Souls of the Goldhawk Road



It was one of those tawdry summer evenings and all I could think about was the heat. It was everywhere, stuffy and humid and crucifying even at that late hour. Then there was a woman, looking older than she was, sat outside the closed Estate Agent's, pickled drunk and burnt out as if she’d lived in that oven since forever. And with the heat, on top of the drink, she was in an uncommon daze, like the madness in her mind was cooked in for good. She was scrunching up her face and moaning, pushing away the arm of a man who was trying to tell her something, trying to get through, pull her up and take her off someplace.


“Fuck off an’ away, Bobby!” she kept saying. “Just leave me alone.”


Every now and again her eyes would lull back in her head like she was about to go out. Then, just as slowly, they would recentre and refocus and she would return once more to the hell of her immediate reality. O, the heat was cooking everyone up and the city was all set to catch aflame. That was the summer of my return to London, when for a brief moment something felt like it could really happen.

“Man, this heat just makes yuh lazy… Reeaal lazy. Not wannin' uh do uh ting about nuttin' yet plenny a tings tuh do.”​

“Yeah, plenty of things to do,” I said. “And if they'd give me a break, I might just get on and do them.”​

“Brother, yuh doan got two coin furruh couple uh beers, huh? Dis heat’s juss 'bout dried me out an' uh need sum liqwid refreshment.”​

“Sorry, I don't.”​

“Man, doan tell me dat. Juss 'bout evrywun got two quid in today's day. Tis for uh drink, bruvva.”​

“If I had it you'd already be drunk."​

“Ahh, Yea, Yea. So, what'is it dat be bringin' ya'ere? Yuh waitin' fuh sumwun? Is dat it? Ahh, me shoulda re-Ah-lized. Yea. Now me spies dat serpent in yuh. Wha'tit'is yuh afta, Bruvva? Duh sweet Brown or a lick uh da White?”​

“Maybe a tickle of each... You never know.”​

“Ahh, me hear dat, Bruvva... me hear dhat well an' trew. An' dyuh gunna spare ol' Yankee ‘ere uh rock-uh-bye White? Juss uh small rock, Bruvva. I'm De-Hy-Draytid 'ere. 'Ere, look...” he said, lifting up his arms and showing two huge wet patches of perspiration under the pits of his shirt. “Me needin' sumting or dis eve'nin will stew me right on down intuh muh boots. Ya can spare uh White for an ol' black comrade, can't yuh?”​

“Maybe. Let's see how things stand once it's here.”​

“O, fank yew Bruvva, fank yew... Yew'v saved me. Me sed tuh muhself, lookin'on down at yuh while me was over d'ere... Me sed: Now dat's a decent kinda felluh right along d'ere. I knew it! Me could sense duh goodniss in yuh. Man, I can't tell yuh what me'd do fuh a rock uh white... Two beers an' uh rock uh white, an' that'll be me juss fine tuhnight. Man, you be belongin' round'ere? Ain't never sin yuh before, is all. Me aRlways good fer uh face, but uh name... O, yuh can forget dat! Me can't even remember duh names uh me own childrin. How wicked is dat, Bruvva? Me own spawned brethrin, an' I doan even know duh names nor how old dey even be. Grown up now, uh bet. Grown right on up an' out hustlin' juss like I was at dat age. O, man... Summer wasn't like dis back d'hen. Yuh cud breathe when we were young. Now the world has juss gottin heavy... Weighs right down on uh man like uh sack uh cement. An' round'ere too, I mean. O, duh Bush wuz uh place tuh be back den... An' den dis happened: We grew up an' once we had an' we opened our eyes, uh whole generation had lost itself... lost sumting. We din't come in from afar, Bruvva... We wuz aRlways 'ere, only yuh'd never 'ave noticed us before.”


I stared at the man, this black ragtime prophet. And as I stared, his yapping went mute, and for some moments I watched the silent animation of his mouth as it twisted and contorted into horrendous shapes, his words being formed in that masticating orifice, pushed out on the tip of an indecent purpled tongue.


“Bobby FUCK OFF!!! I'm stayin' 'ere. Fuck off, an' away Bobby!”​

“We've gotta move on, Doll. We can't stay here. I can't leave you here like this... You'll have us both fucking collared."​

“Ahhhh Fuck'off an' leave me a bit alone, Bobby! Bobbbbby....”

