The Street (Finding Everyday Inspiration 17)

[In response to the 17th Finding Everyday Inspiration ‘map’ prompt I am venturing once again outside of my comfort zones of poetry and academic writing and posting an attempt at a short story that I wrote while I was in hospital last year. The places and the people described here are real, as they often are in my work, but I prefer to conceal their exact identities by blurring and conflating facts. So, no link to Google Maps…]

The Street

The bar is of the kind people end up coming to regularly only when they are washed out. Most sit alone at tables drinking steadily and heavily but do not mercifully share the stories of their mundane failures with others. Importunate drunks are promptly thrown out. Misery is welcome so long as you keep it to yourself. That’s as classy as it gets. The waiters sternly enforce this only rule.

The street is one of the kind he likes: straight and clearly modern, but still human in scale; part of the first wave of urban interventions, cutting through slums, providing space for upwardly mobile townhouse façades, linking markets and churches, not meant for the roar of traffic brought by later arteries; named neither quaintly as the streets of old nor pompously after an already forgotten local dignitary, but for a romantic poet. There is a shopping mall just across the road.

J comes out of the mall, staggering on black high heels and under the weight of shopping bags from a department store. He can tell she is coming from the scent of her cheap perfume. She complains about some upset over borrowed credit cards and dumps herself down on a chair close to him and gives him a little hug.

They have been sort of friends since the one night they had slept together. He helped her recover from a back-street abortion and from a broken ankle acquired in the course of a bar-room brawl.

They exchange few words and have never even kissed since that unpropitious first encounter. The waiters, who are usually so accommodating in plying his needs as he sits quietly in his habitual corner, are always a little suspicious of J. She is regarded as a potential trouble-maker. But their manner changes sharply to one of waiting on a lady as soon as she is sitting next to him and he has tacitly indicated his consent.

They communicate little but make up for it by getting drunk. They end up the last to leave the bar, looking dreamily and bemusedly at each other, like two kings left alone on a chess-board in a game that can no longer be won or lost. She has a passion for junk food that, against his better judgment, he is all too willing to indulge.

He likes the straight street named after a Romantic poet which was once laid out to link the seminary to the local market and the Jewish quarter that has become a cluster of private hospitals doing lucrative business serving medical tourists seeking cheap sex changes and plastic surgery these days.

The street has long since been bisected by ill-thought-out avenues designed to cater for the needs of cars. He walks up and down it regularly, notebook in hand, wanting to get it down in verse, before retiring to his usual bar and the occasional visit from his unlikely muse, with her aura of mystery and cheap perfume.

But the street is its own poem. It speaks for itself. He yearns to capture it, not in the five minutes of an unrequited Romantic encounter, as in the short story by its eponym, but in a split second of the hustle and bustle of its sun-beaten daily life. Not in the clinical nature of the snapping shutter of a photographer, but in its full messiness, dynamism and physicality. Street vendors shouting, imprudent pedestrians bumping into cars, the students from the nearby school for the deaf hanging around in groups talking loudly to each other in sign language, stray dogs wandering through the litter as if drugged, J staggering out of the shopping mall weighed down by bags of clothes. The street alive, but frozen in a moment, like a body, bloodied, anesthetized and cut open in a noisy operating room; electrocardiograms ticking away.

He has fantasized and even dreamt about this poem of the street a lot. Not about what it would look like. He knows that. But about what would be needed to achieve it. The passers-by tracked down by CCTV and rounded up by an extensive security apparatus; blackmailed, bullied or bribed into taking part in the performance by hired thugs, or, failing that, bundled out of their homes at dead of night; screaming fidgeting children unwilling to comply. Bored participants drifting off and having to be tasered back onto the set to assume their proper place in the scene.

He has never told J about this fantasy but remembers fondly the night he once took her to a bar she could not otherwise have afforded to frequent and guided her broken foot gently in its plaster cast through delicate dance moves.