& That is Where I found Her On A Tuesday In Lateapril

London Wall runs exactly east to west – or west to east – so that walking to & from work, one is blessed with the most glorious sunshine at a Pythagorean angle all over their hurrying frame. The streets, the buildings, kerbs, the dusty eaves of roadside windows are illuminated all day, the sliver of a shadow rolling over their stone. It will make the aforementioned journey slightly less torturous, bestowing upon one in mid-spring on their way to the office a beautiful view of this dying city.

Everything is more beautiful as it is dying, and so is the day over London Wall. In the lateapril evenings, the dusty orange of sunset is cut open by the faded blue underneath passing black cabs. It is so colourful and pleasing to the eye, which has evolved for the sole purpose, some might say, of taking in such a sight. Even the advertisements that whittle on by are minor fireworks in the chaos impacted upon one’s senses. I do not like to imagine that I will ever become indifferent to these views.

And that is where I find myself on a Tuesday in lateapril. Leaving work, I was acutely aware that I was running late and had not allowed the usual twenty minutes it takes to pace from my desk to the train, where I could find a seat next to some unmasked soul who strokes their mobilephone like a cat and the shades & lights shimmer on down, shimmer on up.

I put my foot down, as my father would say, and made for it. There was a cigarette in the breast pocket of my white shirt, which I lit against the tiny balls of wind that purred in my cupped palm. Walking is a talent. Many people do not know this, but the author takes effort to underline that walking is a talent. Furthermore, walking is a talent that few possess. Certainly, they can put one foot before the other, but walking – truly walking – evades them. They mimic true walkers, but their imitations are obvious, cheap, asinine. I am a talented walker. I walk with speed and grace. Each footstep is a note, a semiquaver or a crotchet, carefully placed and measured against what came before and what follows. The big toe and ball of the outstretched foot are angled so that they lead elegantly into the next. The matter of fellow pedestrians is merely a trifle. I see them stumble clumsily in front of me; my direction begins to shift, the muscles of my body are taught, ready to respond to any manoeuvre that is required; my irises dilate to ensure that I do not miss the tiniest adjustment to their path. I weave and I skate as though on ice. Meanwhile a scarf of tobaccosmoke careens off my shoulder. Some might call—‘How do you walk so fast if you are a smoker?’ but I do not have time for their nonsense, their vapid questions; any response would be lost on them! I raise my hand—‘Thank you, but I must go!’ Sometimes they hurry after me, but that is futile.

Occasionally I meet my match and I mark their card. A fellow of speed and determination! ‘So, you think you’re a good walker, eh?’ I say to myself—‘Let’s see how good you are.’ I stretch and I dash. At the crossing they wait for a bus to pass, give it room – ‘You cannot give a red bus room,’ I say – as it brushes my nose, and leave them in my wake. They raise their hand and call out to me—‘Teach me, senpei!’ but I do not have time to teach them. They are already too far away.

An herbivore’s eyes are on the side of its head. They do not care for distance, only scope. They must be wary of the approaching predator. A predator’s eyes are forwardfacing. They must know how far away something is, so that they may execute their pounce perfectly. As one path or road converges with my own, I like to pretend I am an herbivore. I attempt to stretch my eyes, silly as it may seem, and pretend I am an herbivore, a Thomson’s gazelle. There are humans coming from this way & that; I must be prudent to avoid a collision, for they will surely not be paying attention.

Halfway along my route, Coleman St punctures the side of London Wall, the former coming from nowhere like a knife to the gut. Many humans come from that direction; there are crossings and convergent paths, there are varying tempos, there are pauses and reductions in speed; a true walker does well to gauge everything before them and adapt their way to suit; the feet a little later stutter and find a new rhythm (one of the greatest words in the English language). The amateurs know nothing of the disruption they have caused. They dawdle and shrug! ‘You will move for me!’ they say. ‘No,you must give way!’ I call behind. It is the pinnacle of the journey. It is the moment when all the walker’s skills and experience are put to the test, as the slight flutter of air between two bodies an inch apart is felt and excites!

And that is when I saw her.

It was not the first time. The first time – I remember it – had seemed like a dream, or even an apparition, yet, the author underlines again, that apparitions do not exist. It was chalked up as nothing, a case of the eyes – herbivore or otherwise – seeing what they wanted to see.

It was nothing. It was spring playing its tricks. It was moribund light performing its final stunt. Back then I had realised it was nothing, and that I was only sad, which caused me to see things that were not really there.

That was until yesterday when it happened again. I was walking along, expertly, and I came to the point where Coleman St punctures London Wall. She crossed my path, but I had her measured precisely so that I need not adjust my steps but only the angle of my body.

Looking not at her as a stranger but a friend, seeing her face but not an entity, I realised it was H—.

I choked on my throat. She passed me by, only a foot between she and I. She was smiling, having seen something on her mobilephone that made her happy. The laugh was almost audible and were it not for my headphones I would have heard it, even amongst the throngs of traffic and bustle. What was H— doing here? what business did she have being right before me, crossing my path? Of course, my eyes flashed down her body like something defeated, trying at once to determine whether it was her or not. I blinked. She was there, and the past appearance was recalled in an instant, such is the mind when recalling loss.

And yet that twist in the streets of this place is stocked with memories of a walk we made on the day she returned home one Monday in October twenty-nineteen. We were speaking of death, and we were laughing; I remember that. And now this stranger is laughing.

But I was caught so offguard that I choked on my own throat, made a motion with my hand up to my collar, to loosen, to alleviate. She was so beautiful yet she was not even close. As my eyes flashed down her body, I saw that her blacktighed legs were shapely and I sighed. She knew nothing of me and did not care to know. There was no recognition. All our history was insignificant. We were just two passing winds. I was just a corner of her eye, a black shape encroaching and near. The stranger looked so much like H— it was incomprehensible; an accident, a joke played on me by the universe.

Yet it was only fleeting! No sooner had I noticed and gasped than she was by my side, in front of me, behind, passed away. Like every other stranger in London, she fell into the distance. It was not enough. I turned my head, taking my eye away from the route and its perils, to look upon her one more time, as though I were afforded something magnificent, something not extended to me before, as if, quite realistically, I will never lay my eyes upon H— again.

As I stared at her crossing the road, I realised that the young lady next to me might believe that I was staring at her. And I became ashamed. I turned away, turned my head down to the pavement. And I walked on. Finally, I pulled my neck to see her one last time, but she had disappeared into the turbulence of a pedestrian mass. She was lost to me then as she is lost to me now. ‘Who knows’ I thought—‘Maybe I will see her again. See her again as I am walking home from the office one day.’