On the street where the soles of my shoes touch down
I wonder where you paced,
Did you look out upon the waves
And long for your grandmother’s face?
Was the world so different, then to now,
That we would not understand
The other’s view, the other’s soul,
Her journey through this land?
Did you feel the thrill of life and love,
As the boats at sunrise moored,
Before you set sail to somewhere new
With a hand so newly yours?
Did you wonder what would come,
That five from two could be?
Then many more hearts in time
To pace long after me.
On a day like today,
When a mariachi band will rip and whirl through a carriage dense with tears unwept,
The wild joy and mad shift
Makes one smile, makes one laugh.
On a day which hurls rain,
The shock it won’t stop moves to disbelief when it does,
By a lift of light so sharp, so steep
It takes one’s breath, stops the heart.
On a day when it’s just
The meaning of life as the rest has fallen away,
It’s a moment in time
Of peace, of love
And one to hold, always.
Samuel and Theodore believed that Maxwell couldn’t speak but they were mistaken. Ten years ago Samuel and Theodore had been heated-debating. It may have been about whether ducks really were “lazy-mouldy-bread-eating quacks” or a revert to the controversial and emotional subject of the Disappearing Red Squirrel but it was definitely a crisp but sunny February morning, over breakfast. Maxwell felt his heart hit hard against his ribcage, more urgent this time and he had had enough. He was diagnosed with acute stress and Dr. Otter prescribed 72 hours of bed and voice rest. This was welcome enough news for Maxwell to kiss Old Otter hard on the mouth but of course he wasn’t quite friendly enough to share his line of work. Otter would have had The Pigs out pronto, those lowest of animals. Those that send out a stink which one very quickly learnt to associate with a nasty, punishing pain. They were down on the farm, looking to the untrained human eye as foolish and high on filth, when in reality they were military style training for the fight against the growing number of rascals about. The hard work took a toll on their rubbery pinkness and the swelling was from all of the exercise. The 72 hours passed in peace and pleasure in the form of television through windows and his partner, Tansy. She created a cocoon of nut roasts, bubble baths and other pampering scenarios which Maxwell would not detail to his friends, but a well-timed wink meant that he was a hero after the gymnastics they read into his three days in bed. Maxwell had intended to talk again but he suspected that Tansy preferred him schtum and anyway, he enjoyed his right to remain simply silent. Although lately he’d considered getting out of the business for good and doing a bit of yoga-meditation down in Brighton.
Again, night. Benjie lay where he was left, at the side of the road. The light from the lamppost reached him and warmed his side. One pair of shoes passed and made their way somewhere, quickly. Benjie lay alone. His smell had grown to rage then left to explore as the day cooled. He was a mangled clump of grey and congealed blood, a perfect nature morte, a talking-point in an art exhibition. A nearby bush shifted and rustled, then was still. A few minutes later the heads of three grey squirrels appeared above the foliage, swung left, right and forward in unison and their bodies promptly followed, taking quick, careful steps through the leaves. Hazelnuts were clasped to their bellies as a last respect and their eyes glittered in the light of the lamp. They stopped in front of the bird, placed the nuts on the ground and began to speak. “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name”, one of them started sombrely, snout to the sky, at once holy and reverent. “ Not the place, nor the time, Samuel”, the squirrel next to him cut in, shaking his head. “And you’re not of the religious persuasion”. Affronted, Samuel turned to him and replied, “But what art thee saying? How could thee doubt it? And if I ain’t, well, Theodore, what life in the world don’t need prayer?” Then, an answer of the darkest blue, perhaps the satin-ripple fall of a figure’s cloak and for five long moments they could not see. Instead, their blindness gave their ears the power to evoke Westminster, to hear Big Ben chime midnight. The great bell swung, heavy, under a spell and between each deep gong the three squirrels fumbled for the gasp of their breaths, the only other sounds they could hear. Each gong pronounced them alive and Benjie dead. Then, just as suddenly, everything was as it was. Only, by degrees, the temperature began to rise. Not that the squirrels had noticed yet. “What the bleedinell ‘appened, there?” Theodore recalled seeing Samuel’s expression before. It was when they thought they were going to be caught, in the last robbery. The fear had started in his foot paws which were rooted to the ground on tip-toes. His knees had wobbled and his hips had followed, shaking up to a face that sweated with the concentration of staying alive. His shoulders and his arms had held a trembling trophy of bananas in the air above his head. He appeared as though doing some form of complex Latin dance. The monkeys of London Zoo had torn and “a-a-a-a-ah”ed overhead, enraged. Samuel and Theodore sold the bunch to some rich and greedy pigs for twice the going rate to make up for it all, over at the city farm in Vauxhall. But Samuel’s face relaxed into its habitual amused order. “I’d have asked Maxwell but e’d be no help” he said, regarding the third squirrel lovingly. “Dumb pet.”
Shortly after, Winston was on his shift. He started at Putney Bridge and as usual began to remove the chewing gum from the pavement. It was easier now that they had given him the stick and claw. It was kinder on his back and he could play games with it. He challenged himself with picking up a bottle top in one go or tweezing an apple core by its stalk. The bridge was wide and long and only ever very busy if the rowing was on. He crossed it, picking, then walked back, shaking his head yet secretly pleased at litter freshly dropped. He crossed the road and worked his way up the other side, picking. He would then negotiate Putney High Street and at this point it would become extra challenging. Today, though, had been unusually hot. The heat made crispy the teenagers, flirting, flustered, often leering, they would prowl and parade. It slowed and made sweaty the sports fans who he’d see again later, jeering and punching each other. As always, Winston became tangled in leads guiding guinea pigs for dogs but today they yipped at his ankles in irritation too. Like normal, prams blindly and sometimes not so blindly pushed into him but today he ducked, dived and had to weave around charging children too, loaded with ice-creams and whatever else they’d commanded. Winston had to fight the urge to use his stick and claw like a baseball bat. He passed the station to the hill and it was simpler, quicker and he would finish at the top of it. He was outside the Green Man pub and about to begin his last cigarette butt mission of the day when he saw Benjie. He stepped into the road, bent down and picked up the bird. The body was hot and heated Winston’s glove until the latex began to melt. He moved to the side and softly placed the bird in the curb’s cool shadow and protection. The people at the bus stop looked at Winston in a dismay that was quickly overcome by a familiar contempt.
All-encompassing hugs from my two ladies. Their weight I admired – me, the mathematician, the calorie wizard, the difficult guest at a dinner party and in general. Their joy and sometimes crankiness in life. The absolute void in their death. The void in my living. Rubbed out parts of the world as to walk around years on is to try to accept the forever change. Their weight, my stress was their love of cooking: jam and jollof. And every part was love. Her laugh was one loud ‘Ha!’ and smiles; her squeeze was to be reassured. You mattered. And her’s – The Big Love’s – were strong, as though to give me more than just my name. The final one was still warm. Gone, but I’d never be hugged again and my last memory is the one I took, knowing it was meant for me.