Fuck this. Fuck waiting for this bastard. Does he think I’m his plaything?
What does he think he’s doing, leaving me in a shithole of a pub, with its corny decorations and stench of old men’s farts? I get enough funny looks as it is. There’s no such thing as a danger-free day in my line but today, in particular, is a bad one.
No, I’m not having this. I’m going to slam this glass onto the bar and get out of here. My nerves are jangling inside me. Above my head are hung flags from all over the world. I manage not to sneer. I pull my heavy jacket on and go outside to the South London street.
There’s traffic noise, and off-licences, and corner shops with rotting fruit sitting in bowls on rain-battered tables outside. Grey and lifeless. I want to go home. I lean up against the sick-yellow exterior of the pub and wish I could light a fag. I settle for re-applying my lipstick. I look up. They’ve only decorated the outside of this place with a ridiculous Guinness themed clock, with the pints looking like blushing, happy faces. I swear to God. I could puke.
There’s a man on the other side of the road, resting his bulk against the black pole which holds up the traffic light. He’s watching me; and not casually. He isn’t looking through or around me, but intently at me, to see what I do next. I feel the hair on my arms stand up. I feel an urge to run across the road, weave around the speeding cars, and rip the bastard’s throat out. But no. No. This is not a time to be drawing any attention to myself. It’s cold. I put on my hat and slope over to the side street.
The paranoia, or sixth sense, or whatever it is, that I’ve been wearing all day as surely as I’m wearing this jacket, starts to lift – but just a little bit. I feel the solidness of the pub’s pebble dashed wall as I lean back. Alright. This has all gone wrong somewhere. That’s fine. Cut our losses, report back to the bosses, reconvene for another day.
The bin, a big, blue, plastic rectangle, to my left moves. The man’s there, the expression on his moustached face showing me he’s got something to say. He sidles closer to me trying to keep the eye contact I’m avoiding. He smells like the police.
He says my name. He’s got a voice like a strangled Goose and an accent from what my old man, til his dying day, called Persia. The cunt says my name again.
“Fuck off.” I say and turn to walk away.
Self importance is filling his voice as he asks, out loud, for the third time, if I’m me.
“Never heard of the bitch.” I say, moving on. I can hear his pace quicken behind me. The tension in me is turning to anger, irrational, uncontrollable. I tamp it down and throw what emotions I can’t ignore into the service of getting away.
“The password is Mess Pot.” He yelled at my back. Stupid bastard.
“What the fuck are you talking about, password?” I say. I look around us. I can take in 360 degrees of what’s around and look like I’m glancing casually to my left. It’s a skill.
There’s nobody around. Not in a suspicious way, where there would be clearly somebody hiding from view – but genuinely. Nobody’s paying attention to us and Special Branch are not about to leap out and strongarm me into the back of a police car. He follows me to another dead-end street behind a stinking kebab house. I speak quietly, more quiet than the wind.
“What kind of a muppet are you, exactly?” I’ve lived here too long.
The dickhead’s face immediately shows that he hasn’t heard me. He steps forward to be able to catch my next words and I soon make him wish he hadn’t.
I stand over him as he holds his guts. He’s on the concrete, winded, struggling to catch his breath and here’s that rage again, I’m tempted to drop my boot in on his head, but I let him wheeze the air into his lungs and scramble to his feet.
“You’re either,” I say voice just as low as before, but he’s listening now between, hands on his knees “a saboteur, a spy, or so fucking stupid that it makes no difference. Say what you came to say or I’ll leave you on the ground. And you won’t be getting up again.”
It’s raining now and the sun is starting to go down. I can smell the pollution in the toxic air.
“Uhh. Ungh. I’m sorry! I’ve been told to tell you to go do it tonight. Leicester Square.” His voice is too loud, still. The Greeks in the Kebab house will be storming out with their big fuck-off knives in their hands if he doesn’t get a grip on his volume.
“Bollocks. You’re setting a trap, officer.” I break into a run and as I’m leaving the scene, I hear a word that would make someone else in my position stop. I stop, too.
“Repeat that.” I say, turning back to him. He’s standing fully up now and the smug is back all over his stupid face.
He repeats it.
