I totter out into the street on my first-week-at-work heels. Maybe next week I’ll wear runners and hope the guy with the cute smile in PR doesn’t notice – not that it matters, he’s not worth the pain. When he smiles at me I notice that his eyes see nothing, not even my shiny black shoes. And why do they have to be black? Whoever said black is the new black is a fool. And I’m a fool for listening to them. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wear purple corduroy pants and a lime green silk blouse and I’ll dye my hair pink. But even as I think it I know I’m not brave enough to do it, I’m too afraid of what people would say and think, and their laughter. Their unseeing eyes wouldn’t notice my smile as I catch my reflection, noticing just how many colours I’ve managed to wear. Why was the fashion black in the first place and why do we need a new one every few months? The city streets I pace are a mass of black, it’s the bored worker’s uniform – disconnected, professional, blank. As I sway along with all the other ebony lemmings on the tram I dread making it back to the flat. I wish someone would come along and hug me, convert me to some strange and subversive religion and encourage me to live in a tree. Then I think everything might be ok. At least then I might be able to wear green.
The man with the quaking jowls sitting across from me reminds me of what I imagine Sam to be in twenty or thirty years. Scowling and brooding, but not in that mysterious, sexy way some men seem to achieve, but in an oppressive, headache inducing way. I wonder if someone taught him to look that way, slowly moulding his face over the years until they were satisfied that he was uglier than they were. Sam has had all his lessons, but maybe he taught himself. He scowls at the milk being gone, broods when I tell him to stop yelling racist comments at the T.V and get a life. I decide I have to get away from the man with the jowls.
The tram slows and then jolts to a stop at the lights, making everyone sway ridiculously, losing their propriety for a moment. I cross the street into one of my favourite cafes. The service is terrible and the doughy woman who works behind the counter treats me with contempt. I smile every time as she slips the steaming risotto ball into the crunching paper bag but she just frowns at me and snatches my money. It had become my favourite game to tell her a new joke each time I walked in, just to see if she would smile. But the muscles in the corner of her mouth had not even twitched, nor would she say anything and her persistence had become too menacing. The only thing that would cure the restless feeling created by my encounters with the woman was her risotto balls. I told her that once, just to see her reaction, but even irony failed to amuse her.
I trap the steam in the bag, under the illusion that this will keep the squishy, aromatic rice warm, as I step back out into the chilling crush of the street. A shrill, startling voice from across the street makes me whip my head around and I almost crash into a man advertising pasta outside his shop. I apologise, but he takes no notice, yelling over my head in to a crowd of potential customers. The shrill voice had reminded me of Tammy – “You’re so quiet, why don’t you tell us what you’re really thinking?" I laugh at her when she asks me that. Tammy questioned everything and at first it had been endearing, having a curious friend, someone who was interested in what you had to say. But I had started to play games with Tammy, telling her stories of family scandals that had never existed and secret desires I never had.
“You’re lying!" she would yell, then ask quietly “Are you?" Sometimes I would laugh and tell her I wasn’t lying, I was telling a story. Other times I would look sad and serious and say,
“Fine, don’t believe me then." Tammy had begun to be suspicious of anything I said and sometimes even things I did. Now I suspected she hated me. I didn’t mind that but I wished she would stop demanding to know me, shrieking her accusations at me.
I climb on to another tram to escape the voice across the street that has invaded my head. I sit down and pick at the rice in the bag. I wonder how I will escape detection when I get back to the flat, and idly glance around the tram. After a few minutes I realise my eyes have come to rest and I am staring at a couple sitting near me. I cannot help staring; the woman is an elegant brunette, with manicured nails and a fitted bluish black suit. She has a warm smile which she flicks around expertly but naturally, and is resting her head on the man’s shoulder affectionately. He however, is a punk, dressed mostly in black with silver studs and chains. His hair is dark and greasy with different streaks through it and his shoes are checked pink and black. His t-shirt is ripped and the woman is playing with the rip. I wonder at how two such different people can love each other, let alone how two people like that would meet. They look odd, like two worlds colliding, but less violent. They seem not to care, as I would, about the stares and whispers they attract. I realise I am jealous of these people and their ability to cross between worlds; I have to escape from them too.
As I skim awkwardly down the street I try to avoid my own thoughts. A mousy haired man with huge watery blue eyes stands up ahead of me, trying to hand something out to passers-by. I assume it is pizza deals or ‘Jewellery 20% Off’ so I prepare to ignore him, glazing my eyes in a different direction, crossing my arms around my body. Once I am level with him he asks in a quiet voice
“Would you like to read my poem…for small change…or nothing at all?" It is such a strange request that I halt the clicking of my black shoes on the pavement. I turn to look at the unobtrusive man wearing jeans, a Pink Floyd t-shirt and a hopeful look on his face.
“Sure," I say, quite unsurely, and I slowly read his poem. It’s simple free form, thirteen lines long.
“It’s beautiful," I say truthfully, matching his quiet demeanour. Then, in an unconscious haze, I unzip my purse, which is full of change. The coins make a silver and gold waterfall as they crash into his hand and I walk away feeling a slight freedom from the world as I read his poem again.