Kolorowych Snow

It was nearly dark as we walked down Gresham St at half-six. The air was clingy and excited, headlights hissing towards us, the deep blue sky, a golden grasshopper atop Bank shone out. It may have been late summer; it may have been pre-covid, for London city was busy again. Already the bars overspilled onto pavements outside where there was chatter and laughing. One had to make it to their destination as quickly as they could so they might join in the festivities. At Moorgate, I bid my new colleagues farewell.

My invitation was two roads over. A friend, Wyatt, was leaving my old company. Finally, he had broken free. Although his tenure had been less than three years, his exit was long overdue, and our friendships seemed longer as he quickly embedded himself in our small drinking circle. An bald, overweight plumber with rosy cheeks and gaps in his teeth, who would spend his lunch hours looking at golf clubs and never always avoided the short answer. A year ago he had told me he would leave as soon as he was able, before his health took a turn. Now he was quite lucky to be alive. To celebrate his resignation, he asked everyone to an old haunt, and that was where I made my way. I walked with great purpose, huge driving strides, trembling off caffeine and anticipation. Everyone greeted me warmly as I entered. There were hugs and kisses, handshakes, fists, nods. There were faces I did not recognise, but mostly there were old friends and smiles. Wyatt absorbed me into his ursine embrace, our prickly cheeks scratching the other. Behind the bar was the same staff from before lockdown, each countenance stimulating in me a strange sense of comfort, of returning.  My name was called – friends on the other side, offering – a hand tapped me on the shoulder, greetings, another, spinning, embrace, quick catch-ups, how-are-you’s, the tricks of having two conversations at once while paying for a round. My old boss appeared, polite exchanges.

It was Thursday night in the city, and it was familiar! We had weathered the storm, and storm no longer existed, no longer burdened anyone’s mind with anxiety or fear. Proximity was resumed, elbow to elbow, three-deep at the brassedged bar, wine and pint glasses hanging like fat bats, plucked like fruit, the slow elevation of a thin white line, angled, getting nearer. As a child, I savoured the first red Skittle. As an adult, I savour the first pint.

In the corner where they gathered, I was introduced to my ‘replacement’, a diminutive man who stared at me with raisin eyes but said little. ‘Everyone is replaceable,’ I reminded myself; words someone had told me years ago. After things calmed down, I came to realise I had intruded upon a sombre gathering. Settling down, one could not help but notice many quiet conversations were taking place between two or three people, and they looked, side-eye, for anyone who might be listening in. Diagnoses of the company were offered, opinions, life expectancies delivered solemnly, complaints, comparisons of offences. Each man and woman wore their troubles like war medals. If anyone asked me how things were going, I made every effort to downplay my good fortune. What good would it do to be smug about such things? Although, of one thing I was certain: seeing all my old colleagues again was as natural and as good as anything, and they were truly decent companions, in peace and in war. Our old rhythms resumed, our jokes and tone.

McArthur roped her hand through a gap and made the universal gesture for—‘Cigarette?’ She was celebrating her first month away from the company and in a smoky alley she announced her happiness, the joy in her decision to leave, and, as she called it, ‘life after death.’ We spoke down to the butt, and somehow our bond stronger for having made it out of there, only the other immediately aware of how wonderful it was to have survived. For years past, we had gathered in that narrow alley with its white tiles and frosted windows like a bathroom, and now our paths diverged. We were stood on the quay. The warm London air chased itself through those back alleys with the smell of black dust at its tail.

Patrycja—Are you coming over? Read without fully removing the phone from my pocket. I was in the middle of a conversation, and after that there was the obligation of my round. She was waiting, apparently impatiently. It was a game: I keep her waiting and she threatens to leave, An hour later, my obligation fulfilled and the atmosphere waning, I said good-bye to all, though that is no easy task, not two minutes but fifeetn spent wandering around, getting everyone, a loose final tête-à-tête. One final kiss on the cheek of Wyatt who squeezes both sides of my face. We will see each other soon, he promises. And so our paths diverge.

Patrycja! It was a game, yes, but what if she really did leave? I thought, I must get there as soon as I can.

No sooner had I made it out down the steps of the bar and on my way to her than a hand caught me and there was Abdullah. Apart from a firm hug at my arrival, we had missed the opportunity to talk. He is a gentleman and I told him as much, that he is an engineer I would support if he wished to leave. He said he would not – not right now – and I deflated, but understood. When the time is right, he told me. The time is right at different times for different people, and he is not there yet. The rattle of the Royal Exchange was in the background, the flickering of Bank’s traffic lights, people passing from one bar to another, doormen searching bags and making small-talk, ubers pulling up, lighters handed from here to there. We wrapped our arms around each other, and away I went from old friends to new.
Patrycja was in there somewhere. Down in the basement. It was a pitch-black cavern with lights dotted around. There were loud music and people. I went to a tall table where Jacqueline and Denteh were stood, interspersing their discussion with bizarre looks around the bar, as though two children had stumbled into the circus tent. It was a woman’s leaving party, the atmosphere was alive, the mood jubilant. Beck loudly asked me where I had been.  One of the directors bought me a beer. I looked around. Things appeared chaotic. The occasion had already descended to the point where one’s conversations could not be had quietly, but must be belted out, as though the toilet attendant must know also.

