May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
Trafalgar Square heaved. It undulated like an ocean, Londoners and tourists alike, spilling out into the surrounding streets like so many tributaries. Their combined chatter murmured in the air, punctuated occasionally by a staccato burst of laughter, or with someone calling out to a friend. The Chinese lanterns, strung up on pieces of wire that spanned the Square, bobbed in the wind. Those that carried red balloons with them, above their heads to avoid them popping, looked like blood cells coursing through capillaries. London was out in force alright, all ethnicities joining in the Chinese celebration. Any excuse to get pissed, David thought, wryly.
He was sitting on a bench overlooking the scene, alone, wrapped up tightly in a black parka. He had the hood up, and it was probably this that was deterring others from sitting next to him. He watched the celebrations unfolding below him with ambivalence and a cold detachment. These weren’t his people. They weren’t each other’s people either. They were strangers united under a tenuous banner, pockets of disparate groups sharing the colour red. Down to his right a Chinese dragon, fashioned from thousands of fiery streamers, wrapped itself continuously around Nelson’s Column like wool on a knitting needle. Huge saucer-like eyes peered out from a head twisted into a rather frightening rictus, no doubt hiding one of the sweaty volunteers underneath who had to carry the burden, stooped like a hunchback, for the rest of the day.
David allowed his mind to drift, his head lolling back onto the bench. His gaze settled on the grey clouds scudding across the sky, and his thoughts turned to Sanghee. A quiet Chinese girl who was a friend of a friend, Sanghee had lived in the room next to him during David’s second year of uni. Five guys and Sanghee. If she hadn’t been withdrawn and reclusive before moving in, such levels of testosterone and boorishness was sure to have kept her cooped up in the safety of her room. David had barely heard a peep out of her since she had moved in; the only sign of her even living there was the rice cooker on the kitchen sideboard, an implement that saw constant use. He might have even forgot she was living there if he hadn’t come home from the library one day to see an entire Chinese family sharing a meal together in the lounge. Sanghee had looked up and smiled at him, bowls of chow mein (he had guessed), in her hands, in a way that had suggested that he wasn’t welcome in his own lounge. He made his apologies and had gone upstairs, and cranked up his music to maximum, ear-deafening, volume. It had more than likely been The Black Keys, a favourite band of his throughout the latter years of his uni life.
Loud music wasn’t the only thing Sanghee must have heard. If she was a silent housemate, then David was more akin to a bull in a china shop. Fancying himself as something of a lad, it wasn’t uncommon for him to have girls over several nights a week. And not always the same girl. Some were, shall we say, less than discreet. It had been a carefree time for him. He had his looks, his creative talents, he had a world of opportunity opening up in his future, right in front of him; beckoning him to take the first step. As he looked back on all that fresh-faced optimism, those formative hopes and jumbled ambitions, he felt pangs of real regret start to lodge in his throat. Back then he had been a charismatic charmer, surrounding himself with fun and friendly people and always welcoming others into his life. Now he was sitting here on this bench, all alone, with nothing else to do, hood raised as a barrier against the outside world. He was a closed book, an inscrutable island. He had become more like Sanghee – quiet and reflective, keeping himself to himself and suffering through the sounds of others living their lives to the fullest.
He pulled back his hood, and spread his arms out over the back of the bench. It wasn’t too late, was it? He could recapture those former glories, couldn’t he? Above him, the clouds were beginning to break apart. A sliver of blue split through the blanket of grey. Sunshine begin to peek through. David wasn’t the superstitious type. If he was, he may have taken it as a sign, but he was far too pragmatic to believe in such things. No, his resurrection would need to be made of more solid steps, of tangible desire and industrious resolve. No more excuses, and no more introspection. The time for navel-gazing was past. It was time for the pheonix to rise from the ashes.
He smirked at his over-dramatic literary analysis of what, in all probability, would be a false dawn. Tonight, he would go home, eat a ready-made microwave dinner, and collapse on the sofa in front of his PlayStation. Thoughts of reform, vague promises of renewed effort; all of these would be forgotten in favour of the path of least resistance.
His reverie was brought to an abrupt halt when he heard a cry go up from the crowd below; turning quickly from distress to panic. A wave of commotion and excited babble erupted from a crowd of people congregated around Nelson’s Column. David squinted against the fledgling sunlight and noticed the Chinese dragon writhing manically amidst the thicket of people. It was on fire; the tail was lit up in flames, more brilliant in hue than all the fake plumage that it was charring to cinders along the frame of the dragon’s body. A pair of youths turned away from the dragon and broke instantly into a sprint, a trail of accusatory fingers and indignant yelling picking out their trail. Without thinking about what the hell he was doing, David launched himself from the bench and ran after them.
Photo credit: Amy Massey