An old man used to sit outside my school every day, playing music on a traditional Chinese instrument. He would move a light wood stick over two pieces of metal. Most of the time the songs he played were slow, but some of the time he’d play ones that were real quick, and at those moments we kids would gather around. We had no problem making excuses to our teachers to leave class for five minutes, or take an extended lunch break.
One day, just another still, warm day in February, there was you… Sometimes I wonder why there wasn’t something to suggest the birthing pains of this love: a camel-shaped eyelash, a rainbow above my roof, frogs raining, a tree bursting into yellow bloom overnight, a snatch of a song. But there was nothing. Not even a twitching eyelid or a skipped beat of the pulse. And yet, now when I think of the time before you, all I think of is this grey and metallic sheen of the strangled day and the death-like silence of the night.
Last Sunday the neighbours brought me a glass of something tall, cold and sweet. They had a name for it: thandai.
Did I know there was opium in it? I did. Why didn’t I say no? Probably because I wanted to know where it would lead me. Opium. Melded into milk and almonds and chilled so the sweet creaminess could slide down my throat while a foot soldier in black crept through my veins to the silly point of my brain.
The driver announced that Hainault was the last station. The car was empty save for him and a foreign-looking bloke sitting at the other end. It had taken him ages to make it that far all the way from East Putney. Transport is a bitch on Sundays — engineering works, limited service, delays, replacement buses. He was quite late, at least half an hour. He stood up with the bag hanging from his shoulders, and waited by the doors until the train stopped.
He had never been in Hainault before and it sounded exotic to him. He got his mobile phone out and shot a picture of the station sign. He walked towards the exit and realised the other guy was still sitting inside the carriage. Perhaps he hadn’t understood the driver’s message; he himself had found it pretty hard to figure out: bad speakers plus accented English. Henry walked towards the train and knocked on the window.
“It’s the last station,” he said.