“Mate... Mate... Ya waitin' fer Jamie? Give ’im a call, please. He's given me the right ol' runaround today.”​

I turned to confront this latest spectre on the scene. He stood before me thin but broad, his arms out and hung at the elbows like he'd been pegged out on a line to dry. His face was pale and not quite white, and his eyes were large and mad.​

“Didya hear me? Said the cunt's given me the right ol' runaround today. Please mate, just give him a bell an' tell him Dave is 'ere.”​

“I'm not waiting for Jamie. I don't know any Jamies.”​

“Who you after, then? Silver? The Somalians?”​

“Could be.”​

Nah, mate... Don't score offa that lot. Them are fucking robbin' Somalian cunts. Won't see them unless no one else is on... An' I mean NO ONE. Buy offa my man, Jamie. Come on. Whatd'ya want? Jamie's are twice the size. Here, give us ya dosh and we'll see him together... Right now.”​

“Get outta here. I'm not giving you my money!”​

“What, ya don't trust me? Ya think just because I'm a junkie I'm a thieving cunt? Is that it? I don't need to be fucking slyin’ people, mate. Am doing just fine as it is.”​

“I can see that. Now, leave me alone. This place is hot enough as it is.”​

“Mate, will ya just phone him, for fucksake? Just a quick call?"​

Before I could answer, he had given up on me and was scampering off, wraithlike, up the road, stopping people and terrifying them, rattling his jangling neurosis along his stricken path.

“Bobby, Fuck off.... Just let me be. Fuck off an’ away, Bobby. Fuck off an’ away...”

There it was again: that voice and those words, the sound of a cracked and corrupted lullaby. It was a bawl that carried on through generations and told the tale of every such summer evening there ever has been. I watched the woman once more, and wondered what the hell we were all doing.

The road was busy now. The fast food shops had started serving in earnest and a few more drinkers had congregated on the corners. The men in the late-night gambling shop came out for cigarettes and in moments you could hear the greyhound races being called and the hullabaloo as another favourite lost its legs around the penultimate bend. That was another man's hope gone right there. I watched the man who then stood outside the Bookies. He smoked his smoke and pondered, and it looked like he had finally found the answers to his problems in those long, drawn-out drags he took of his tobacco. It's a well-known fact: The gamblers like the drunks and the drunks like the gamblers, but no one likes the junkies.​

The man cast his eyes my way. He took the last inch of smoke from his cigarette and, still staring at me, flicked the smouldering butt into the gutter as if that place held some importance for me. I wanted to say something to him, stare him straight down the barrel and tell him something crazy. But I said nothing. I kept my silence and let him return in peace to the safety of his losing hub to flagellate himself in that way.​

“Aye aye,” a voice said.​

I turned around to see two community police specials trotting themselves into the scene. One was tall and sticking up as straight as a pencil, and the other was shorter and well-built with a bright red face that looked like he was being strangled. They both wore their half-sleeved summer uniforms. Their radios crackled and chirruped away like insects in the warm, late evening. They approached the drunk woman sat outside the Estate Agent's. Slowly she raised her drink-laden face and squinted them into view.​

“What you want? I ain't done nothing wrong. I've had a drink is all but I din't do nothing to no one.”​

“Madam, we've reason to believe you was in Hammersmith this afternoon, and we need to ask you a few questions about what you did there.”​

“Hammersmith? Questions? I din't fucking do anything!”​

“Madam, let's do this somewhere a little more private. I'm sure you don't want your private business spilled out onto the street?”​

The two police specials helped her up. When they let go she stood swaying, tottering like that until her body decided on the vertical. Then she looked around.​

“Bobby! Bobby!!!” she called. But Bobby was gone, just a hunched back walking briskly away and turning off down the first street he arrived at. The police escorted the lady a little ways down the adjoining residential street. They lowered her to a sitting position against a garden wall and stood over her, looking in and wondering what to do.


