I woke up. I did not feel hungover but I was groggy from the weed. The skunk was stronger than I had previously smoked. Until the move I had considered myself a seasoned smoker.
September sunlight screamed through both my bedroom windows. The venetian blinds irrelevant. Serrated shadows made the empty room busier. My things had not yet arrived. Was having an east facing bedroom a good thing? If it meant going gradually blind every morning then I would rather face west. West was behind me. Ireland was west.
It was the first day of my fresh start, my new job, my new life. London.
I have never had the ability to sleep the night before any large event in my life. First day at school, Christmas day, job interviews, hospital appointments, examinations. I pass these nights awake, running to the bathroom, squeezing out unneeded trickles of piss. I lie in bed restlessly troubleshooting scenarios in my head. Last night I should have been preparing answers to questions, mapping alleys of conversation, rehearsing half truths, exagerations. Lies.
A lot of nights have been like that. Maybe smoking so much was not such a good idea. Then again it improved on the alternative. It forced me to be natural, to improvise.
I groaned out of bed and lay on the floor. The room was already warm and my skin felt oily. My armpits smelled ripe. I started doing sit-up excercises with my feet wedged under the the frame of the bed. My toenails looked like weapons, long and sharp. The floorboards squeaked beneath me like the deck of an old ship. Thinking of my Japanese housemates below I felt stupid and ridiculous. I gave up. I had completed 8 sit-ups.
“Tomorrow.” I said. There’s always tomorrow.
I dressed fully. I feared meeting someone in the hall. I grabbed my towel, shower gel, toothpaste and toothbrush. I descended the stairs to the bathroom.
The bathroom was locked.
One bathroom between seven people. It had not presented itself as a hindrance when Paul and I had viewed the house. Then again we had viewed the house drunk.
“We’re reinforcing Irish stereotyping abroad. It’s what they expect. Actually it’s what they want, pissed paddys.” Paul could be persausive after a pint.
“Your round then.” I could be easily persuaded.
I badly needed to piss by the time we reached Finsbury Park tube station. We had alighted a stop too soon. Finsbury Park itself was already closed. By the time we had walked around it and down the hill at Manor House we both were close to exploding. By the time we had solved the maze of houses and found the three story house we could barely speak or walk.
We knocked the door and were shown in by Kazu, the Japanese landlord. Everybody was Japanese, except for the Polish guy. Japanese landlord, Japanese housemates and the Polish guy. Two Japanese guys, three stunning Japanese girls, and the Polish guy.
We were shown around.
Three floors, three fridges, three Japanese girls.
Two empty bedrooms, two drunk Irish, two sofas, two Japanese guys.
One Polish guy, one bathroom, and one Japanese landlord.
We accepted without hesitation. We shook hands, paid our deposits, signed our lease and relaxed. We looked around and agreed we had done the right thing.
“Can I use your bathroom?” Paul and I harmonised.
“No problem. It’s your bathroom now.” Kazu the landlord laughed. Paul laughed. I laughed. The Japanese laughed. The Polish guy didn’t laugh.
I went to the bathroom after Paul. I pissed for all of London. My eyes rolled, I shivered, ecstacy. My kidneys gave a standing ovation.
While I waited to use the bathroom I went downstairs to make my lunch. The bathroom door had three small perfectly round holes at the bottom. I stole a glance to my left on my way downstairs. I saw hairy feet on the gritty red plastic floor covering. Hairy feet conspiring to make me late for my first day.
I would be eating packed lunches for the foreseeable future. It was another part of the fresh start. I bought pitta breads because I enjoyed them. Mostly I bought them because they were more interesting than normal bread. I had also ensured that they were fashionably wholemeal. The same could be said for the organic hummus, cherry tomatoes and salad pack. Butter and cheese would be out in the cold with normal bread.
My new regime. 8 sit-ups a day, wholemeal pittas and organic hummus. I am an idiot sometimes. I would probably last a week, a week and a half at most.
I stuffed the pittas, wrapped them in cling film and put them in my blue lunchbox with a red apple. The lunchbox then joined my discman, CD wallet and a book I was reading in my bag. I looked at the book. It was by John Pilger. 879 pages of war correspondence spanning two decades of western foreign policy and media collusion. By my bookmark I was as halfway through it as I had been when I stopped reading it.
It is a good book, well written and well reasearched. I had become too apathetic. I was sick of politics, reality, the human race and what we do to each other. For gods, for country, for good, for bad, for territory, for revenge, for lust, for blood, for oil, for each other. None of it matters. We think alone. We do alone. We fear alone. We agonise alone. We suffer alone. We live with it alone. We overcome it alone. We die alone. It will be bearable if we are lucky.
I turned the book over in my hands and looked at the cover. A Cambodian lady in anguish over the bodies of her sons.
At least the book would look good on my knee on the Tube. I would look informed, empathetic. I reminded myself to buy some fiction at the nearest opportunity. I am pathetic.
And some people are just born lucky.
I raced back up the stairs and looked to my right. I had missed my chance. Black painted toenails on gorgeous feet clashed with the gritty red floor covering. I continued to my room, gathered my towel and toothbrush. I lit a cigarette and perched on the stairs.
