His accent was familiar but I wasn’t sure. Where’re you from? I asked. Manchester, he said. We shared place names. I always feel embarrassed admitting to my Northern roots (if you can call them that, for in truth, I have none). I don’t sound Northern. Too posh. Some of the place names I couldn’t remember. Nor the word for pawnbrokers. They litter Piccadilly Square. A warm man, a smiler. What’s this? he asked, holding up a passion fruit. And this? he asked, pointing to an apricot. I thought I knew my fruit, he said, laughing. I don’t want to go to another supermarket, though two more have sprung up. I like the people there. They lift me.
Another northern voice. There’s a march and quarter, he called after me. I can hear that march, he said. I’m never sure what I’m supposed to do. Do they expect a response, these shouters? I smile and let it pass. Do I walk so fast? Perhaps. My mother used to try and halt my striding. Don’t stride, it’s not ladylike. No, I suppose not.
Two young men sitting cross-legged on the ground, one outside The Angel the other outside a student house on Llanbadarn Road. Sitting mute. I love the silence of the early hours. Couples stand in tableaux not speaking, just holding each other.
Lighting flashed yellow across the sea. The storm approaches. And then passes.
Bicycle races through the town. We break the rules and sneak through the barriers. We just want to sit in our usual place. Little girls and boys speed past. Oh my god, says one of them. It is hot. I hear them, breathless. A smattering of parents, of teachers egging them on. A man in a clown’s costume bringing up the rear squirting people with a water pistol. A man’s voice shouting over a tannoy.
The Salvation Army shop change their window frequently. Once a week, sometimes twice. Different colour schemes. This morning it was lilac and purple. Shoes, blouses, skirts hung in the window on hangers.
The sky clears to blue. The rain forgotten.
I forgot. I forgot to ask. Did he feel it? Did he feel it in his bones? The hurt, was he hurt by it? I remember when the Arndale Centre was bombed. I felt that. An inner shattering of all that had previously felt safe. An illusion, safety. We are not safe. Not in the physical sense. Perhaps safety is not what it is about. At least not in an endless, long term way. More a momentary thing. Like joy. It is not what you expect. Yesterday it came. Transient, fleeting but I felt it. I fell into it. Drank it. It was the air after the storm. Clear and cool. And the birdsong. Triumphant. All of this continues, regardless. It does not care. Joy does not care what has gone on before. That is constant, that is safe. And it is there, whenever we choose to feel it.
I am distrait this morning, my back rigid with fighting. Fighting myself. Enough. Let there be silence. And birds. Just birds. Not me. Just birds. Amen.