The heat was getting to everyone. The workers in the furnace of the Kebab house were standing outside, fanning themselves down with damp cloths. The drunks at the bus stop sat bemused and dehydrated. And the junkies waited and some sweated because of the heat, and others because of their poison. That's when the wraithlike addict returned, screaming on about Jamie again.​

“Reel it in a bit, mate. The police are down there.,” I said.​

He looked down the street at the police with the drunk woman. He waved them off.​

“They're not fucking police... Just community workers! They've got fuck-all powers of arrest and wouldn't dare bust us. They can't, mate.... Not allowed. Imagine one of them daft cunts busting a dealer for a few bags and fucking up a 6-month long surveillance op? Them cunts are used to sweep the drunks along, kick the beggars' teeth out and jump in to break up bottle fights. One got himself killed the other month and it wasn't even in the paper! Even their own lot don't like ‘em. Fuck ‘em.”​

At that he stood astride, right on the corner, facing the police officers, and screamed “Waaaankers!” while gesticulating the act with his hand.​

“Fucking waaankers. Leave her alone. She's innocent!”​

The tall wooden officer warned him to stay back.​

“Yeah, an' what you gonna do if I don't?”​

“Just stay where you are, Sir; I'm asking you for the last time!"​

“Stick your final warning up your arse! I wouldn't wanna be any closer. And I'll tell you what: If I was doing a little better I'd have your fucking badge! Harassing bastards and no one does a thing about it.”​

For a moment there was a brief stand-off. Then the officer turned, and the wraithlike addict cursed, and the evening went on and the heat was just as persistent as ever.

The commotion he introduced to the road preceded him. The sudden screeching of braking cars, the bleating of horns and the shouts of irate drivers. He wheeled himself on like it was nothing, and I knew he was heading my way.​

He had no legs and he said he was a poet. He parked up a small meter opposite me and sat sweating away in his cheap government-issue wheelchair. He had oily grey hair pulled back into a straggly ponytail and a wooden beaded necklace hung down around his bare, bony, sun-scorched chest. Beads of perspiration rolled down over his abdomen and soaked into the top band of his trousers.​

"D'you like poetry?" he asked.​

"No," I said. "I hate everything to do with reading and writing... Bores the shit outta me."​

"Well, you're missing out there, then. Good poetry is better than any drug you can get... Better than this shit we're pumping into ourselves. When great poetry hits it fucking transports you to another dimension, man. Serious, you don't know what you're missing."​

"And what am I missing? And, more importantly: You... Are you any good?"​

"Good? Me? I'm the poet... THE Poet! I've invented a whole new expression, a new type of poetry altogether! Everyone knows me. Used to sit outside the Broadway and write my verse on the fucking pavement in different coloured chalks. You must've seen me? If you live around here you'd have seen me?"​

"What's your name?"​

"Already told you: The Poet."​

"O, I didn't realize that was your actual name. You up for reciting a line or two?”​

“Of course. Always on the lookout for an eager audience.”​

He reached down inside the crutch of his trousers and withdrew a damp, rotting notepad. He began leafing through it like it were his life savings, pulling faces as he looked over his work, like that one wasn't quite right and the next wasn't him at his best, etc. When he had settled on one he was happy with, he kinda wriggled up straight in his chair, cleared his chest, before gobbing out a huge grey hunk of phlegm down on the pavement to the side of his wheelchair.​

“Hhh Hmmmm.... This one's called, er, ‘My Monkey’.”​

“And is ‘My Monkey’ rhymed up with the word ‘junkie’?” I asked.​

“You best believe it is. Seven fucking times, if you want numbers!"​

“Then I've heard it. You're right, you are known.”​

“Yeah? You've really heard that one?”​

“I have. And more than once.”​

“Huh! Then how about my much revered, anti-festive ditty – ‘Cold Christmas Turkey’?”​

“About withdrawals, isn't it? Being junk-tied over Christmas?”​

“It is! See, you know more about contemporary verse than you think.”​

“Look over there,” I said. “Do you see that green telephone connection box?”​

The de-legged junkie poet looked over to where I was pointing and nodded.

“Well,” I said, “I know what's behind it... the years' worth of dust and smog and grime which has settled there. I know the piss and the dampness and the weeds at the bottom and the fat brown slugs which slither out by night. I know the scrunched-up cigarette packets, the pigeon's shit, the rusting empty beer cans and the 'Black Nurse with a Cock' Call-Guy flyer stuck upon the side. That's what I know about contemporary verse, right there.”​

"Well, that's nice... Very nice. But that's not poetry. It's what us fellas in the writing game refer to as 'prose'."​

"But I never said I was a poet. You said that. You said you were a poet... The Poet."​

He looked at me like Doubting Thomas would have looked at Jesus. Then he took a huge lungful of air and, with his chest inflated, began booming out verse in a majestic voice:

And like Abas a mocker be

O pig, O boar, O trundling swine

I name you as a Philistine!



