Saturday, February 21, 2004

A cold night

"There is a client, I've seen him twice now. Hard face, high cheekbones, water-clear eyes and eyelashes to envy. A cool person, handsome in a harsh way, gentle. Smart. We talk about books, he's an engineer of some sort and hates his job, and we talk about plays and films. I enthuse about Ben Kingsley in this or that role, about Anthony Sher. He half-smiles. No idea why he's single. Perhaps he just vants to be alone?

I walked out of a block of flats toward the river to find a taxi. On the way to the rank I passed the entrance of a tube station, where a legless man was soliciting donations. "Help the disabled, please help the disabled," he chanted.

A drop of sweat ran down the inside of my thigh, perhaps the only part of me that felt truly warm. When it reached the top of my stocking I felt it soak in, dissipate. A moment later, the legless man's voice again. "Help the disabled, please help the disabled." His cadence was flat but sing-songy, in time with the beat of footsteps from people streaming around him. "Help the disabled, please help the disabled."

I stood in queue but there were no taxis for a few minutes. A short, round man with overflowing plastic bags came up to me. "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord?" he asked. It sounded like reflex, devoid of meaning, as automatic as a 'hello.'

"Afraid not, Jewish," I said. Stock answer. More a cultural than a religious thing for me, but usually sufficient to drive the crazies off.

He nodded in sympathy, his eyes never rising above the level of my shoulder. "The Jews wanted a king, and God gave them a king, but he was manic depressive you see and would go out and hide in bushes screaming at people."

"Not a very effective king, you might say," I said.

"I'm going to freeze standing on the bridge," he said, and gathered his shopping bags, and walked away.

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