Rain

It was raining. Raining, like only it could in London. Just like in those films, where rain often doubles for a feeling of ‘intensity’ or ‘oppressive atmosphere’.  ‘Blade Runner…that’s the movie…” Christana thought… ‘it was always so oppressive”. She was sat on a bus, barely keeping herself awake. “Pure heavy rain”.

This was her normal bus route – the 381 that went past and below London Bridge, through some of the more archaic streets in London. In the summer, the same streets, low bridges and Victorian architecture may have contained an anachronistic beauty. On a bus, on a Thursday night in November, when it was raining – there was no beauty. Just an oppressive loneliness.

Christana looked out the window, on a seat ¾ of the way up the right side of the bus, with a young girl sitting beside her. She usually ignored the people beside her, but had actually noticed that this young (probably 16 or 17) girl had her music on loud enough so that everyone close to her could hear it. It sounded like some awful R’n’B. Christana sighed and put her own MP3 Player on – preferring something more classical – Chopin – Nocturnes perhaps. She looked around and out the window.

Looking through the rain soaked windows, the night gradually became a blur – she could make out street light with their slightly smudged back glow, streets blurring into one as the bus drove past them and washed out faces of strangers. The faces of the strangers were one of the many things that the rain in London tended to distort the most dramatically. That and the stars. The thing she missed most about living in London were the stars.

Staring out the window, Christana began to think about the evening. She was exhausted from work. Her job was not particularly taxing mentally – she was a secretary in a large law firm, but she was worked hard. At 38 she maintained some of her youthful looks, but had begun to think that life in the city gave her a worn out look. Combine this with the rain, and the words ‘washed out’ may sprung to mind. Christana had a plain black trouser suit and blue shirt, both were damp from the rain – her cheap umbrella protected her only slightly.

Christana continued to stare out the window, wondering where the exhaustion came from. She supposed it was a combination of poor quality sleep – she found it hard to sleep alone – and lack of exercise. While being of a slim build, she never exercised and relied more on falling asleep because there was nothing better to do, rather any sense of innate tiredness.

Christana saw two dark spots on the window – darker than the rest and supposed they were drops of water. Then she realised they were not moving. Christana stared at the dark spots, blinked and realised that they were not outside the bus – it was the depth perception confusing her mind. She blinked again and began to focus on the dark circles – then, slowly, she realised that she was looking at eyes.

The eyes were on the bus, it was the reflection of a young man, 20 or so, who was looking at her. Staring. The strange thing was, the eyes were not moving or blinking. The bus was moving and jerking along with the usual irregular pace, certainly she felt her own head moving around, but this man (or was it boy?) was totally immovable.

She looked at him, for the first time, in the face. He was not looking at her – apparently he was staring at the same space on the bus as before. But Christana did not think that he was – well – really there. He was stood on his own, at a slightly strange angle, but did not seem to be affected by the bus at all. Christana was worried, just ‘creeped’ out. The bus jerked to a stop. The boy didn’t move, several people moved past him as if he didn’t exist. Christana felt ill, and needed to get up.

About 30 seconds later, she stood up and got a full view of the man – he was dressed in plain black suit, black shoes, black over coat, had black hair (long, slightly pulled back behind his neck through being damp) and he held a black scarf. He was not very pale, but looked a bit like he spent a too much time indoors. As she walked down the bus, slightly off balance, she glanced at his face – she noticed he had a small tattoo on his neck, or rather, it was the start of a larger tattoo.

As she looked at the tattoo which ran from behind his right ear and down his neck, she realised that it got bigger as it progressed towards his collar. It was totally blank ink – like the eyes – and then noticed that he was actually craning his neck. He was craning it so that she could see more and more of the tattoo. It was curved parabolically and looked like it could have been the curved tip of a blade of some kind.

As soon as she realised that he was moving his head – he jerked it towards her – looking her square in the eye as she walked past. Christana was momentarily surprised as the man glared at her, his eyes widening. Time seemed to slow down as she moved past him.

Utter fear gripped her, the black eyes widened and everything seemed to dissolve. The man’s clothes and hair seemed to melt off – Christana was rooted to the spot.

He stood in front of her naked, turning his back slowly so she could see the full extent of the tattoo – beginning with a large and black scythe.  The rest of the tattoo (or was it a painting?) was dominated by Deaths shimmering figure with a black hood covering most of his face. Death was beautiful in his intensity and the tattoo seemed alive.

The man jerked around and stared at Christana, his body fully in front of her. Flames seemed to pour from his face, heat enveloped her and Christana collapsed weak in the knees. She felt blackness envelop her and slowly, what she vaguely thought would be the last time, she thought of nothing but searing pain.

Christana woke up – faces stared at her with a mixture of shock and confusion. It took her 30 seconds to realise they were all holding her, offering her water and chattering. The bus had stopped.