I couldn't help but burst out into laughter, almost sucking my lit cigarette down my gorge before finally spitting it out in a spluttering guffaw. At that, the legless poet started pointing and booming:​

“Philistine!!! Hey O, I name it a Philistine! Philistine! Philistine for all to see!!!”​

People in the street turned to stare, saw a wheelchair-bound amputee gesturing and screaming out poetry and insults, and waved him off as some kind of nut. When he had finished, his hands gripped ahold of each wheel of his chair and he slowly set himself in motion. He wheeled himself right up to me. I thought he was going to spit at me or ride his stump of a leg into my knee. He did neither. Rather, he parked his chair an inch from my toes and said quietly: "Why are people like you such fucking Philistines?"​

"Because it's easier and more fruitful than being a poet... Much more a bad one," I said.​

At that, he took up his soiled notebook of verse and for a moment looked like he was going to rip it in two. He didn't. He held it aloft and he shook it like it were a Bible. Then he screamed: “These are mine! These are all fucking mine!!!” before shoving his life's work back down into the humid fermenting underworld of his pants. He chugged himself into motion once more and headed off down towards the gambling shop. He made it clear that he'd prefer to wait out the wait next to a gambler who despised him, rather than linger anywhere near me. As the Amputee Poet pulled up, the Smoking Gambler slid his eyes discreetly down upon him, then moved a large foot aside. Every now then, as we continued our wait, the amputee would look over at me, all the while muttering and shaking his head in disbelief at one man's total ignorance.

There were now at least six heroin addicts waiting to score. Two were sat across the road drinking a coffee outside the cheap Chinese café, another one was down at the bus stop, I was right on the corner, the amputee was outside the gambling shop and the young wraithlike addict was still approaching and harassing anyone who came down the road.​

"Told ya I din't do anything. I like a drink is all but I ain't no thief. Do I look like I could get out a shop with anything? Most shops won’t even let me in! Nah, like I said, I ain't sin Bobby! Not for over a week. I thought you was Bobby... That's why I was calling him. Thought it was him kicking me awake again."​

"Well, if you do see Bobby, you need to tell him to come in and see us. He's breached his licence and it'll be better he hands himself in than he gets picked up kin the street – like that he'll almost certainly be going back to prison."


"Nah, I won't be seeing Bobby. I told ya: ain't seen him for over a month now... Not since he clumped me one and knocked two of me bottom teeth out. Will have nothing to do with him after that."​

The two police specials stood and listened to the woman's contradictions. They pondered over her even after she had stopped talking. Doll plonked her beer can down on the step of the Estate Agent's and then fell down to a sit with about the same force. The smaller policeman tapped his colleague. “Come on; let's go.” The tall police special nodded a knowing nod and pulled a resigned face – there was nothing they could do. He looked around and then looked down towards the wraithlike addict, who was still going from person to person. “Yeah, let's go,” he said. Whether he saw the tragedy that I saw, or just a people who had slipped into a state of daily lawlessness that legislature couldn't deal with was unsure. Whatever his thoughts, he kept them to themselves and the two police specials walked away with no arrest. Barely were they out of sight when Bobby returned.​

"Doll, did they ask about, me? You didn't tell ‘em nothing, did ya? Doll... Doll...." But for the moment Doll was gone, taken by slumber and left to cook, helpless in the throbbing murder of the evening sun.​

- - -

It was gone 9 pm when the amputee poet suddenly spun his wheelchair around and made off down the road at full speed, his arms going like the main rod on an old train wheel. The two addicts who had been at the Chinese café were also on the move, beelining across the street, both in faded black and wearing dark shades, one holding his jacket over his shoulder. And they weren't the only ones. Another came from the bus stop, and yet another cycled past wearing no top and self-inked tattoos up his arms and over his torso. I headed up the tail-end, purposely keeping a distance in case some bitter gambler had rung in a call to the police.​

