Paper love

Monday to Friday as the world walks by, I stand in the same place, posing the question to the city’s workers, residents and visitors, asking obliging passers-by to take something they will only keep for half an hour, and then dispose of in a bin, or perhaps leave on public transport to be picked up by some unknown, to be dispersed far and wide all over London and beyond.
“London Lite!! London Liiite!!”

I used to whisper it to people as they went past, scared of being disappointed with the sound of my own voice, of how feeble it may appear, anxious at the lack of acknowledgement on people’s faces as the plea escaped from my mouth. I hoped I could somehow hide away from the pedestrian’s gaze, shrink back into my clothes, and just thrust an arm and peer out from within my oversized jacket. On the second day of my new job as a free paper distributor – a job not tied to a desk the advert said, basic grasp of English required – my boss pulled me over whilst our dailies were being chucked out of the illegally parked delivery van, and he offered me a few kindly words.

“You gotta talk girl, all right? Papers don’t get shifted without a few words, you gotta get vocal, let them know you are ere, all right?”

My boss was a big man, deep and wide, but not tall, who was inclined to wear t-shirts that made him appear pregnant and with a need to show off his eagerly awaited offspring. His childlike exterior begged the question of whether he was in a relationship, or ever had been, but I really didn’t care. This man did not matter, he pays me the money, which is all I need to know. I wheeled my basket away to my usual spot, about a ten minute walk from Victoria station along the originally named Victoria Street, took a few copies from the top of my stack and proceeded to open my mouth. But little came out. I looked anxiously around for the boss but he didn’t appear to be close by. I continued in silence, asking people with my eyes alone to please take a paper. I was there until 7pm standing silently in the dark long after most of my colleagues had shifted their quota.The next day at 4pm, as we shivered in the cold awaiting the delivery, our boss pulled me over again for another pep talk.

“If you don’t start talking you can fuck off. Got it?”

The language didn’t shock me, but what did was the prospect of losing my job. I couldn’t afford to be without work, my all too recent trip to London had taken a lot out of me, and with my official documentation having gone a rye, my choices were limited. Bit by bit I forced myself to push out the words, indecipherable at first, just uttered for the benefit of my own conscious, but eventually inspiration arrived, in the form of a tall dark handsome stranger.You see, there is this guy, he flows past me everyday amongst a sea of ordinary faces, jumping out at me, as if he is from a different species to everybody else. The first time I saw him he was pacing towards me in a beautiful dark suit and shiny black shoes, busily engrossed with tapping a message into his phone. I was immediately jealous, conjuring an image of a beautiful girl smiling at the other end waiting in anticipation. I watched him go by, inspecting him from head to toe as he meandered his way through the crowds somewhat oblivious to the head on traffic. I smiled as I spun back on my heels, waving my papers and tentatively shouting out my scripted words,“London Lite, Free paper, London Lite”The next day I spotted him from further away, even able to take a guess at where he worked. I let the papers dangle from my hand as my body relaxed, my vacant stare following his path. A few metres away and my eyes widened in union with my mouth, but when trying to engage my body in action I was left wanting, he drifted past lost in his thoughts and he in mine. I squeezed my papers in frustration, my boss was right, if I wanted to be noticed I would need to get more vocal. Everyone that now passed by me I imagined was him, my new man, and I called out to them; “London Lite, free paper, Sir, Madam, London Lite” whilst all the time adorning my most delicious smile.My boss greeted me with a mysterious wink the next day and chuckled a few words of approval;“You got it, got it good girlll!”Buoyed with confidence I fed papers left and right, all the while keeping one eye on that doorway in the distance from which he had appeared from yesterday. I considered moving a little closer, but encroaching on other colleague’s territory was frowned upon by the management. As suddenly as he appeared yesterday, there he was again! A winter overcoat swished behind him as he spun out of the revolving doors. I could feel the clammy surface of the paper, running my fingers back and forth along the pile draped over my left arm. I slipped my fingers under the top paper, careful not to crease it, watching his eyes and trying to pull his gaze towards me. Someone pestered me at my side as they tried to remove a paper from my arm, their words insignificant and watery as I let them drift away. Ten metres from me now; he stretches over a puddle, carefully moving from the road to the safety of the pavement, five metres; I simultaneously stretch my arm out and open my mouth, two metres; and my throat suddenly dry; the words are rasping quietly stuck somewhere deep inside, one metre; ‘take it, take it please’ my eyes willing him to look my way, and then, he’s gone, he didn’t see me, didn’t make eye contact, although, maybe there was a split second when I looked away and he looked mine, yes perhaps? But now he is gone, gone for another day. How cruel that he didn’t notice me I thought, standing here in a bright yellow logo emblazoned coat, a collection of papers by my side, and not even a glimpse my way. When the peak rush hour crowds die my job finishes, and all that is left behind is my days work discarded about town, modern day tumbleweed for the cityscape. Dejected and tired I drop off my trolley as I wind my way through a crowd of theatre goers, before slipping quietly onto a busy bus, tomorrow I will try again, and this time I will be noticed.