“Are you okay?”

“Here take some water”

“Miss – do you want a medic?”

Christana struggled to her feet, her body was still burning. She had saw death and lived. What did it mean? She got up; people looked at her, now thinking she was clearly mentally ill.

Her body, hair, even soul, all burned, and she realised she had to get off. She tried to say something, but her throat felt like it was melting. All she needed was to cool down – put the fire out – and it hit her, she needed the rain.

Christana pushed out and past the crowd – she was lying right where she thought the man was, and stepped into the street. All of a sudden, her body cooled – the pain eased.

As the rain washed over her, she felt calm; she opened her mouth, drank some of the London rain water and breathed heavily.

It was now she realised she was sweating too. The sweat and rain water mixed and she felt her body begin to cool back to something normal. As this happened, Christana sighed and felt her pulse – it was at least double the speed.

Christana looked around – she was a 30 minute walk from her house. She stood for 5 minutes, and set off home, with no idea what had happened.

The walk took 45 minutes – not the usual 30.

Christana entered her house and looked at her mirror – she looked awful. As tiredness over took her, she stumbled into bed and slept, fully clothed and soaking wet.

The Metro 18-11-2011

 

Tragedy in London last night as a fire on a bus killed 5 people. Police believe the fire was caused by a collision between the bus and a petrol tanker. The collision occurred due to the tanker skidding on its way round a bend. Due to the poor conditions, neither the bus nor the tanker were able to stop and the collision caused fuel to spill.

 Detectives are unsure as to what caused the spark, but say that their condolences are with the families. Of the 17 passengers on the bus, the 5 who died were all sitting on the right hand side, where the collision took place.

 The bus was the 381 travelling and was ahead of schedule…

 

Christana woke the next day, 17 hours after she had slept, and put on the news.

There was a knock on her door, she looked out the side window and could see the silhouette of a man, dressed all in black with a tattoo on his neck.

Christana looked at her mirror. The following words were etched on it:

“your time will come”

Miles To Go

The woods are lovely, dark and deep…

Walking home never bothered James much – he always enjoyed the moments of isolation at the end of a day. Working as a barista did give James plenty of time to think, but he always appreciated being able to escape from the people during that half hour walk home.

As ever, James had two choices. The first was to take the main road towards his small flat, the faster route for sure, and do his best to ignore the cars, the people and the lives that were going on around him. The second route was more indirect – a short walk uphill, cutting through the Belfast Castle’s grounds. This route added a good 20 minutes onto his journey home, but apart from the occasional hill walker; he was unlikely to run into anyone.

‘It all begins with choice’, James thought to himself, smiling & echoing the line mentioned in one of his favourite movies. James turned right and walked up towards the castle grounds. He glanced at his watch, November 21st, 707pm.

It was raining, as it usually does in Belfast at this time of the year. James never minded the rain – he often found it relaxing, even purifying after a days work. Walking up the hill, leaving the city behind him, his CD player blocking out any residual noise, he smiled to himself and toyed with his mobile phone and keys in his pocket of his coat. The wind ruffled his shoulder length, dirty blond hair – tied back into a pony tail.

As a person, James was prone to daydreaming – his girlfriend often told him so. However, she often mistook his day dreams for someone who could not concentrate – even lacking in true ambition. James would have told you this was unfair. Indeed, he could focus, but he found letting his mind wander was his way of mental exercise and it allowed him to explore all those thoughts and emotions that he enjoyed.

He approached the gates to the Castle and waited to cross the road, his black jeans and coat rendering him barely visible in the jet black night. He looked up and noticed that it was a perfectly clear sky. Before crossing the road, he glanced at his watch – 713pm.

He’d probably be home by 730.

James crossed the road and stepped over the threshold to the castle grounds.

Looking around, the first thing James noticed was the Castle looming over him, silhouetted by the numerous flood lights. This stood high up, off to his right, nestled in the foot of the hill. Once a proud sentry looking out over Belfast Lough, the docks and the city, it was now two things – part tourist destination, part restaurant. He sighed, thinking that so many things were transformed into tools of distraction.

James took the left hand path and walked steadily uphill, first on the public footpath, then taking the slightly muddied track that eventually wound its way round to the castle, but for now just meandered upwards. The trees gradually grew thicker, the path steeper and he turned off his CD player. He stopped. Utter stillness and silence, except for the trees swaying slightly and his breathing greeted him. This silence, he thought was nature at its finest – pure and beautiful.

He looked around and could just about make out the details on the tree’s large stumps – the moon penetrated the canopy slightly. It was dark, deep and beautiful. It never failed to amaze him how just 5 minutes off the main road there was this other world, fragile and transformed by people, but still retaining its original natural charm and beauty. He often felt overwhelmed by it. He looked around and saw the near by rock that marked the next diversion of the footpath, and sat down.

