The roar of five lanes of traffic makes for gentle background music after the audial onslaught of the underground. The piercing shrieks of the breaks, the beeping insistence of the doors, the thunder of the great mechanic beast racing through the tunnel; a cacophony of constant echoes, pulses and vibrations.
I feel the rush of the double-decker bus before I hear it, its rumble absorbed into a symphony of engines, dissipating into the open sky, an insatiable audience. I am pulled lightly by the suctioning air towards the space the bus has already vacated, only a sprinkle of a tour guide’s words left hanging behind. It is the finest of summer days London has to offer, the tourists are in luck. I imagine them crammed into the open-top deck, scoffing at the rumours of British grey and wet sorry excuses for the season.
The distinctive, persuasive scent of saturated fat accosts my nostrils, brazenly eschewing any gentler olfactory notions of wafting, permeating or hinting. It triggers delicious, greasy memories and an unconscious salivary response. I smile at the simple marketing success of a fast-food joint’s open door.
The pavements are mercifully wide, I navigate them down the centre, as far from the perils of congested shop doorways and oncoming traffic as they permit. I feel London’s people all around me, swarming bees towards their urban honey-pots. They are relentlessly busy, ears filled with pumping music (I catch a classic Britney beat and hope it’s attached to a smart-suited businessman), hands clutching steaming paper cups of the liquid drug that fuels this city. I catch its bitterness on my tongue. I walk with a confidence that trusts nobody will stop abruptly in front of me; it is not an innate confidence and is frequently undermined.
I turn, chaperoned by the familiar permission of the pedestrian crossing’s song. It is too early for the pub’s hubbub to be described as raucous just yet, but it is well on its way, spilling out onto the street like a knocked pint. Al fresco drinking might sound Mediterranean, but this is a distinctly British iteration, sticky with over-excitement and the desperation to savour (read: overindulge) every moment, lest it disappear at the weather’s whim.
This quieter street is lined with tall trees, I feel the shade their leaves cast dappling on my skin. I picture majestic, sweeping elms, stoically surveying our inconsequential comings and goings. A refuse van beeps its warning as it reverses towards me, an acrid tang of sun-ripened leftovers. I envisage a black bag tossed carelessly towards the van’s gaping mouth, circling over my head, showering me with its contents. I quicken my pace.
My hand touches the smooth, surprisingly cool railings that guide me towards my destination. They hint tantalisingly of a place where I will be accommodated, not required to accommodate. Here, the doors will quite literally swing open, wide and welcoming for me.