Into the city
I’m waiting for spring. That’s what I’m thinking as the bus takes me into the city. It’s dark outside. It’s gone cold again, there wasn’t much sun today. I have my hands on my lap, my pea coat buttoned up and I flick my fringe out of my eyes. I’m on the top deck of the bus. There are two girls behind me on the other side. In front is an old man with a flat cap. Other than that, there’s no one else here.
We get to a roundabout on the outskirts. The bus slows down and crosses and then carries on. In a few moments, we get to the main shopping street. There are a few people walking along, looking in shops, and windows, but not many. It’s early February and the fun of window shopping disappeared over a month ago.
The bus comes to a stop and the two girls behind me get up first and head to the stairs. They stop at the top and then disappear down. I get up and follow them, the old man with the flat cap behind me. The girls are off the bus quickly and I walk down the steps and get to the bottom and head onto the street.
It’s sharp out here, the cold of the evening hitting my face. There’s a light breeze as well. I look down so the breeze catches my hair and moves with it and not against it. I start walking, with my hands in my pockets, on my way to the square next to the Clock Tower. I walk past the shops, with their bright lights in the windows, the closed-up cafes, the bars where there are a few people standing, and cross the road. I see him.
Jack’s standing, waiting, with his checked raincoat buttoned up and his white plimsolls against the wall, and his hands in his pockets like me, his black mop sculpting his face like a picture frame. He looks at me and smiles, his eyes dark with too much eyeliner and too many late nights. His cheekbones are prominent and his cheeks are slightly sunken. He moves away from the clock tower and joins me and asks what kept me and I laugh and say the bus was late. We walk away from the clock tower, towards the street where we carry on going to the gig.
We walk up the street, past a park which we go to sometimes in the summer. The flowers will be in bloom and the grass will be green and the trees will cast shadows. We go past old buildings, office blocks, and flats. I ask him if he wants a warmer upper on the way and he says he does. We stop at a pub called The Red Lion, which we’ve been to before on the way to gigs, and go up to the bar.
The barman’s talking to someone and he stands there for a while as we wait. He turns and sees us and comes over and we order our beers and, in a few moments, they’re in our hands. They’re cold and crisp and it goes with the weather outside. It’s warmer in here but, every so often, the door opens and lets in a breeze.
There’s a record on the jukebox and I nod my head to the music. Jack’s talking to me about the band he wants to get together that we talked about the other night. He’ll be on vocals and I’ll be on guitar. I look at him and smile and say that would be good and he says we’ll have to get something together. There’s a poster for the band we’re seeing tonight on the wall and I look at it and think the boy with the black mop looks good in his roll neck jumper. Then Jack tells me about all of it.
We finish our drinks and leave the pub. He’s still talking about the band and then he starts telling me about the ones who are on tonight and how he’s been listening to some of their tunes. We keep walking and there are two girls leaning against the wall, a brunette and a blonde and they look at us and smile. They’re skinny, waif-like, and beautiful, with long hair and eyes dark with too much eyeliner and too many late nights. One of them, the brunette, looks at Jack hard and we walk by and don’t take any notice of them. Though I think to myself I’d quite like to take notice of them, or one of them, the blonde one who doesn’t look at Jack hard. We keep going and get to the venue where the gig is.
Jack leads the way in. It’s down some steps into a cellar. He’s still talking about the band we’re going to form. It’s dark in here and small and there’s a bar on the left and the stage in front. There’s a DJ in the corner and an old Stax record playing with dirty guitars and horns and I think I’ve got this somewhere in my collection.
Jack leans on the bar and looks at me with his blackened eyes and his fringe flopping over his face and smiles and asks me what I want and I say a can of Red Stripe. He orders the drinks and I take mine. The can’s cold and I flick open the ring pull and have a drink. It’s cold and crisp and goes with the weather outside. It’s warmer in here and I unbutton my pea coat though Jack keeps his checked raincoat buttoned up. The record changes to another old Stax record, this one a Hammond instrumental, and look round and the two waiflike girls we saw on the way here have arrived and are standing at the end of the bar.
Then the record fades and the band comes onstage. There are four of them and they all have floppy haircuts that fall over their faces and are wearing skinny jeans and desert boots with paisley button-down shirts or black roll necks or Henley tops. Two of them have Rickenbackers, a six string and a bass, and another’s playing keyboards and the other’s the drummer. The drummer sits down behind his kit and starts to play a rhythm. The bass player follows and then the guitarist starts a manic two-chord riff and the keyboard player joins in.
The guitarist goes over to the microphone and starts screaming inaudible lyrics and his voice is hard and bluesy. I look at Jack and he looks at me and we smile at each other. I have a sip of my Red Stripe and it’s cold and crisp. We move forward to the front of the stage and stand and nod our heads and watch the band play their garage rock. They finish the first song and go straight into the next and it’s hard and wild.
The two waif-like girls we saw on the way here have gone to the front of the stage and they’ve started dancing. They’re dancing together like a pair and other people start to dance as well. In a few moments, they move closer to us and one of them, the brunette, looks at Jack hard. The other one, the blonde, looks at me and looks away again. They carry on dancing and we stand and watch the band and I stand drinking my Red Stripe.
The band plays more songs and they’re short and sharp and wild. The singer’s going crazy, his hair flopping over his face. The two girls move closer and the brunette starts talking to Jack and he looks like he’s happy to do so. Then the blonde girl starts talking to me and she says she’s a student and goes to gigs here all the time. They live just down the road from here, in a flat, we passed on the way up.
The band plays their set and, a few minutes later, they’ve finished and the DJ starts playing records again. The next one is another old Stax single and it has dirty guitars and horns. When the band’s finished we go to the bar and carry on talking to the two girls. We buy drinks and talk about the band and some of the others who have played here. The brunette says they’re going to a club near here called Helter Skelter and she says they play the sort of music we like. She asks us if we want to go with them. Jack looks at me and I look at him and we smile. We say we’ll go.
We stand here for a few minutes and finish our drinks. I put my empty can of Red Stripe on the bar and Jack does the same. We leave the bar and walk up the steps. We walk out onto the street. It’s cold and I put my hands deep in my pockets as I walk along with the blonde girl and I think again I’m waiting for spring.