Exhale. I was going to be late for my first day. I coughed and nauseous black butterflies fluttered around the flowerless brambles in my stomach. I was nervous.
I did not have time to dwell on the blood on my toothbrush. The blood was not going anywhere and would be there tomorrow. I put on my jacket, roughly shaped my wet hair and opened the front door. It was warm, the sun bright, the sky blue. I could see four aeroplanes from the step, the only blemishes in a perfect sky. People going places.
I wondered if any of the passengers were looking in my direction. Could any of them see me? What could they see? A dot? A person? An outline of a person? Or maybe they could just see the houses. Maybe they were thinking about their own journey.
I waved just in case.
“Percy, hold on I’ll come with you,” Paul was noisily descending the stairs. “I’m in college for ten.”
“Alright,” I said.
I stepped out onto the porch and lit another cigarette. I could smell the row of bins outside our gate. The street was quiet. I examined the clock on my phone, coughed and spat. I had 25 minutes to get to work. With a helicopter and parachute I would still be late. I sat on the low redbrick wall outside. Paul appeared. I stood up again.
The next door opened loudly and our neighbour walked out. It was a woman dressed in full black muslim dress. Only her eyes were visible, deep chocolate brown eyes. I had not seen any neighbours since moving in. I had never seen any muslim women in full headdress until that point. Burning effigies and Osama Bin Laden jumped into my head. I felt guilty, blushed and looked at the ground.
“Morning,” Paul said. He was always the more comfortable in these situations.
“Morning,” the eyes said.
“How’s it going?” I eventually managed, but she was gone. I watched her move quickly in the direction of Seven Sisters Road.
We started to walk in the opposite direction towards Manor House tube station. I set the pace, we walked fast.
“She must be warm this morning,” I said.
“Black attracting the sun and all.”
“Yeah. She looks sort of like a ninja in that thing,” Paul said.
“The Japanese won’t like that.”
“It’d be a decent scrap. There’s as many ninja muslims in that house as there are Japanese in ours.”
“She had lovely eyes. She could be gorgeous and you wouldn’t know.”
“She could be ugly either I guess.”
I took off my jacket. I was nervous and starting to sweat.
I needed cigarettes and change. I went into the shop at the top of our road. The shop was run by a Turkish family. They seemed nice and I promised to make myself a regular. The shop was smaller than my bedroom and thousand times as colourful. One wall was floor to ceiling booze, the other adorned with canned goods and non-perishables. Vegetables and fruits filled the back wall. Tomatoes, chillis, giant onions, apples, lettuce, courgettes, mangoes, fennel, carrots, mushrooms and oranges. The confined space smelled fantastic. You felt nourished by merely standing there and breathing.
“You should get an oyster card for the Tube,” Paul said. “I got one yesterday. It’s handy, you just touch in and it’s cheaper.”
“I think I’ll just get a ticket this morning, I don’t really have the time.”
“It’ll only take two minutes. I’ll wait with you.”
“I’ll get it later.”
I was at the counter and Paul was distracting me. The Turkish man behind the counter smiled. I saw two gold teeth and four black ones.
“Oyster Card. Very good, very cheap.” He narrowed his eyes. He meant it.
“Yeah, I’ll get one. Could I get 10 Mayfair please,” I handed him a tenner. “And some change.”
I saw him and Paul exchange a look. I almost screamed but I was running too late.
I didn’t speak to Paul until we were on the southbound platform at the station. I had waited and gotten an Oyster Card by way of apology. The platform was packed. People in suits scowled the entire length of the yellow line. A train screechingly came to a halt and the scramble ensued. I looked at the train. People were squashed against windows. Every seat was taken. It looked unsafe. Everyone looked miserable. Yet, more people fought their way aboard. I had been in London for 10 days but had not experienced rush hour. I looked at the information board. It was three minutes until the next train. I turned to Paul.
“Look, will we just wait for the next one. I’m late anyway and I’d prefer to be comfortable and a couple of minutes later.”
“Yeah, fuck it. We’ll get the next one.”
The platform filled back up as quickly as it had emptied.
“Maybe we should go up the other end of the platform and stand on the yellow line,” Paul said. “One of the lads in college said if you stand on the dirty bits of the yellow line that’s where the doors usually are.”
It seemed logical. We weaved a path quickly to the opposite end of the paltform and stood on the dirty bit of the yellow line. The train immediately arrived. It looked just as full, and the people just as downtrodden as the previous train. I looked quickly at the information board. Seven minutes until the next train. It would make me an hour late for work.
The doors beeped open. Paul elbowed his way aboard. I could not move.
“Percy, come on quick.” Paul looked bemused.
I tried but my legs would not move.
“Stand back doors about to close.”
The people around the door all looked at me. Paul started to laugh. I stood back. The doors closed. I watched Paul shake his head all the way into the pitch black tunnel. I watched the Train disappear. I sat on an uncomfortable glossy blue bench and put on my headphones. I tried to calm down. I looked at the billboards on the opposite side of the platform. They advertised Oyster Cards and holidays. The two dimensional people in them smiled.
Seven minutes later I got on a deserted train and found a seat. Rush hour was over. I remembered something my mother said to me when I broke up with Sinead.
“If it’s meant for you it won’t go past you.”
In Ireland I always walked to work.