I sit cross legged by the side of the road and the others sit with me, either on the curb, like I am, or back on the pavement, leaning against the brick wall.
‘We getting the bus back?’ asks someone.
The taste of the cigarette sits in my mouth. When he speaks Sam’s voice is tight from holding in smoke, ‘Na’. He breathes out and looks round. It was James who asked. ‘Na, we can walk. Everyone here?’ Sam looks round, ‘Who’s missing?’
Someone says ‘George and Paulo aren’t here’.
I think they might have left earlier in the night but I don’t say anything. I’d spent most of the night with them in Third Room, but after they went to the bar I lost them. Someone else, I think Henny, says ‘George?’, but James says ‘He went ages ago’.
Paulo says that Sarah and Lashes left a while ago as well. So Paulo is here.
‘Alright, so no one’s missing?’ Silence. ‘So why we sitting here?’ Sam twists his head, ‘Back to yours?’ He says this to Mark.
Mark’s like a rag doll left at the side of the road, arms on his knees, head hanging down. He nods but doesn’t speak. I can see the tarmac reflected in his sunglasses. ‘Everyone’s back to Mark’s right?’
No one speaks which means that everyone is.
I look at my watch, coming up seven o’clock. The sun’s already bright and I’m glad I have my sunglasses with me as well. I’ve had them on all night.
Sam stands but most of us stay sitting. I take another cigarette from Sarah and James says ‘Sit down man’ to Sam so Sam does. James takes a cigarette off Sarah as well. I throw him the lighter.
As I smoke I feel for the first time my sweat soaked t-shirt sticking to my body. The azure sky is clear, the air cool. I’m meeting Sophie later, well, supposed to be. It’s going to be hot.
Somewhere behind me James and, I realise now, Paulo, have been talking, their conversation the only one going on right now.
I look at Sarah out of the corner of my eye. She’s sitting on the curb next to me, resting back on her arms, her legs pushed out straight into the road. Single for some reason. Fuck knows why. Lives with Sam, James and Mark, and a couple of other girls who aren’t with us tonight, who still aren’t back yet.
People leave the club, move past us and through us, pick their way though sprawled limbs and crumpled cigarette packets. Two taxis sit in the street opposite but the buses run close by so fuck um. The street is quiet.
When we leave we we split up, Sam’s friends leave us, off down Rivington Street towards Old Street. We go the opposite direction.
Turn left on to Commercial Street, cross Bishopsgate, back on to Commercial Street.
Across the road a green clothes peg topped with a row of teeth covers a first floor wall. To our right, a dozen floors above our heads, a red faced monkey framed with ram horns looks down at us and grins.
Who’s left now? Me. Sam and Mark are ahead of me, walking together, both smoking. Ahead of them are Tomasz, Sarah and the other two girls I don’t know. Hannah and Fi. Sarah has her arm through Tomasz’s and is leaning in to him. The girls have linked arms as well and the four of them walk together in a line, spread out across the pavement.
I don’t know Tomasz, he’s Sarah and Mark’s friend from back home, down for the night.
Paulo and James are behind me, laughing again.
We walk past Space Invader, Andre the Giant. I try to remember if there’s any Banksy around here, I don’t think so.
Maybe a few years ago.
Up ahead Sarah yells out, ‘Fuck my legs, fuck, fuck, fuck.’ She’s half laughing and I look up in time to see her dancing off ahead of the others, hitting her legs and yelling ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck’, and then Tomasz chases after her and she screams and runs off ahead of him. I wonder if they’ve ever slept together and then wonder why I’ve never thought of it before.
The girls and Tomasz have stopped, are waiting for us to catch up. Behind them a twenty five foot tall, black and white stork struts its way along the side of a building. On the wall of the building next to it an Indian mother in a pink sari cradles a baby, her image stretching across two whole floors. Is his name even Tomasz?
Cross Brick Lane, curve right to Whitechapel.
James shouts and stops, ‘Oh cunting hell’ he turns, ‘where’s my jumper?’ We shake our heads and James turns again and looks back at the way we’ve come, his hands patting his back pockets like the jumper might somehow be hidden in the bottom of them.
‘You left it?
He’s walking towards Hannah and Fi, he shouts ‘You seen my jumper anywhere?’
‘My jumper, the Mickey Mouse one, I had it earlier. Any of you got it?’
The girls look at each other and shake their heads, shout back at the same time, ‘No’; ‘You’ve lost it?’
James stops and stares down the road, ‘I am so fucking annoyed.’
‘It’s not fucking funny. Every time I go out I lose something.’
We’re standing in a group now. Traders are setting up the market on the pavement, rails of clothes from side street lock ups, trays of phone covers pulled from graffitied white vans; packs of two-ply toilet roll complete with boxes full of Bollywood knockoffs. Fruit and vegetables are piled up next to deodorants and cheap soaps.
‘Oh come, you won’t have lost it’ says Hannah.
‘Maybe one of Sam’s friends took it?’
‘Na they won’t have taken it’ says Sam.
‘None of you have it?’
‘Maybe Alice’s got it?’
‘Yeah, she’s probably got it.’
‘She leave early?’
‘Don’t worry man, she’s probably got it.’
We start walking forward again. Mark didn’t stop and now he’s waiting.
‘Where are the Chinese guys?’ I ask.
‘Too early for them.’ says Sam. ‘They’re only here on Sundays anyway.’
Chinese guys?’ asks Tomasz.
James shrugs, ‘Alright’
‘Just on Sunday?’
‘Yeah, every Sunday pretty much.’
‘Where do they go the rest of the week?’
I wait for someone to say ‘Chinatown’, but no one does.
We stop again outside the bakers and look through the window, the smell of warm dough mingles with the cold smell of the city.
‘Hungry?’ asks someone.
‘Fuck, can we just get a move on?’ says Mark,
The girls go in to by food and Mark goes with them but doesn’t buy anything, just stands in the warm, watching.
Behind us one of the traders stands with his back to the metal skeleton of his pitch. I stand and smoke and watch him. In his hands he has a rolled up tarpaulin, green and white striped. He looks over his shoulder once, then again. Another man stands off by the road and shouts to him. The tarpaulin is thrown back over his head, unfurls, settles heavily.
The smoke mingles with the bitter spit around my gums.
Sarah joins us on the pavement. She’s eating something from another paper bag, holding a couple more bags in her left hand.
‘Cold?’ She asks James with a grin.
‘Aww sweetie! Come here. Let me hug you.’ She wraps her arms around his trunk, trapping his hands by his sides
‘You want a doughnut?’
‘Yeah I do.’
The two men stand on upturned crates and pull the tarp across the frame, clipping it in place with big metal clothes pegs.