Claire sprints. She runs this path every day. She can’t not run the path anymore. One foot then the other. It gives her a chance to escape. Get out, feel free, escape her husband nagging at her because things aren’t what they used to be and she needs a bit of air because he stops her breathing. And her breath – she feels her breath when she runs. In through the nose, like thousands of tiny bubbles brushing against the fine hairs in her nostrils. Are they blonde? Like the ponytail with highlights done every two weeks at the posh salon. Or are they just like everyone else’s? Jammed with grey green lumps that you need to sniff up and hawk back? And as she wants to spit out the lump in her throat (she won’t, she’s not like those men in Lycra who spread their gammy snot on the side of the road as if running cancels all decency) she spots the same man. Always the same man. She veers away, he stinks of piss and his teeth have dark holes and yellow stains and no one wants to get too close to that in the morning.
Luca spits. There’s a constant lichen-yellow phlegm in his mouth at this time in the morning. So he spits. On the side of the road because he’s got no where else to clean himself up (unless you count the public toilets in Hammersmith, which he doesn’t because they’re filled with scagheads). And a woman, a pretty woman in lulu lemon leggings swerves away from him and scowls at his vulgar behaviour as she jogs on down the river. ‘Jog On!’ he wants to scream after her. After all, she’s in his patch. It’s his bedroom that she’s so rudely running through and he can’t take all of the early morning twats anymore as they storm through his patch just when he’s finally got to sleep after walking around all f’kin night. But he can’t go back to the park because the Jamaican boys are there, and he doesn’t want to sit smoking spice on the front steps of the church, so he stays put, widening his eyes at a man dressed in a suit, pleading for a little recognition.
Danny smells. He’s been out all night and his navy blue jacket with the thin lapels is crumpled. The shirt he borrowed from his mate is too tight, wrapped around the biceps and digging into elbow creases if he dares try to bend his arm. He knows he smells and thinks he must look like that tramp on the side of the road, but secretly takes comfort in the fact that he doesn’t really smell quite as bad (and when he gets into work and jokes to his mates that he smells like a tramp they’ll laugh at the idea that their mate Danny could ever smell that bad). He thinks about the jaeger bombs last night – sickly sweet bubbles floating down his throat – and it makes him feel a little sick as he gets on the tube. He coughs. Strokes his hand over his crop of soft brown hair. And he laughs. He only needs to get through eight hours, he laughs, merely eight hours until he can go home and sleep. Or do it again. And as he’s thinking about getting in a few pints, just a few mind, he’s laughing too loud. An old woman gives him a look and he tries to stifle his sound but he still rolls his eyes at the old hag.
Mary sighs. You see, she sighs and glares a little because she can smell the alcohol. She doesn’t like the smell, she’s been sensitive to it since her husband, late husband, used to come home at night stinking of booze and fags, passing out on the sofa and throwing up on the £400 Persian rug. She doesn’t want to be a stereotype (just as Danny doesn’t want to be a ‘lad’ but he’s going ‘Napa with his mates this summer and his friends use the word banter liberally) but Mary just doesn’t like alcohol any more. Particularly not first thing on a Tuesday morning. And whilst there was a time when she’d have done anything for Mick Jagger to snort coke off her tits, she’s not interested anymore and if that makes her old (she’s afraid of being elderly) then she’s old. She leans on one leg, looking old as she casts her eye around for a seat that she doesn’t really want anyone to get up and give her. She embraces the weight on her joints and is about to give up and fall down when she sees a girl.
I stand. Mary sees me and she locks eyes and I feel bad now, because it’s as if she couldn’t see me before. Even though I was right here on this chair the whole time, it was as if she didn’t see me until she really saw me, looked me in the eye with a stare that said ‘I’m tired and weak and about to fall down if you don’t do something’. So I stand. I wait for my stop and I skip off (that’s a step with a little hop because you’re happy). And I’m late to college so I run.