I Am Not Alan

July 27, 2010

You are uncomfortable. The day outside has turned unexpectedly cold but the air in the underground remains hot and stagnant. Two micro-climates collide irritably in the sweat underneath your collar. You do not believe summer will ever come, but as it stands you are over-heating, rapidly.

‘I think it will be October forever,’

You announce too loudly. You are in an affected mood and think you are in a play.You rail, your arms flailing.

‘It’s June,’ I say.


You glower darkly and twist and turn in your seat, your neck craning awkwardly for attention. You always make a scene on public transport. I am glad the train was too full for me to sit next to you today.

We pull into a station, and wait. The doors open. The doors close. We do not move. A public announcement threatens. Then the voice, nicely spoken but stern, invades the carriage:

‘This is a passenger announcement.’


She can’t hear you. She says her vowels strangely: her aas and ees are too long.

‘Will Alan please come to the ticket hall, where his carer is waiting for him.’

Whoever he is, Alan does not depart from our carriage. Or indeed the train, because the voice repeats:

‘Will Alan please come to the ticket hall, where his carer is waiting for him.’

I think I would like to meet the voice.


You are growing louder. One more time, the voice cries out:

She smiles at you.‘Will Alan please -’


You rail, your arms flailing.

People stare.


You glare back at them.

‘I am NOT Alan,’

You announce to the carriage. I think maybe they wish you were.

Obscurely self-satisfied, you sit. The woman next to you looks you up and down suspiciously. You do likewise. I brace myself.

You are listening intently– but I cannot make out what to. You stick your finger in your left ear, shake your head, and lean towards the plastic bag on your neighbour’s lap.

You look at me, alarmed, and then back to the bag. Eyes staring, wide and round,

‘What’s in the bag,’

You ask the woman. She smiles at you.

‘Please?’ You ask, ‘Tell me.’

Your face screwed up in concentration, your wrinkled forehead off-sets your eye-patch ridiculously.confused little face

She beckons you to come closer. The bag rustles and you jump back in fright. She stills the shaking plastic and you close in, take a deep breath and peak inside.

Delight paints your features pink.

‘Pigeon,’ she says.

‘Pigeon,’ you repeat.

I can tell you want one of your own.

‘What does Pigeon eat?’

You want to know.

She takes a slice of bread out of her pocket, breaks it up and drops it into the bag. You clap your hands.

As we leave the train I catch a glimpse of the bird’s confused little face.

‘Now I’ve made a new friend too,’

You say.

I know you mean the pigeon.

I know you mean the pigeon


On the Bus

February 3, 2010

You awoke in the early evening, I was not there. When I returned you demanded a bus trip, for mid-afternoon tea out of a plastic cup in a new and exciting location. On the way back you remember my absence, and are annoyed that I have been away. You intend to punish me with your conversational, guilt-inducing questions.

‘Where did you go?’ you demand, hostility impatient like a child’s.

‘Lots of places,’ I reply.

‘What kinds of places?’

I hesitate, but I do not have the power to lie to you.

‘I got on a train and went to a supermarket far away.’

‘Without me? You know we don’t get on trains on our own’ – you are anxiously disgruntled, and then just anxious – ‘It isn’t safe’.

The bus stops. Outside in the street a black dog barks and secures your paranoia.

‘Look! Look.

You point out of the window.

I reach into my pocket and take out a bottle of pills. Green.


You scowl, hold out your hand, grab and swallow.

‘Crackpot-voodoo-witchdoctor-quack’, you say.

‘It’s good for you,’ I say.

You turn your back to me and talk to the glass.


The bus-window sees your wrath. I peer at your reflection and try to explain.

‘I wanted to see new places.’

‘And new people? I expect you wanted to see them too!’

‘Some new people. Only some.’

A melodramatic change of posture, you fix on me with your one good eye. Then the green pill works its way through your veins and you relax.

‘It’s too late to apologise now. But – ’

Hand raised in a symbol of peace your crooked fingers issue their benevolent blessing,

‘I forgive you your trespasses, anyway.’

You grow hazy.

‘I like the pigeons.’

‘I know you do.’

‘Can we go and read to them tomorrow?’


You lapse into silence. I think you might be sleeping. The bus stops at a red light. You stir, and I realise you are watching me.

‘Who did you meet?’ you ask, curiosity sleepy like a child’s.

‘I made a new friend.’

‘Better than me? Do you love him, or her, or it, more than you love me?’

‘No one,’ I reply, ‘I love no one more than you.’

She told me that was her name. ‘I am No one,’ she said.

Satisfied, you close your eye to dream, and the bus drives on.

Reading to the Pigeons

October 4, 2009

‘It’s good to have dreams,’ you say, ‘But what’s the point if you are about to stop breathing?’

‘You’re not about to stop breathing,’ I say.

You exhale and the lights in the carriage come back on, and we continue thundering forwards, however many feet beneath the earth. They only flickered for a moment.

‘There’s nothing funny about madness,’ you say.

‘I’m not laughing, and you’re not mad.’

‘I’m creative.’

‘Yes,’ I say, but I don’t sound convincing enough and you sulk.

The rush hour commuters swell the train with the smell of cold coffee and warm photo-copying, paper-cuts and paper-clips, and a bitter unease that catches in the back of my throat. I hold my breath.

‘You’re not about to stop breathing,’ you say in a silly high voice that comes from the top of your head.

I suggest we leave the train.

Pain is ugly, it comes in waves. You face me on the escalator like a child afraid of heights, and I watch it twist your mouth, a gruesome blue. The wave breaks and passes, and I am sure that you are well and I only imagined it. We step out of the station and the sunlight catches me off-guard and flecks my vision with heavy black spots. I can see around the edge of things.

‘You look different,’ you say.

‘So do you,’ I say, ‘Speck-ly.’

The air by the river is stagnant with hateful heat, a climate we never grow accustomed to, even if we have lived here all our lives. Summer in the city is always surprising when it arrives.

We reach the spot, a grass scrap beside a concrete pillar.

‘Here’. You are definite.

I shrug, and put the keyboard down. Today you decide you will read Foucault at the pigeons, in D minor.

‘A cliché,’ you announce, ‘But a true one,’ and begin.