Patrycja was sat down talking to another young woman. She was drinking a gin and tonic. I stared at her, but she elected to ignore me. I see! that’s how it is. I smiled at her – she saw – and went away. Someone fell on me, someone fell on everyone; she stumbled around the bar like a darted pinball machine, her eyes lolling backwards, her mouth open, dazed, her white hands drawing imaginary shapes in the air. ‘Brenda,’ I said—‘Are you okay?’ Brenda swallowed a dry lot of nothing to speak but only mouthed and sighed then giggled. I set a glass of water in her hands. ‘Sit on this stool… No, no, drink the water.’ Brenda did not listen, and floated off once more, pinging off people, none of them particularly concerned for her condition or her presence. A man on the table next to me, hunched over a tall beer told me—‘Don’t bother, mate. Don’t fuckin’ bother. She does this every time. She gets wasted. You see! You see! She gets wasted then she ends up shaggin’ someone. She’s a fuckin’ slag! A fuckin’ slag!’ His eyes loomed out at me, spittle on his lips. He swayed.

‘You all right, bruv?’ I asked, patting his arm, and walked off. One must quickly learn who to avoid at such gatherings.

Besides him, everybody was having a grand time. It was infectious. One had only to spectate and they could not help but grin at the sight! The mood was different. It seemed I had gone from a wake to a wedding.

Finally, she came to me. ‘O, hello,’ I said. And she smiled—


Despite her blonde hair, her blue eyes always seemed dark. They got stuck into me. And when she had had a drink, she bore them into me even deeper. We were happy to see each other. We spoke of how our evenings had gone. ‘So you didn’t leave then?’ I asked with relish, and she had only to smirk at me and shake her head.  Eddie joined us. He is a friend of Beck’s, so he is a friend too of mine, and we go down the pub together at lunch. He is a good drinker and once beat me at a hot sauce challenge. ‘This guy is so cool,’ he said to Patrycja. She laughed at him. ‘Seriously, he’s so cool. He’s like the Fonz.’ Patrycja asked if I had paid him to say that. I told her I had not. Again she put her eyes to me as Eddie walked away. The way she held her glass while talking to me; its condensation, clear, slice of lemon and ice cubes, a million different transparencies collided and shattering; her elegant fingers that wore nail varnish for only one day, the bruises on her knuckles from volleyball. Beck thrust a shot in front of me and I sunk it, curling my lips at the dark aniseed—‘Fuckin hell, geez, that tastes like shit.’ ‘We’re gonna go to a club,’ he told me.

I went out to the roadside with Patrycja. As she spoke, she walked in circles around a streetsign, dancing like a scene from Mary Poppins. There was what she showed everyone else and there was what she showed me. Everyone else thought she was quiet, civil. I thought she was dangerous. We were waiting for the others before we went to the club. It was some time until they spilled out onto Moorgate, barking, howling at a dusted moon. We went across the road to the club.

Once inside, everyone began to dance.

What had been simmering beneath was at last allowed to flower. They came with it. The music was loud and thumping. They all started to dance, entwined, perspiring, a mix of limbs and beats, movement. It was a joy to behold. Patrycja tapped her finger on my chest. I twitched my shoulders and she was amused. She tapped my chest again, laughing; I twitched. I was not wholly entertained by the music, only by scene in front of me. As the music bent in the air, so did my colleagues bend and bounce to it. There was no sombre undertone, no frustration or exhaustion; only perfume, spirits and body odour. Every person in there was united in tempo. There was no need to be amongst their dips but to watch from a few feet away, immersed in the collective enjoyment.

Patrycja grabbed my hand, enticing me to dance with her. It was the first time I had held her hand, the first time I had properly gripped it in my own. Within a moment, I moved my fingers so that every inch of mine were on hers, in hers, across her palm, her knuckles, savouring. She laughed. I pulled back. I watched her. She told me she never danced. I watched her.

‘Are you and Patrycja dating?’ Jacqueline’s voice in my ear.

‘No,’ I said, not taking my eyes off her as she tapped my chest once more. ‘We’re not.’

The last train out of London was quiet, and I could not sleep for the thumping in my chest. It was only a young woman nearby, who fell asleep, and me. When the train pulled into the station, I tapped her gently. The tinny sound of her headphones, the smell of booze on her woken thanks. In the cab home, Patrycja called me. It was two-twenty-four. I did not wish to speak to her with the driver listening. Returning home, returning the call. It rang without answer. Her last message to me that evening before she fell asleep read—Kolorowych snow.