smiled to himself. He would tell her on Monday.

Susan had abandoned her work room for the lounge and was watching the news, feeling pleased that everyone in the world was suffering more than her, except the government who were doing well in the polls. They seemed happy. There’s always someone better off than you, she thought. The sun had set. She looked out at the moon hanging low and false, trapeze-like against a starless backdrop and wondered if she should go to the pub.

Ron shut his door against the night and turned to the minutes of the last Tenants Association meeting. No. 4 had come round earlier complaining that their water wasn’t working. Ring the water board, he had advised her. I don’t work here. I’m not paid. He wondered if he was getting too old to do this anymore. No. 13 wanted to stand against him in the next election, he knew that. Maybe he should let her. Bit of new blood and all that. He listened to the electrical sound of rain starting to fizz on the roof. He hoped no. 20’s roof had been fixed otherwise there’d be puddles in the kitchen again.

At Hackney Central station, a lone commuter travelling south strolled up to the platform. He had just missed the train. He sat down on the cold bench and waited, as he had done many many times before. He was Ok. Familiarity breeds content.

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