And so when I sat down at my desk at home that evening, his words followed me home. They emerged in front of me, fluttering and mutating into every tangible relic I had hoarded and placed onto this wooden frame since last Autumn. They had given these objects an identity I hadn’t consented to, yet it was an identity which suited them so naturally. It was a small room (mine), but it was the parenthesis I needed. The natural 9-5 become 9-7 all too often and I had grown accustomed over time. Today’s 9-4 came as a surprise.
I stepped into the pathway after work expecting a horde to knock the rucksack off my shoulder. This was the first time I had seen Maunsel Street deserted. With the absence of the rush at 5, and the accompanying screams that succeeded it , I could hear the mechanical typing taking place in every building cocooned by the car horns and tyre squeals from the adjacent roads. Vincent Square served as my thoroughfare to Douglas Street after which Regency took a hold, passing me onto Vauxhall Bridge whose sole purpose was to run me over. The river will flow. The river flows. Vauxhall station is the barrier to Harleyford which will be the road to drag me into Langley and into the place I call home.
Vauxhall Station. Crowded. Suitcases. Cameras. Tourists.
Why do you come here?
Business or pleasure?
Pleasure? What’s so pleasurable about a city polluted with cranes and concrete and beams and bricks and bonds and mortar and mortgage? By drywall and dry people? Pallets and permits?
This city is unfinished. It is a living Sagrada Familia with a completion date marked indefinite. There is beauty in dynamism and it is eternal. My rucksack collides with a middle-eastern male and falls off my shoulder.
I smile and throw the bag firmly back to its place. Harleyford Road is within sight, and a few more turns would lead me home where I will be able to get ahead on some of next week’s documents whilst the others are still processing and proofread them and file them and refile them and scan them and send them before getting some sleep before the day begins once more. I emerge on the other side of the tunnel after Vauxhall station.
There is something different.
The cars still exist, as do the buses and the people and the tourists and the cranes and the buildings and the builders and the noise.
There is something different.
5 days a week for almost a year I have taken this route.
There is something different.
I take a step back into the tunnel as a cyclist rings his bell, forced to swish past and curse me. There is darkness. A familiar darkness, one expected from a tunnel. I shake off my initial discomfort and put it down to hunger before stepping back out of the tunnel.
There is something different.
Looking left, I smile.
I hadn’t noticed the crane which stood static on the intersection between Goding Street and Glasshouse Walk for the last eleven months before it had gone. It had been absorbed by the rest of this city. A cell necessary for the organism to continue its function. To move forward. But cells can move too. I’d forgotten that.
With it gone, something more beautiful takes its place. For the first time I have seen the sun as it sets with no obstruction.
I smiled. I had to turn towards the sun, and I did. I walked past the Honda dealership, the kitchen store, and the number of bins placed behind the shops located on the Embankment where their ‘for sale’ counterparts resided . Pleasure Gardens was to my right. I’d never seen the leaves shine as they did. The branches had built them in gradual increments as they grew higher and higher. Progress. I sat on a bench inside the park surrounded by these monuments and noticed the changes in the things that I’d once known. I sneezed.
It was only at this moment that I noticed the gentleman sitting behind me. He had greying hair but his days weren’t numbered. Mid-fifties.
Our backs were to each other but our eyes were fixated on the path of the setting sun. His head tilted towards me.
“It’s even more beautiful in the Spring.”
I smiled. He raised his head and his trilby followed. The wrinkles around his eyes seemed to be smoothened by the light.
“First time I’ve noticed it, really.”
And I did notice it. The grass shimmered, recovering from the wretched rain at midday, guarded so elegantly by the border of shrubs and trees. The birds were no longer pests, chirping at the office window. They were part of the plateau, stillness set in motion. It was then when my eyes jumped the fence, seeing the light for the first time hitting the rest of London. Hitting the roads, the buses, the people. I saw the smiles emerging on faces as they left the tunnel and my own smile after each exit. I noticed it all. My eyes floated back to my companion.
“Do you come here often?”
He was mesmerised. Neither the eyes nor the face stirred for my query.
“I used to, before the crane. Once a week. Every Sunday.”
His eyes didn’t leave the sunset but he could feel mine on him. They were urging him to elaborate. There was something in his voice which felt like there was more to give. There was.