"Man, wait up... Wait fuh me, Bruvva. Dontcha be goin' an dispeerin' on me now.” It was Ol' Yankee, trying to keep apace with me in case I scored and took the back street doubles home. I could smell his body odour, the very particular odour of an old black man whose last wash was months before mine.​

“Qwik, Bruvva... Hurry it up. Thuh fool uh 'ave no food leff if all d'hese vultures get tuh him first. Doan worry 'bout me. I be d'ere or d'ereabouts... You go'oRn up ahead.”​

I ignored Yankee's pleas for me to hurry up and lingered quite away behind the main body of users hobbling and wheeling and cycling up to score. The only addict who was not chasing up the dealer was the wraithlike kid who was waiting on a different crew.​

“If you need something, you better get it while it's here,” I said to him.​

“D’ya think he'd do me credit? I'm good for it. One thing I always do is pay my debts off.”​

“I doubt it. Depends on how well you know them and what business you bring.”​

“Mate, please, phone Jamie for me. Ask him where he's at.”​

“Cathnor Park, Jamie?”​

“Yeah, that's the cunt.”​

“What's your name again?”​

“Dave. Crazy Dave. He'll know who you're talking about.”​

Just as I went to call Jamie, my phone went. It was my dealer.​

“I've seen ya, Bro.... Don't come up this way. Go back and wait down near the cafe. I'll be five minutes.”​

As I made my way slowly back from where I had come, I phoned Jamie. There was no answer and that wasn't good news.​

“Dave, he's not answering, mate.” Dave lent far back and with his mouth to the sky he screamed, “Cuuuuunt. Cuuuuuunttt!!!” And for a moment his despair echoed throughout the area, like a wild dog that was grieving and howling out to unknown forces in the night.​

I left Billy, and with Yankee I headed down towards the cafe.​

“Stay away frum d'at one,” Yankee said. “He's not right in duh head.”​

The sun had almost set by the time the Somalian came down with my order. The heat had lessened a notch but the night was still muggy and humid and the city's shadows were stretched large and dark and were sinister and cool. The old Chinese owner of the cafe was out sweeping his shop front for the last time that night.

"Coffee? Tea?? Best coffee in Bush jus' one pound, one cup?” he said.​

“Not tonight,” I replied.​

“Warm warm night,” he said , looking on up to the darkness that was coming in.​

“It's been a hot one,” I agreed.​

“Yes, very hot. My God, where this heat come from? That's what I wanna know?”​

"Yankee," I said, discreetly pushing a small bag of crack into his hand, “where does the heat come from?”​

“Oh man, yuh wouldn't believe me if uh told ya. T'is comes in frum far far away... Another place entirely. Yep, d'hats where d'at heat come from. Oh my. O yes. Oh so it does.”​

Yankee tightened his fist around the rock of crack and the old Chinese café owner stopped sweeping. He stood and he leant on his broom, and he looked out with longing into the deep dark mauve of the sky. And I was looking too, and so was Yankee, way out into the wherever, to somewhere far from here, to a place we could never return.

- - -

Thanks as ever for reading. The World is ours, Shane. X



​Lines for Joe M


3 comments :

JoeM said...

I just wish they would legalize drugs. It's such a waste of lives and time and money. I mean really, all those stabbings and shootings in London.Surely the cops have better things to do than harrassing folk who aren't doing anybody any harm.

You seem to be a magnet for the underclass! Great for a writer.

Lines:

That was the summer of my return to London, when for a brief moment something felt like it could really happen.

It's a well-known fact: The gamblers like the drunks and the drunks like the gamblers, but no one likes the junkies.​

When they let go she stood swaying, tottering like that until her body decided on the vertical.


Just checked - one out of three! The Dead Cert!

Absolut Ruiness said...

I just hate the summers! Cant tolerate heat and humidity even though I live in the hot steaming Bombay. Your writing brought out all that even while im sitting in the comforts of my AC office. I just felt like loosening up the non-existent tie and wiping the non-existent sweat at the back of my neck. "... like the madness in her mind was cooked in for good..." seen many of those in Delhi, that's another NOT pleasant place to be in during summers.

Anonymous said...

Hello Shane,

Your stories somehow transport me in the same way that Wodehouse’s do. Maybe that seems insane or stupid (i’m not the most well-read person in the world) but for some reason i sink into your stories in very much the same way i do his. Anyway i love your writing and i thank you for doing it.

kindly,

Phil