Friday, 22 January 2010


What looked, from behind, like a young man with shaggy hair, in a white t-shirt, was sat on the seat below, directly in front of me. It must have been gelid for him, the bus-windows were open but grey, and the weather was all oppression, remorselesness and blizzards. At his feet, a transparent sports bag containing novels about fascination; The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Less than Zero, alarming front covers; and over his bony shoulder, a notebook in his trembling grip I could see, and I could see that he was signing his name beneath a body of words that looked like three stanzas, so I bent in closer, trying not to breathe, and the handwriting was bold and childlike and I could read everything:


Balloons and Boeings

A field is way of saying yes -
A simple yes to oxygen,
To consoling silences,
To a little girl running,
Holding onto the string of her brief balloon
With everything she has:

Her personal globe of helium,
Slow and fat as a fish,
Without continents,
Waves beneath the unwashed sky.
A field of cattle or a field of poppies,
All grass, crops, ears and footprints,
To gorge and never know what guilt is,
To gorge, and for now, to know not of guilt.

Birdseye, the Sun centred you.
You lay on your back and looked up
At a solitary plane braving clouds,
Forgot to pack a lunch,
Ignored the clock hands on your grandmother’s watching face
As if they were blackened matchsticks, rolling.
This was something you’d never before done,
And it made a Saturday stand out, years on,
Looking back through the long grass of your country,
Or upwards, saying yes, at balloons and Boeings,
Miracles in your fast thinking.


The vainglorious signature beneath was illegible: he remained faceless and nameless. I couldn't work out what the hell Balloons and Boeings had to do with one another, why anyone would say yes to them, and I couldn't understand how isolation in a field could become so memorable. Suddenly I thought about the recession, now about winning the lottery, now skydiving, kissing, and after my stomach hurt from the excitement, I lost interest and returned to absent-mindedness, palming away the condensation on the window for a visible world. There, oncoming, the white-capped traffic stretched in agony. Two children roped a sledge up the ice-cream-tarmac, and I couldn't hear their laughter but I could see their mouths, and then breath began to fog my view into a fiction.

The automatic doors at the front of the bus exhaled and opened, and the bus driver in his uniform walks out first, like a president's bodyguard, lights a cigarette with his pink fingers and a black lighter, then leans his tough face back inside to give his bemused passengers a death stare, and mumbles something like "this bus is terminating here due to adverse weather conditions", which starts Chinese whispers, and then it is awful dark but for the few-and-far-between streetlights.

And moments later I am out in the cold again, Sorry: Not In Service fading away, as the wind howled against my cheeks like a cruel rumour, and the soft snow fell harder and harder, and I thought about the shaggy-haired boy and how he espied a girl with a balloon and with a dream that Saturday, the snow now falling, and I thanked my grandfather, who couldn't hear me, for his coat by Burton, and the snow was ankle-deep now, and I was numb and hungry, and I remembered the fireplace in our old house, and somebody reads a book, closes it, takes up a crossword, and my mother is calling from the old kitchen, and dinner is done and it is too hot and I blow a breath over it all.

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