“Jennifer’s miscarriage happened at Charing Cross Hospital up the road. There were complications with her enzymes or something. Six months before we could try again. Fifteen till she cried again. That was almost thirty-five years ago. That was the first time. We were walking back after we found out. She didn’t say a word. You see those trees, there? There didn’t used to be a fence there. It was all park, part of the city. She fell against that oak and burst into tears. I held her close. We sat underneath for hours, the sun lending its light to her hair. I could usually make her laugh. I couldn’t that day. She seemed so reserved, as if she’d let me down. The nerve. Letting me down. She couldn’t let me down if she tried.
“When it happened again the moment was reflected in moonlight. It was winter. She was more composed this time. She chuckled at the crispness of the leaves as she sat underneath that very tree. See the bit of concrete next to the dying shrub? A toddler came running and slipped on edge. Heh, I found it funny. She hit me and went towards him. Embraced him before his mother came forward. My wife was already a mother. She’d decided we’d keep trying.
“And so we did. Ben delighted us thirty years ago. The day he was born a spawn of sparrows left that birch over there. By the tunnel, see? You should’ve seen Jen’s face. She saw it as a sign. We needed more to make a spawn.
We weren’t expecting twins, but it was a delight. Frank and Jessica made us a family. I’d just gotten a job at McCann, by Russell square, and we were moving into a bigger apartment by Montague Street. We went to Charing Cross again for the delivery. Tradition, I suppose. Ben was eight. He slipped on the same bit of concrete that day, me and Jen shared a glance and laughed. There was no envy. He loved the idea of being a big brother.
When the twins turned eleven Ben went off to Manchester to do economics. I lost my job three weeks later. I walked here and sat where you are now. I watched the sun set. I cried. I wanted to give them the life they deserved. Jen took one look at me when I got back and knew. She always just, knew.
The kids had to leave their school - Jen didn’t want to take the tube every day. The council put us in a small estate just outside Brixton after the mortgage stripped us. Jessica went with it. She didn’t talk much, but didn’t seem solemn either. Frank hated me. He was thirteen now. I was an angry kid too so I knew what to expect. Heh, every door slammed the first week in. He called Jen a bitch for letting this happen, and it was the only time I’d laid a hand on him. I took him here the next day. I told him about the slipping child. The tree where me and Jennifer sat. The sparrows. He smiled as the sun set.
Ben never did move back to London. Manchester was the same, he said, only cheaper. He got a job in a bank soon after he graduated and rented a small apartment just outside the centre. I got a job as a driver, delivering Chinese. He came to visit five years ago and we had a picnic on the grass over there. Me, Ben, the twins and Jen. Oh, and Kate. Ben had met her in his second year and didn’t even tell us. She had a ring on her finger now.
I started drinking when Jen died. We’d gotten enough money together to get a new cabinet for the living room, to show off our pictures of the kids and stuff. They’d won quite a few awards too and were always picking up bits and bobs. It was a place for all our memories. The ones we’ve made and the ones that were being made. She’d picked it up flat-packed in Covent Garden and taken the tube. She’d lost her balance on the platform. I don’t know if you remember. It was in the news.
When they took my kids away I had little to do. I don’t get to see them now. They’re with Jen’s family. I started coming here every Sunday. Y’know, you don’t know the things you’ll want to remember until you need to. I started replaying Jennifer and me embracing by the Oak. I replayed the child slipping and Ben doing the same. I replayed the Sparrows. The twins. The picnic. When I had trouble remembering I drank even more. This Park? This is my memory cabinet.
The memories are fading now. Nowadays I drink to forget that I can’t remember. There’s only one certainty left in my life and it’s that the sun will shine on me like it did every other time. That the sun will set. The sun will always set.”
The sun had set. He tipped his hat to me and walked away as a bottle rolled off the bench and hit the ground.
I left the darkness of pleasure gardens as the streetlights lit the roads which took me home.
Previously published in the UKCCWS Illustrated Anthology Vol. 3 (2016).
Sunny Singh is BA student in English and American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kent. Sunny's writing plays with the conventions of narrative, often switching between viewpoints whilst exploring what it really is that humanity shares in terms of a collective ideology. Speaking from both experiences, alongside local knowledge, his writing utilises elements of travel writing, merging these with a more personal, intrinsic tone, leading to the emergence of a relationship between both setting and character.