The Face

Andy and I sat around a small table close to the fire or fake fire in the large lounge of the George surrounded by people of all ages and backgrounds. We were quiet and enjoying the occasional memory of school or occasional exchange of work story ro comment on the football. It was a warm inviting and relaxing environment fueled by the warmth of the fire and the background buzz of voices with the smell of cigarettes and the occasional cigar hanging in the air complete with the occasional blast of cold and wisp of mist when someone held the door open too long.

It was after splitting up with Jane or more correctly after she had announced the end and walked off that I headed from Waterloo down to Tooting on the London Underground. Quite why I went to Tooting I don’t know. Jane and I had briefly lived together there in teh summer of 1986 before I headed off for college but this was winter or at least a cold Valentine’s day in 1987. Still Tooting it was.

Tooting Broadway and up the long escalator with a scattering of bodies in drab colours and coughs. At the top not really knowing what to do I set off walking. The night now upon the town and a light cold bite with a hint of mist now appearing but I raised my pace. Not really knowing where I was heading but going north and not really lost as I had known the are well but not really paying attention to what was around me and wrapped in a now increasing mist.

I had known a lot of good times with Jane. I had known a lot of bad times with Jane. We never really had that much in common if I cared to admit it but I had wanted to be in love and so I had become in love. To this day I have no idea what she really thought of me. Wrapped up in her final year of study at Guildford and that was something she took seriously and on the bounce from a bad relationship. Well to be honest she had met me before that had ended which probably complicated things a bit. With all her friends being young men too and her true beauty and easy personality maybe I should have just been a friend but friends usually need things in common whereas lovers or those in relationships don’t seem to. Anyway thinking about Jane without thinking about Jane was what I was doing. I didn’t care to delve into any of the specifics or the incidents or what could have gone wrong. I was philosophising Jane and after wanting to be in love finding myself wanting to play the spurned lover and feel the hurt. Even be a martyr if that were possible. Maturity whatever that is wasnt something that meant much to me.

I was heading up through Tooting Bec towards Balham and then onto Clapham. I ahd taken the tube from Waterloo to Tooting and was now heading back on foot the same way I had come before on the warm train. The area was one of side roads with houses. Those typical London houses in neat order with big bay windows and no front garden but with a short path and a wall and always two stories with generally unlit windows. The mist was damping the noise of the passing cars whose fumes mixed with the mist giving the occasional petrol odour. I was thinking.

Thinking about I was sad. Suddenly feeling that emptiness and total loneliness where you just don’t know what you are going to do. There is no answer.There is no way to not feel it. There is no way sleep will come. There is no distraction. Just feeling utterly miserable with nothing to do and no way to turn. The only thing the sound of the passing cars, the light from their tail lights and the waft of benzene in the mist. At least I was in my own mist enshrouded world.

And in front a red man lighted above me on the traffic lights at a corner. Cars heading through the junction I stopped and for the first time noticed other people around me. Looking down. Looking up. Looking sideways. Looking every way except at me. Normal people going about their business and me in my solace. And then from right on the corner a couple of yards away a man dressed in a long grey or brown overcoat. A man with unkempt grey hair. A man with a face illuminated under a street light with one of the most wizened lined faces of character I had ever seen. I could not take my eyes off of a face of such character. And then he smiled yellowed teeth, a grin disturbing in nature and now realising his face was of an ethereal yellow  too, but an ethereal yellow that was not in place. Feeling he knew all about me as he smiled and fixed me with his look. Feeling that my hair was raised and I was suddenly uncomfortable and even though with others scared.

Then the man was green high on the ttraffic light and I raced across the road faster than others who seemed bemused by my sudden sprint. And looking round to see the man taller than I had thought and gaunt with unkempt hair still stood under the light. The little man turning red on the raffic light and cars starting to pass the figure . My hair still on end on my neck and I realised I had though nothing of Jane or my loneliness for sometime now, but even that would now not displace what was fast becoming a dread of the figure behind me. I sped up taking long paces towards the next junction trying to put time and space between me and him and i had the advantage that he was still stuck on the wrong side of the road behind me. Why hadn’t he crossed when I did?

Now I was way ahead of the people behind me and on my own but not relaxed and actually a little out of breath after the rapid burst of pace. Ahead was another junction and another set of lights and another stream of cars going across. I would have to wait until the light changed to cross, and I wished I was still with the other people looking every way except at me.

But I wasnt alone for long. Up ahead waiting quietly at the junction was a tall gaunt man dressed in a long grey or brown overcoat. A man with unkempt grey hair. A man with a face illuminated under a street light with one of the most wizened lined faces of character I had ever seen. A man with yellow teeth and pale skin. A man I instantly recognized and didn’t want to see. A man I knew could not possibly be there, but was. And I waited for the crowd behind to come, and this time I crossed with them and stayed close.

I sat in the pub in north London downing a pint with Andy calm in the realisation that I wasnt going to talk to Andy about Jane. Calm in the realisation that I wasnt going to talk about anything of this night with Andy. But clear in the realisation that I had to head back through the mist to Harringey when the pub closed. A long and lonely walk. But clear in the realisation that this was north London and not south London.


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