just looking

Boys in the skate-park off Portobello Road. Watching through bars at their focus, their passion, nostalgic for the obsessions of her own childhood that took her away from home, away from family, into a world of her own where only other obsessives went. The first taste of freedom belongs so definitely here in this space, among their bodies and boards. (Bicycling through the park at six in the morning, hearing the howling of stags about to fight, ignoring the warnings about that other girl who was kidnapped here last week.) These boys only see the course ahead, the curves, the slips, the jumps, the blocks, the chip-board dykes they’re going to ride any second now. Gone. Their eyes only look to the other side when they sprint to the precipice to jump gracefully onto the tiny flat board, their greatest ally, and slide and roll down through up the other side. Says a blonde woman who makes pink silver jewellery: ‘There is a girl, Asian, or sort of Chinese-looking, who’s better than most of them. Maybe she’s thirteen. You’ll see here over at Westbourne Park on the other side of the track.’ Face pressed against the bars, the slam and roll of the wheels slapping and smashing on the wooden valleys and hills, a sudden acknowledgement of her age and cynicism emerges from the rhythms of gravity and speed. Trying to shake off their myopia telepathically, she shudders. If only they knew. She lets her thoughts wander as she gazes, resisting all the time her shame of watching this display of young spontaneity, her sheer terror of being seen by them, watching, and then catching sight of their pity for her.
Lines
of men holding hands and linking elbows pass by on the pavement behind her. They’re swarming out of the Muslim Cultural Centre, smiling and talking firmly. Something has been discussed, agreed, compromised. They all belong together. They’re talking at least two languages, switching and flitting within sentences, from one state of mind to another.
Wandering away, passing George Orwell’s old house now painted immaculately in safe pastels. He always felt he was a failure no matter what he did, and I bet the person who lives there doesn’t want to know that.

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