The sun shines a spotlight on me, as I inch myself into the daylight; away from my normal position stood within the shadows of the concrete buildings that surround me. Five to five, a couple of minutes to go, he is like clockwork; he clearly isn’t in love with his job, how wonderful to know that we already have something in common. My mind wanders the passing crowd, an old man leches at me as he hobbles painfully slowly past, my damning glare warns him not to ask for a paper. And then, ‘32 inch TV just £355’ I stare past an advertisement at my reflection in the shop window, is the lipstick and short skirt too much? People walk past me pretending I am not there, others stare at me with pity as they twitch their faces in disgust, who am I to impede their daily commute, how dare I occupy this space along their route, making their lives even more miserable than it has to be after a 9-5 day of unfulfilled monotony and pretence. A Big Issue seller to my right fares little better. He succeeds in not being part of the corporate drive to impart advertisements and cheap titillation on the general public, but let’s himself down in the dress and grooming stakes.

After handing an unsuspecting tourist a copy of today’s events, and watching that child like grin at receiving something for free, I check my watch and then glance up almost missing my loves entrance. I look over myself, my delicate nondescript slip on shoes allowing my legs encased in black leggings – framed from above by a belt like skirt – to provide the alluring bait. The mandatory yellow t-shirt sits a little awkwardly within the composition; and I consider how I can’t escape my given position in society by just applying a few racy accessories. Still, what matters is now, he is here, a look left and then right as he carefully crosses the road. Somebody clips my arm as they walk past me, a mass of blonde hair and long legs momentarily blocking my view. I shift my weight to peer around this woman, tensely clutching today’s news, and I see he is smiling; has he seen me? Left foot, right foot, his pace slows to a halt, and then, a blur of uncertainty. My view is once again obscured by the mass of blonde hair, which begins to transform as fingers appear from within and entwine behind the woman’s head. My man is nowhere to be seen, there is a moment’s confusion until the hands release the head and all becomes clear. I am still holding a paper in my outstretched hand when they turn and waltz arm in arm past me, pausing briefly as the woman grabs the paper from my hand, all the time holding the gaze of this man. Left standing statue like, my last paper is removed from my arm by a bearded tramp who inserts it into a carrier bag stuffed full of other free items.As the shock subsides I turn and calmly pace after the couple who are now in full stride some way ahead. A veil of darkness slowly draws over my eyes, in my mind blinds are being gently lowered to signify the end of the day. Some traffic lights flip from amber to red and then the Victorian line platform number one beckons as a train pulls me away and into a deep tunnel. A huge town house towers above me, its door is ajar and what appears to be a lipstick rolls along a tiled floor. And the number 40 bus opens its doors and I step off uneasily, twisting a key and climbing the stairs to my bed. Sleep gathers me up, darkness calming, I feel safe and at peace.

My boss is furious the next afternoon.

“Who the fuck do you think you are? You reckon you can just yank on a short skirt and pull the wool over me eyes? Shit, if you weren’t so good at shifting papers I’d kick you right back onto that sodding boat you arrived on. Let’s see how you get on now that you’ve decided to dress less like a slut today”.A bald fat arrogant prick is what I think, you can’t do me any harm, there is nothing I desire from you. In defiance I drag my papers without assistance to my employer’s strategically thought out position. There are streams of thoughts drifting their way around my head, but I am unable to make any sense of them. I know that he will not be here today, and even if he was things would not be the same. Every day the same people walk past me, at the same time, with the same looks on their faces, what difference are they making, what is the point, their endless trek through their carefully segmented lives. 5pm comes and goes; I wonder where he is right now. I hold a paper in front of a smartly dressed man’s face who takes it more out of an attempt to avoid a collision than an effort to express some courtesy. And as he does so, I notice the front page for the first time today. There is a picture of a beautiful woman who appears oddly familiar; is she famous? I top up my arm from the remaining pile and read the headline on the front page.‘A young girl stabbed to death in North London as she returned home’.The chief suspect, her boyfriend, a man with a previous conviction of sexual assault and already condemned by the press of a hot headed moment of uncontrollable jealousy. There is a request for any witnesses to come forward, followed by a heart wrenching outpouring of grief from the girl’s mother. The story holds my attention for a moment, before I whip off the top paper and with renewed vigour shout out the name of my employer, gathering pace as I urgently thrust from side to side. Perhaps, I think, perhaps it is better to stay dreaming whilst handing out the daily headlines, than to fulfil those dreams and be a part of them.

Paper love


London, United Kingdom

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