Beneath a turquoise T-shirt, large spherical twin breasts push for breath against tight elastic. A perplexed young man, clothes hanging from awkward bony joints lacking enough muscle and flesh, blinks. His gelled vertical mane and clipped sides cannot disguise the embarrassed unfamiliarity with the female at nineteen years. He pulls on a cigarette, young downy cheeks briefly hollowing, then forces the smoke out, jerking his lower jaw forward in a motion of masculinity. None of them have smoked long, they are all nervous about how they look, and his amateur exhale goes unnoticed. He gazes at the breasts ballooning inches from his face. She looks down, fluttering her eyes, angling her face so that the lashes seem to tickle her fleshy chest just above him. She laughs, her head tossed back. And he’s still gazing.
In front of the Great Hall, a large group of Asian students sit sucking from hookahs. A girl with thick black hair straightened to her waist leans back and puts her clean lips to the curling pipes. The boys are mesmerised as drips of their soft, clean saliva touch her mouth. Each imagines it is his that reached her tongue. Bags and books are strewn among them. Large figure-of-eight sunglasses disguise half a face, another girl uneasy with her entrance into university life.
Across the paving, a substantial young woman with great wobbling hips, vibrating buttocks and thick calves marches the diagonal towards the library. Her hair is permed. Her skirt is layered in three widening circles of creased white cotton. The writing on her brown T-shirt is illegible, half of it hidden within the vast cleavage that enveloped her just before her fourteenth birthday. She is alone. People stare. Her face is hardened. She glares at the library, totally focused, and marches on, her thighs swishing and brushing and permed curls bouncing.
A broad boy crosses her path. Thick-necked, baseball capped, he wears a huge rectangle T-shirt with a large double-figure number printed white on the back. His trousers stop just beneath the knee, full pockets of cash and car keys bounce and jiggle against his gymnastic thighs. He breaths heavy, flinching at the weight of the woman as they almost brush bodies. He thinks he could be North American, and he’s proud about that.
Two older men in green overalls stand on dried chunks of wood chippings between clipped bushes of white roses. They are talking quietly. One holds a stale cigarette in his left hand which he’s hooked behind his back. The nicotine is burning slowly. They could be anywhere. They see no students, no young people smoking. They just see the roses, smell the scent, and all the beds of flowers they tend so carefully. They mutter about the cost of living, one explaining that if they were ever to strike again it would have to be outside the offices of the contractors who employ them. Striking on campus is not allowed.
Going home, three lengthening lines of cars push and shove in the scramble out. A pale face, puffy and fleshy and free of stubble, glances down towards my window, gently raising his right hand just enough to free two fingers into a soft V, a polite gesture, a thank-you for letting him in. The student is high up, and proud and powerful in a vast shining burgundy Land Rover. I think of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, of women in their fifties with ironed hair, highlighted in blondes and reds and shades of ash. As he angles his four thick black tyres into my lane, engine purring so quietly, so softly, I notice my small white car reflected in his rear door (his young arse, I think, in my face). To my left, cars snake ahead through the freer barriers, red and white lines see-sawing up and down, some symbolism of security. A long black BMW with sloping rear window rolls past, the driver’s long dark arm hanging from the window that has rolled snugly down into the depths of the door, between rolling black metal and a lined interior of black leather and polished mahogany. A cigarette hangs from the driver’s fingers and he passes it once across to his teenage friends to the left and to the back. His boot bounces gently to the thudding vibrations of Dog Leshaz. Home to do homework.