Sunday, 27 February 2011

Journey II – A place to crash

By the time I found somewhere to stop it was very dark and the others had all vanished. I left the street and crossed a patch of neglected lawn under some trees. It was a very still night, humid and heavy. The fresh scent of balsam poplar wafted past. The lawn sloped down steeply ahead, down toward a wooded gully. I didn't know where to go next. I’d been wandering the lamp-lit streets for what seemed like hours.
All the while I’d not been alone I’d been able to be strong, stay focused. The others looked a lot younger and more nervous than me and I took the lead, but when I realized I was down to my last companion – a morose, hunched, be-hoodied teenager, his chin barely covered in straggly black bristles, I began to feel a panic. I couldn’t make out anything he was saying. He seemed to be talking to himself. He mumbled that he needed a toilet but had no paper. I watched him standing, fidgeting. ‘Come on’ I said, heading off across the road and past some trees into a deserted market place. I don’t know where I lost him.
So I headed for the building across the grass on my left. It was a long, low, two storey place, with windows all along the side. There were lights on in one or two windows and music coming from one of them. I could see someone moving about inside. There was a little laughter. I moved cautiously across the wet grass to a shadowy stone archway. Inside there were doors opening left and right onto a corridor and in front of me a winding stone staircase to the first floor. I turned left. All along the corridor there was random stuff lying about – bikes, posters fallen down, cardboard boxes, and the smell of fetid sportswear, stale food and patchouli – the unmistakable ambiance of university accommodation. Further up I could hear voices and muffled music coming from a room on the right and I decided check it out. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t just wander about all night. I got to the doorway and took a deep breath.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting exactly but this was a little disappointing. It was a kitchen basically, dimly lit by a low watt bulb hung low from the ceiling and covered by a reddish shade and a piece of tatty Indian silk. There was a table in the middle, largely covered in bottles, smoking paraphernalia and bits of paper. To the left of the door under a window was a sofa, also tatty, also hidden with bits of ethnic fabric. There was a fridge freezer covered in stickers and magnets opposite, and with more miscellaneous stuff on top, and a sink at the end to my right, behind the door, heavily loaded with unwashed crockery. Every corner of the room, shelves, floor, back of the sofa had stuff on it – magazines, clothes, books, more bottles. There was like a drift of it in every space that was not needed to walk through to get to the sink or the fridge or around the table. Then there were the inhabitants, who hardly seemed to notice me. There were two guys chatting at the table, one with long floppy hair and a goatee, in a paisley shirt, the other in black with his head shaved, and mostly involved in rolling what was obviously a joint. There were a couple of girls on the sofa, one in a dress with leggings underneath and with beads in her hair, and the other in jeans and a vest with TALK TO THE FACE ‘COS THE TITS AIN’T LISTENING written across her enormous boobs. They were also chatting and smoking. The latter smiled and waved at me casually. Two other guys were sitting on the floor by the fridge in deep discussion and there was a girl with short spiky hair over by the sink looking exasperatedly for something. The room smelled, not unappealingly, actually rather cosily, of hash, incense, wasted food, damp, and barely adequate personal hygiene. The music was some sort of dub hip-hop compilation I vaguely recognized from the 90s. It was all very familiar. One of the guys at the table grinned at me and offered me a smoke, which I took, to be polite, and asked how it was going. I got some wine from the fridge and squeezed in at the far end of the sofa. Nobody seemed to object.

I was still there when I woke up in the morning and one of the guys came to look in the fridge. The day was overcast and not helped by the grime on the window and the attempt at a curtain strung up there. I looked around. It all looked very grey and dingey in the daylight. The bulb was still on but that only made it worse. Every surface was dusty and ringed with drink stains. Later on, the guy with the floppy hair came in and made tea. I saw a pair of red football shorts, a stained white tee-shirt and pale pimply legs where his robe fell open. He made some toast and coffee and left. Later on, when it became obvious that nobody cared if I was there or not I went to have a look around to see if there was somewhere I could crash. I found my way up the stairs near the entrance where I’d come in. On the corridor above, the girl with the short hair, apparently wearing nothing but an extra large tee shirt came out of her room rubbing her eyes, yawned and headed up to what I guessed was the bathroom. Going up the steps I could see her little white bottom under the hem. I looked out the windows and across the uncut lawn and over some small trees to the road and the houses opposite. Blackbirds were hopping about down there. I could hear the bass of some music coming from one of the rooms up ahead. The whole building had a faded arts-and-crafts feel to it with lots of mouldings on the stair well and window frames, but seemed to have been badly decorated and furnished in the 70s. Nothing matched, everything was scruffy and stained and discoloured, but felt strangely familiar and oddly comfortable.
I found an empty room not far from the stairs. It had a small Victorian cast iron fireplace (long unused) and a single bed took up most of the rest of the room against the wall under a window. I put my bag on it. Everything, including the fireplace, was painted an unpleasant pale green, and most of the daylight was excluded by a brown cloth. I took it down. The room was cold and smelled damp but the door was lockable. I sat on the bed and looked around. I’d definitely stayed in a lot worse places in my life, squats and hostels, and my house mates seemed harmless. I got my belongings out and put them on the shelves and tried the bed. The sheets felt cold but we’d been issued with sleeping bags on the boat so I got into mine and quickly fell asleep.

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A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.