“Fuck. Fuck’s sake.” I leave the alley and I know that I will never see it, or this rotten part of the city, again. Every cloud, eh?
From here to Leicester Square, you’re looking at two hours by car. No taxi is about to pick me up. I could get the tube, but the sun won’t go down for a while yet and I’d get there too early and have to kick around. I don’t want to give the collateral damage a chance to look too closely at me. I don’t want to look at them if I can help it.
I decide to take the bus. The bus will take me directly through my old streets. The ones that I know the best. It’s a sensible way of getting where I’m going.
The bus arrives at the stop and there’s an old man ahead of me, straining to climb aboard, burdened with shopping bags. His nose is red and chipped, from a life’s hard drinking. I stand back and, like a Londoner, let him struggle. He conquers the step then. turns back to me and smiles before continuing down the gangway. Displaying disinterest, I beep my card on the reader and proceed past the empty faces as the man settles into a seat and places his bags on the floor.
The engine is hot behind the only available seat and I let my skull rest against the plastic feeling window. It vibrates and judders against my temple. I lean away from the window and the smallest mark of perspiration is left on it. I feel the previous week’s lack of sleep and a stomach churning claustrophobia. I press the bell. We’ve only travelled a single stop but I need some air and I need it now.
Bolting off the bus, there’s an oasis of green ahead of me. A small park, colourful and bright and empty under the sunshine. I walk towards the playground. The pram pushing young mothers I expected are absent. It’s quiet without the children’s raised voices. I can hear birdsong and traffic. There’s just a young girl, dressed in the scarlet of a school uniform sitting alone on a swing, looking at her phone, her black shoes shining despite being in the shadow cast by a tall, leafy tree.
I go past the roundabouts and see-saws and take the furthest swing from the girl as I can. I feel the iron of the chainlink that holds it up in my fingers and I sit for a while, letting my foot drag across the soft black plastic ground, as I swing in place. She glances over at me and our eyes meet for a second then her gaze returns to the video playing in her hand.
Enough. I have places to be. I leave the playground and I don’t look back.
The square looks like what it is – a tourist trap wrapped up in coloured lights and money to perpetuate the immortal continuation of both. I concede, as I also allow myself a fag, that the sunset makes it look pretty. Like a painting. I inhale and it hits the spot. I watch the smoke leave my mouth, drift away as it curls through the air, a grey wisp, and then dissipate in the wake of a red bus. Last sunset, then. All for a good cause.
The tourists buy busily and the well dressed drinkers shout from the bars. Their voices are like nails down a blackboard to me. They sit here, enjoying their decadent luxury while they take, semi-consciously, from every corner of the world, raining bombs and bullets on places they’ll never see. A small payback is coming, and if we do this enough, me and mine, then maybe they’ll get to thinking twice before they set out on their next campaign. Maybe they won’t.
The shadows are starting to lengthen and I begin to feel that familiar pain start to churn in my guts. My skin is beginning to heat up and it won’t be long till it starts to feel like it’s on fire. I can feel my legs weaken beneath me and I start to sway. A kind-faced older woman, smelling of good wine and good intentions, marches from the open gate of a beer garden to talk to me.
“Are you alright?” She reminds me of my headmistress at the first school I attended here. She’s the type to take charge and hurry the tardy along. Insistent on efficient fair play, as she sees it. I feel we share nothing in common. I don’t dislike her at all. I turn so she can see what’s happening to my face.
“Run. Fucking run away now.” My voice is deeper than usual and it tears out of me, like a boulder tumbling down a hill. Her hand goes automatically to her mouth and she curdles out a scream. She’s piercing and loud, used to being heard. Not enough people look round and none of those who do rush to her assistance. They can see this upstanding citizen being terrified by someone like me from the out-group and yet they do nothing. Absolute dickheads, the lot of them. They deserve what they’re getting. They, their types, I mean, used to look at me when I was just a harmless little kid and see a monster. I could tell by their expression, Half a mangled song lyric, one that dominated the radio in my first years here, circles my mind as my thoughts start to depart from linearity. I see the bright colours of a cartoon character on a child’s backpack. Well, if you want a monster, this is what I’ll give you…
Starting is as simple as pressing a button. All these souls will taste death.