walking to the Lea

He was rolling her nipple between his fingers. She was old and overweight, so the nipple hung low near her waist. He was leaning on her, his head resting between her shoulder and the breast, and I imagined him suckling it. He would have been but her mustard-coloured T-shirt was in the way. (I would have stopped and waited but I was with another, and we were walking.) He looked very happy. Immensely pleasured, relaxed, soothed, calmed, nestled. They were both drunk. A pair of alcoholics. Pink-cheeked, ageing middle-agers who probably sleep by the canal at least twice a week. It was hot. Where else can you have a bit of slap and tickle if you haven’t got a home? Why not a park bench? As good as anywhere else. Tall blue cans surrounded them, as if they were enjoying the intimate moment within their own lager shrine. I couldn’t help wonder what he was thinking about. His mother came into my head. Remembering the last time he was that happy.

The sun was very warm. Not far away, a woman in a bikini lay on a beach towel, self-conscious but desperately trying to enjoy the heat. A little further on, another. She had one eye open, surveying the path for wierdos. A little further, and another. There must have been four or five bikini birds lying alone on Hackney’s fields. And then lots of other birds, including a huge swan that’s been sitting on its nest for weeks now. A man opposite did eighteen push-ups on the twin bars. He didn’t see me counting. I was willing him to get to twenty.

Later we drank Rioja, listened to The Clash and Nick Cave, and talked about oil in Africa and Joe Strummer. Apparently, at gigs, he used to shout out to the audience questions. Thinks like, ‘So what are you gonna do tonight?’ and ‘What are you gonna do about it tomorrow?’ I felt almost overwhelmingly depressed. And I’ve spent a lot of today wondering about how much I should be thinking about oil not just in Angola but the whole Gulf of Guinea, and whether focusing on recent history and government and death is really missing the point. Or should we all always do all of this, as writers, researchers and thinkers and journalists? Would I be most useful if I was investigating the oil industry? Or is investigating people and their lives just as important?

Reading: Untapped, the Scramble for Africa’s oil by John Ghazvinian.

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