If you fear being vanished, carry two short shoe polishing brushes and a small pot of wax.
cheeks offset his white hair, tight as a terrier’s. The type of terrier that is shot into holes under hedges to flush out foxes. He was a sudden presence in our carriage and had us all wondering how he had come on board because he appeared roughly half-way (and ruffly hough-way) between stops. What had happened before? And after? It was a new train, each carriage all air and glass-space with empty corners that never seemed to end. And here he is, standing in front of you, his body close to your leg, striking his hands through the air like a juggler with batons from the circus. Rapid movements up and down and across creating a breeze that bothers the brown down above your top lip. He will not move on until he has had contact, eyeball-to-eyeball, and now he has he smiles and nods and wobbles. As though he has been told he has got to do this or else. Else? Or he will be struck down by lightening. What lightening under ground? (OK. So he will be struck down by a heart attack.) Stepping backwards, sharp blue eyes, terrified like the fox that has gone to ground and has heard the terriers yapping from the back of the big man’s quad bike. Backing up, foot behind foot, lifting his knees carefully, heels rounding away behind him, his hands pulling flames through the air, muttering muttering to save our souls your soul
‘ . . . there were like two hundred thousand killed. It was really bad.’
‘You mean in Pakistan?’
‘No, no. It was like really bad. Like it was one of those big disasters. Some big thing. You know, one of those really big disasters.’
‘What? Like in what happened in America?’
‘No! You must have heard it. It was everywhere. Like three hundred thousand people lost everything. It was one of them black countries. Sort of Africa or something.’
‘No. I don’t remember that. What do you mean they lost everything?’
‘They lost like half of families were like killed. Kids with no parents or aunties. Everything was destroyed. Completely everything. And because it was one of them black places, like African, it was like there was nothing there. It was like they had nothing.’
‘So if they had nothing then they had nothing to lose. Apart from their lives. That was all.’
‘Sometimes I think you’ve got no heart!’
‘Oh, come on. I’m joking you. But serious if they had nothing then what did they have to lose?’
‘Well they had brick houses and stuff. And they had like families and you know . . . ‘
And they fell out of ear-shot. A tall woman in high-heels walking beside her boyfriend or possibly work colleague. They were very London. Very gelled up. Very giggly.
He’s got droopy pink lips that shine with a layer of saliva and his face is pale with small purple patches like a turnip. He has difficulty fitting full sentences into his head and from his mouth come pairs of words or small groups of three or four. He’s small, under-nourished as a child, his uneven adult body still uneasy in its awkward parts. His mouth is a bit too big for his head and his eyes are a bit too small. I could cup his hands in mine but he has broad shoulders that could swing a mighty punch. The larger men laugh at him behind his back but they need him because he’s the one who fixes the metal bars together and sweeps up the rotten veg. He makes the structures that make the market. Every morning, every night. And he always says hello to me, with dribble running from his lip to his chin.