I’ve never been to the city before. The train journey has been uneventful but I still have nerves. Fields of trees, blurred by speed, give way to fields of houses, and then more houses and tarmac and sabretooth fences and stains, oil, unthinkable crusted liquid and spraypaint. Finally the city is visible on the horizon. I can make out tough-looking glass obelisks, inconceivably large, even from so far away. Modernist funerary monuments. Shards. Is the city made of ice, I wonder? I lean forward until my forehead rests on the window. Transfixion seems the most instinctive reaction. Perhaps I am less jaded than the commuters around me, with their toothpaste tube pinstripes, reading the FT. Life for them is peachy. Peachy salaries and peach-coloured newspapers. They are parcels, wrapped in the city equivalent of brown string. Swaddled in red braces and wound up in expensive leather belts. Cranking a windlass to get dressed every morning. Polished wooden blocks in place of shoes.
I chose boots for the city, not the riding kind, the the trench warfare kind. Soldier boots. Pragmatism tied up with sateen black ribbons. This is a quest of sorts, after all. My boots and the lower half of my body are currently hidden under the formica table. I feel like it’s a trick. I’ve been ostentatiously placed in a box and sawn in half. I put my feet on the seat opposite and wriggle my toes. I feel like doing jazz-hands and flashing a bloody lipstick smile at whoever catches my eye. I wonder who would be the magician on this coach? Surely not the ticket conductor? Highly unlikely. He’s a globule of flesh with Mr Potatohead plugged-in hair. Hardly glamorous enough.
The patterned material on the seat opposite me moves, shifts, slides, down and down, newsprint on a production-line. Hunger was the main inspiration behind the material design. A graphics man blocked into his cubicle by paper, deprived of his lunch break; stooped and glued to his screen, coding, coding, coding, pixels on pixels, 8-bit rhythm, simultaneously comical and pathetic, his greatest achievement a pattern resembling absurdist Super Mario barbecue supplies. Cartoon chicken legs, on infinite repeat, painstakingly yardstick-spaced on a royal blue tablecloth. Bucket banquet.
London smoothly sucks me in, eyes clicking back and forth, reading the changing landscape. I feel a bit like a child. It’s the height, and the weight of the place, I think; inconceivable, like the endlessness of the sea. I always wondered during those evenings on the beach, when I had salt on my neck and in my hair, tissue flames pasted with loose edges flittering over my pupils, and soft-cornered pebbles stretching either side of me - as far as the eye could fathom - in the warmth of the rising darkness, whether the world was, in fact, flat. After all, we only believe what we see. What if you fixed your eyes on the band of the horizon and whirled 360 degrees would that count as the world being round?? That dervish step hardly works in the city. You can’t loop the loop. Shoulders back, face to the heavens and throat exposed, it’s the first metropolitan knock-out. A taste of blood in your throat. A ringed vortex of iron. A furrowed-brow moment, when words fail, and breath and fixed eyes are all that is. A little death. Corporeal suspension. Forgetting lung expansion and the o-shaped slurp of grime-coated candyfloss airiness inside.
My Slovak twin, Paulina, once told me that when she went to Everest she forgot to breathe. She cocooned herself in her sleeping bag, one evening, and settled down to read a book, those glinting, impassive stars looking on. It took her thirty seconds to realise that she had stopped breathing. That’s the danger, up there. It's easy to lose yourself.