Monday, February 27, 2012

Strange Landing


That foggy Friday morning I would have clung to the pavement as I leaned deep into the second corner, on this route I could have done with my eyes closed. Making unusually good time on my way to the 07:11 from Liverpool Street, I would have let that surprising feeling of being awake sink in, taking the first sharp lungfuls of air in that cold winter of 2011 , as the armies of London cyclists must all do. The chain clanked into highest gear on my old grey Claud Butler, next to my black leather brogues, as I reached the straight from Camberwell Church Street to Brunswick Park, past the well-frequented Baptist Church where the ladies in their white dresses and head-garb looked like shining visions on a Sunday hangover.
I always thought of an obscure electronica song title, "Flying on 747", as I passed the old people's home, like I was programmed to do it. A car appeared from behind a gate on a blind corner and - with defiance and something like amusement - I knew that I would hit it.
My front wheel hit the wheel arch of the silver car and, as I skittered across the hood like a stone, I wasn't sure if I saw a child in the front passenger seat, who, had I been a lorry, I would surely have killed. I came gracefully to a stop, crumpled on the pavement above a drain.
The lady was already weeping copiously as she got out of the driver's seat, despite it being just seconds since the accident.
"I'm sorry baby", she said in a lilting Caribbean voice, "I was praying in the car", and she embraced me, impeding my hopping as I tried to make my hip feel right again.
"It's alright baby," I said, strangely, and rubbed the stranger's back, not voicing the Dawkins-esque thoughts flitting across my mind.
Looking around, I noticed the eight or more people staring at us, who had surfaced from the seemingly empty stereet. One was looking on from the second floor of a boxy council block, opposite the one that had made the news when it caught fire.
One Asian man on the pavement said, "I saw it my friend, you want to take my number?"
"It's alright," I said, with a dazed sense of Providence that seemed to be shared by the people surrounding us, an odd couple, still locked in tight embrace.
Struggling for the appropriate tone, I ventured, "do you know what that stop sign means?!"
"MMMhmmmmmm", affirmed a beaming grey-haired man to my left. But,
"I was praying in the car", was all the soggy mess wedged in my armpit could reply.
"God has blessed him, he's alright, the man," entoned a lady waving her farewell, "the good man". Although I wasn't so sure.
I went away with just a phone number and an appointment to meet at Iceland foodstore on Camberwell Road the next day, where the lady would give me some money for the buckled tire and the fatally bent front forks. The voice on the phone the next day said,
"I can't wait to see you're ok," on her way up to meet me with £60 in her pocket. This, and my still-beating heart, must have been enough for her, but not for my Claud Butler.

I felt a weird elation as my broken bike and I creaked up the now long remaining stretch of street, tainted only by the feeling that this was Claud's last ride. I wouldn't pass the silent congregation of black crows on the grass that day - I left my bike loosely chained to a sign-post. Let them steal it if they want to, I thought.
I caught a slow bus over Tower Bridge. At least now my excuse for being late would be genuine. Texting a girl who I had recently met on a sloshed East Dulwich Saturday, the drama was pleasing and seemed to fit with the unending arduousness of that year. Still not finding a job in my third year out of university, I took a paid teacher-training course to keep, as my dad put it, "body and soul together". My unsuitability for "the profession", along with my incorrigible and often ridiculous lateness, kept things on a knife edge. At the Bridge, London stretched along the misty river in that recession-blighted year. The chaos seemed barely contained below its concrete skin like the tubes.
On the South Bank was the unfittingly pleasant setting of the call-centre where I had spent a savage eleven months the previous year, the utter loss of the situation suppressed only by blind hope, thousands of job applications, and the nonchalant banter of the hundreds of other employees.
I limped in to the great vaulted structure of Liverpool Street, already bustling with the commuter belt's heroic determined, all going the opposite direction to me. After Hackney Wick, the urban huddle suddenly gives way to open fields, which usually found me gripped by a trainee-teacher's morning neuroses, or far away in a hoped-for future or irrecoverable past. Today they were golden and frosted in the mist.

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