Directly ahead of him was the path to his house – to his distractions and life.

To his right, the path into the mountain and the woods.

To his left, the way he came.

It all begins with choice’ he thought again. He glanced at his watch – it was 717pm.

James stood up and turned to the right and began walking, slowly at first, gradually getting faster.

He turned on his CD Player.

He thought about, first of all, his girlfriend… He thought how much she meant to him, about how he couldn’t explain it, but how he’d felt like he had always known, from the first second, that he thought they’d be together. He knew that he hadn’t always been able to be honest with her – that he caused several of their fights due to his own coldness (or was it… being too dramatic?)… he knew, all at once, those things he wanted to tell her but never knew how… how he had sometimes struggled with his own past, with her past but ultimately all that mattered was the future…

He realised that he was not just a distraction to her – he realised that he mattered to her, and she to him. He had, for the first time in his life, no hesitations…

James sped up, running now – he could hear the wind whipping around him, his pony tail now totally undone… he thought about his family, his life and how he had perpetually disappointed his parents – but realised that he hadn’t disappointed them as such.

They just wanted the best for him – he realised that they were just disappointed that hewasn’t happy, not that he was who he was…

He thought… about the people he cared about the most, his close friends, how he hated that he could never really understand why he needed them, how so much of what they said and did was superficial…

He realised that this was the point of friendship – they give your life meaning through just being there for you – reflecting all those things you don’t like back on you. They care for you, judge you, give you company, but they don’t do it unrequited – they need that judgement back. He understood that, they ask for advice because they need it back at some point – it was beautiful… and honest.

He ran, at full pace, sweat soaking his back, the rain beginning to seep through his coat and jeans. He was now high enough in the mountains to be able to look over Belfast. He thought of all the pointless lives, mindlessness of the distractions…

Yet what he saw was a city beautiful in its night time intensity. He understood that all the distractions that he took for granted were there, not to distract him from the monotony of life, but to share with those people he loved. It was in sharing that that he could realise the importance, and value, of being alive.

Sometimes, he thought, as his heart pounded, it took isolation to see this.

With feet pounding on the uneven surface, he turned a blind corner and realised that, only in the isolation of the woods could he understand the truth – sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to turn around…

Slowly, despite his quick pace, the castle came into view. James turned his music up – and gazed at the castle- it gazed back; judging him, with a cold intensity.

The castle reflected everything he felt – created for one purpose, now nothing but an idle distraction and pointless existence in the world. The Castle hung for a moment, standing against the night sky like a cold beacon.

He ran… ran until his muscles burned and his veins pumped battery acid… and then he ran harder…

His clothes were totally soaked through – sweat mixed with rain water, his hair was plastered to his head. He was being cleansed, both by the rain and intense concentration that the run had given him – it was if a cold fury had forced him to push & punish himself.

James sprinted past the castle, turned right and ran down the hill, the Castle looming behind. Instead of being judged by it, he turned his own gaze inward…

James realised, that the only person who can truly judge him is himself – and that this was the first step to freedom.

He realised that he was not merely the sum of his choices – he was much more – he was his potential. He was everything he could become but never would. He was, all the thoughts he had but never followed through – in essence, he was a human, but he was also an independent being who sets his own standards of success.

James realised that his job did not define him – nor did his own self loathing that he sometimes had when he looked backwards at everything he had, and had not, done.

Instead of realising what he was not, he realised what he was.

He realised that he was someone who could love people, someone who could share things, someone who had the chance to make mistakes – and then make up for them. He realised that the beauty of his own existence was not in succeeding, but having the opportunity to fail and succeed.

James ran. He looked at the entrance to the grounds, for the second time this evening having done a full loop of the grounds, the castle well behind him.

The woods are dark, deep, lovely and he was about 30 seconds from his starting point and yet he felt like there were miles to go.

Running, maintaining the steady sprint and not tiring, he was on the last approach to his starting point and he realised one last thing.

James realised that he was not alone. He was not alone in the world – despite not always being able to express himself, he was not alone. He was able to see the beauty of life for what it was, and where he fitted in.

As he ran up the final hill – tears now mixed with the rain and sweat. James looked upon himself, sitting on the stone. Looking up the path that he had just ran.

This time, there was no choice. He had ran the path and realised that it begins with choice, but ends with decision.

James looked stood up and looked at the sky, thinking about all the things he had realised. There was only one decision for it – he looked straight down the path towards his house and his own life.

There may well be miles to go.

The woods may well be dark, deep & lovely.

However, he realised that this time, when he ran through the woods, he would be doing it on his terms, only being judged by himself, making his own decisions.

He walked down the path, towards his life, not afraid what was behind him.

End