Lady and the Tramp
by Martin James Hunter
A flight to Germany ominously looms. Pressure of time explicitly born from nowhere. The porcelain doll has granted me a final night in her company before she is to leave our borders. For me there is a little sadness in the air.
We spend hours exploring amber streets and at one point cross a vast park lit with sodium. When finished we rest upon the stairs to a sandstone church, having to share the Big Jacket upon arrival of the wind. Our attempts to roll cigarettes in its icy breath are to no avail.
She orders from a fast food takeaway. An extortionately-priced supper served in a cardboard box. Instead of moving to cook the meal there is for some reason an awkward pause amongst the staff. An inexplicable moment of confusion, as palpable as ice. The bravest of them finally speaks.
“And for your friend?”
“I’m alright,” I tell them.
The Big Goodbye
We stand in her doorway watching another in silence. Her eyes always shining even in the dark. We shared goodbyes long ago but it is difficult to leave. A hesitation on both parts.
And then I am ascending her stairs, blind to the streets for another night. A hedonistic occasion not wasted nor regretted. When she gets up in the morning it is like watching a petal unfurl. Returning to the pavements is my hardest trial so far.
She leaves tomorrow. My sleeping spot is in the same direction as her flat. The safer part of the city, her recommendation. It would be easy to run into another again so this time I take a longer route home.
The Next Day
Earlier this afternoon I set out towards Leith a second time. Arriving to the same tired buildings and dated vehicles. A woman forcing a pram uphill as though hindered by ball and chain. Flyers urging the working class to unite.
Between two identical pubs I come to the final turn on my list of directions. According to the internet this road leads to a food bank. It is narrow and bordered by dilapidated buildings, a handful of unbroken windows between them all.
Great tracts of water have formed where puddles have been left to develop, their ambiguous depth a concern for passing vehicles. I am forced to leap several, the Big Jacket in the air behind me like a cape. Once when I land it is near a startled old man.
I continue on through a relentless series of turns amid drab industrial structures. An unwelcoming complex rife with dirty shutters and abandoned vehicles. More posters flail sadly in the wind. Don’t grass on your own class.
And then I reach it – Fare Share food bank. Another industrial building, the same tedious brickwork. Faced only with more shutters I turn back. The feeling of loneliness worsens..
Night falls again. Streetlights and shopfronts all there is to indicate ways home. Parks bypassed altogether by more astute members of the public. As I make my way south a drunk old man passes feeding from a multibag of crisps. He says something but I fail to understand. I apologise and move on.
I finish my bottle outside a public toilet and descend its stairs for a refill. Tiled floors thick with grime and bordered with sodden litter. Despite the claustrophobia I continue down. Coils of inelegant graffiti. The ceiling barely above my head.
Two beggars sit on the wet floor, both wrapped up tight. Drinking from plastic bottles and producing significant amounts of smoke. I do not recognise the sharp smell in the air but have no desire to find out what it is. The men turn to me. Cracked skin and wild hair and even wilder eyes. Without a moment’s consideration I about-turn.
Kingdom of the Beggar Prince
It is after midnight. The public have vanished as though summoned by bell tower. The area left still and apocalyptic but every now and then another wanderer.
I search everywhere. Spaces between the road and kerb. Craters in the pavement. Flaws in the road. On top of power boxes. Around them too. Under cars. In cracks. In holes. In gaps.
I kick gatherings of leaves sending them up in roils of brown, and for good measure fondle more phoneboxes and ATMs. But as the night goes on I begin to accept that it has all been for nothing. Endless grids of buildings contained within parallel roads, all devoid of change.
My eyes are drawn to a perfect circle of gum. Darkened with filth and crushed flat to the ground. A decoy seeming like a coin until the last minute. It happens again and again until I cease looking.
It is strange that such a large expanse of pavement holds no wealth. As though a special homeless unit arrived first and cleared the area with lightning speed. Perhaps in order to feed I must outsmart this band of elite tramps. I understand now, this is not my kingdom.
Half a chocolate cake sits atop an electricity box. There is an arc where a jaw last cut in before it were for whatever reason abandoned. Without guilt or disgust I finish it in two bites and spend considerable time cleaning it from my teeth.
Later I hesitate over a tub of melted ice cream, eventually swallowing it in two gulps. It does not sit well in my stomach. Further down the road I obtain a biscuit and an unwrapped chocolate bar, the latter of which tasting about a day old. While eating a second cake it dawns on me that I have been following a trail of confectionery. As though a feeder has caught onto my game and is trying to fatten me up.
Some distance from the city centre I discover an Indian takeaway. A beacon of light drawing out night owls with its promise of sovereign cuisine. Inside I can see about half a dozen men. One of them has left their car running. I sit nearby with my book and cup in a way that the Statue of Liberty should look.
The odour of food is so distracting I can only pretend to read. Above the same page figures cross without acknowledgement. That game of blind man’s buff I am already used to. It takes only a half hour of rejection before I quietly call it a day.