I left Strongrooms after being there all afternoon, stumbled a bit as I walked out from under the trailing ivy, and turned down Curtain Road. The pavement was dark from rain but the brief downpour that had rolled across London hadn’t cleared the air of the dirty humidity that furred the air.
As the rain had stopped so people had started to move outside of the bars and gather together in twos and threes. I hugged the edge of the pavement to avoid the small groups and rough lines of smokers and thought to myself that I should have gone the other way, up along Rivington Street and out.
There was a man ahead of me walking, slowly, in the same direction. I gained on him a quarter-stride at a time. Two angel wings of sweat stained the grey fabric of his t-shirt and in his left hand he held a white plastic bag, low down by his side. I slowed my pace as I drew close then, unable to pass, timed my walk to his, mimicking his steps as I waited. The angel wings lost their definition at this distance. The plastic bag had a blue and red Chicken Cottage logo printed on it. There was a roll of fat at the back of his neck, visible above the line of his t-shirt. When I did move past I walked too quickly and my leg knocked the bag he held. It bounced and swung in his hand. I said ‘sorry’, but with my earphones in I couldn’t hear myself speak, and I didn’t look across at him.
Ahead of me the pavement ended and cars drifted along the road like cut logs floating down a river. I waited at the bank and watched the logs as they passed, my eyes following their slow unceasing jostle for space. A crowd gathered and I could feel the presence of Angle Wings behind me, close among the mass of assembled bodies. My back was tensed slightly; in my mind Angel Wings had become an avenging angel. I craned my neck upwards and concentrated on the traffic light.
The river slowed, finally, then stopped; dammed by red light. I led the people across the parted waterway (call me Moses), and at the half way point I twisted and looked back across my shoulder. I didn’t see Egyptians or chariots or drowning warriors, but did instead catch the heel of the man ahead of me with the toe of my right foot. He stumbled, turned, glared, said ‘sod off’. I held my hands up and apologised, mouthed the word ‘sorry’. Angel Wings wasn’t behind me, he was nowhere to be seen.
I carried on forward. I passed the flower stall; buckets stacked in short columns by the side of an empty trestle table. The woman with the apron and the money pouch was leant over the unsold bouquets, packing them up, pouring the water out on to the pavement. She wore a quilted jacket, dark green, and black fingerless gloves. Her hair was dark still, but populated with stands of grey. Her face was swollen slightly, and she looked older than probably she was. The smell of flowers hung in the air still and for a moment, as I passed, I tasted the blossoms at the back of my throat.
The swirls and eddies of the pavement crowds grew thicker now as we approached Moorgate tube. Men. Women. Suited city workers: white shirts, pencil skirts, herringbone, dressed in the concrete grey of the city. A torrent of storm water, rushing along the curb before being funnelled in to the drain. I let myself be swept along, and then I too disappeared beneath London.