The last event I witnessed that’s worth talking about, I guess, is probably the twink who had his flimsy little skull smashed against me. The side of his head quite literally popped open, like an Easter egg under the pressure of a child’s gluttonously probing digits. The odd bit of hair and blood are still stuck fast between my grains, though forensics, the clean-up team and a few days of rain have rinsed most of it off.
Before that, I had a hooker sucking off a trick while she knelt just above me. He stood in the gutter as he was very tall and she would have strained to meet his cock if they had both stood on the sidewalk I fringe. Not conducive to pleasure, no matter how quick and easy.
I have been here for the best part of a hundred years. Marking the border between tramping feet and whirring wheels. My nose constantly filled with the city’s effluence, I have smelt the revolutions and changing detritus of a city come to life. The dirty deeds have largely remained the same, the obviousness with which they have been perpetrated, however, has altered irreparably. Private relief has evolved into public display. It’s certainly interesting, but the stench has no difference.
There is a rhythm to the city that you can’t understand unless you’re mixed up in it every day. The collective rainfall of footsteps overhead ebbs and flows like jazz, but even it too has twisted in tempo over the years. Man makes music unwittingly. Often it is not beautiful. My gnarled, pockmarked hide is evidence enough of this.
Carved from nothing stone and dropped into place between a thousand other nondescript slabs, I was designed to capture, swallow and spit out the run-off of an accelerating world. The iron grating a few yards down is a quiet maw into which the sins of a population slip unnoticed and unwanted into the dark. More than a priest at confession, I forgive your sins.
That is not to say that I have not been part of touching moments also, occasions where tenderness burns through the prevalence of filth. Just the other day, a small child stumbled over her own shoelaces, crumpling into a little heap beside me. She sniffled slightly, but did not cry, she picked herself up, dusted off some of the dead leaves, twigs and gravel that clung to her and sat on the pavement. Her little feet were planted against my cool spine. The laces of one of her shoes had come undone. It had been this that had caused her to trip.
Arriving a few moments later, a smartly dressed gentleman stooped and came to sit next to her. He placed a calming hand on her curly blonde hair and smiled at her. Her cheeks were flushed with the brisk autumnal cold and the effort of clamping down on the urge to cry. The man gently leaned down and tied her shoelaces. He did so in a slow, measured way, so that the child could observe the mechanics of lace-tying, the softness of the fingers weaving in a simple pattern to make sure she was safe and could scurry about the town just as carefree as she had before tumbling.
He completed the delicate bow, leaned back and gave the child a kiss on her head. He stood up and then, with strong hands, reached under her arms and hoisted her to her feet, back up onto the sidewalk. She giggled contentedly and, in unison, they began tapping away into the distance.
Another time, a young man walking with a girl, suddenly dropped to his knees. At first it seemed as though he too had forgotten the art of tying laces. But he didn’t get back up, save for to position himself on one knee. The girl’s hand, which she had thrust forward in aid, remained clenched in his grasp. With his other hand he held a diamond ring.
“It was in exactly this spot a little over two years ago that we met, Claudia. Do you remember? We bumped into each other. You dropped the books you were holding. Your copy of Hamlet skittered off into that gutter over there and I immediately promised to buy you another copy. I admit I never made good on that promise. But I will make good on this one: I promise to cherish you forever and ever. Claudia, will you marry me?”
A small crowd had gathered around them. For once the clatter of footsteps above me had abated.
She said yes. She was crying. I know because when the rain came an hour later, I initially tasted the distant flavour of salt in those first running droplets. But it was a fresh salt, tingling; a taste of happiness as opposed to despair.
No sooner had the roads dried, then the pain and anguish flared up again like a disease. A cyclist was struck by a taxicab. The force catapulted him clean across the road, leaving the cracked, broken pile of bones and striated flesh smeared into the sidewalk opposite. The flimsy helmet that had been blown clear of his scalp rolled meaninglessly against me.
A company lost its documents. A cabbie lost his no claims bonus. A mother lost her son. A city that doesn’t sleep, lost none.
It started raining again and I felt the day washed away.
And then it was night.
And then it was day.
And then it was night again.