A sea of people rushes forth as soon as the traffic lights turn green. A faceless crowd all looking down as they stride. I dodge them to avoid collision. I try in vain to catch someone – anyone’s – eye. A man’s large frame clips my shoulder. My shoulder bends back, like on a hinge. Like the rearview mirror of a car caught by another vehicle. I am winded, surprised by the hardness of the impact. Not a body made of soft flesh and warm blood, but a chunk of metal. I turn back but the man keeps walking. He hasn’t noticed. I continue crossing the street, against the tide of individuals following an invisible corridor of their own. They’re not looking right. Not looking left. No one looks up, and I think how the only way you can let in change is by taking your eyes off the ground and looking up at the sky. Even just for a moment. Trust that during that moment you will be shown something else, something new, something better. A sea of people following invisible corridors. Not even dreaming of change. I am suddenly frightened. I look up. I have to. Otherwise, I’m scared I may be swallowed up by the crowd and lose my self. Above, in the dark early morning sky, a streak of rosy glow. I want to breath it in.
At the entrance to the building where I am to meet my client, I slip into the narrow pie chart semi-circle gap of the revolving door and push against the heavy glass. On the other side, the street noise of traffic is replaced by the echoing of steps against the gleaming stone floor. Metallic sounds, distorted and chaotic. Stone floor, steel bannisters, glass front and wall partitions. Glass lift that will soon take me up like a shuttle through the void. The electric light bounces off every hard surface and stabs into my eyes. Like a concentration of laser beams. Grey. The humans whose shoes are clicking against the stone floor are wearing grey. Gunmetal grey, pearl grey, ash grey, lead grey. Grey. And black.
Green. There is a huge, symmetrical Christmas tree in the lobby. There is something robotic in the regular intervals between the identical gold and red baubles, something eerie in the blueish whiteness of the fairy lights.
It’s too early for Christmas. Nearly three weeks to go. Every shop window sparkles with tinsel and bright flashing lights. There is nowhere to rest your eyes. Your ears are assaulted by crooners whose names no one under forty knows, singing of snow, jingles and chestnuts. On television, a stream of slushy, saccharine-seeped seasonal U.S. films about characters who are too sentimental, too naive and too nice who, in spite of financial constraints, seem to have large houses crammed with expensive-looking Christmas decorations. Acquaintances tell you they want to see you before the 15th. They have important commitments closer to Christmas.
I look at the synthetic Christmas tree in the lobby. There is no promise of warmth or inclusiveness in all this overwhelming advertising of Christmas. Rather, it is like a warning siren to all those who don’t fit into the “normal” social set up, so they get out of the way of the approaching avalanche, lest they be crushed by it. It’s a Christmas for those with children, those who can be with loved ones, those who have cars in this city where there is no public transport to link people together on the day we are told we should not be alone.
After I finish teaching this client, I make my way to another one. Another building with a glass revolving door, a glass and steel front, a gleaming stone floor. Between two blocks of concrete, I glimpse the Shard. Its jagged point pierces through the soft blue sky. The sheer unexplainable violence of it constricts my throat and brings tears to my eyes. Why build something so aggressive?
I am early, so I stroll along the grey City streets. Men and a few women walk past me, mobiles against their ears, or in their the palms of their hands while they key in text with strokes of their index fingers.
A church. I notice a little church with a steeple, with a little pond outside the front doors, and a couple of stone benches. It’s too cold to sit outside, so I turn my ‘phone onto silent, and venture in. I read on a leaflet that this church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Fire of 1666. I hear music filtering through the thin glass door, and am filled with a sense of longing. I walk in, genuflect and cross myself. Gentle organ music caresses the fresh white walls decorated with gold trimmings. I sit on a pew and the dark timber creaks. I inhale the comforting, warm smell of wood. I close my eyes and let the music seep though me, fill me with its colours, and bring all the shreds of my soul back together into my body. Peace.
“Good morning, Ma’am.” The security staff smile as I walk up to the chrome reception desk. They see me week after week.
“You know, I’ve just discovered a lovely little church not far from here. It’s so peaceful. Do you know it?” I say.
The smile freezes and the eyes look away from me. “No.”
It takes me a while to understand. That’s right. I said “church”.
On the Tube, on my way home, there is a baby boy in a pram. He is fast asleep. I smile and try and catch his mother’s eye but she doesn’t see me or her child. She is sending a text message on her mobile. I look out and notice a glow on the horizon, against the darkening sky. A bright golden light that turns into a deep orange with shades of pink. A glorious sunset. I look around the Tube carriage, needing to share this moment with someone – even voicelessly, just with a look. I search for eyes but see blank stares into the void. White earphones insulating from the world; smartphones with games, e-mails or text messages distracting from new ideas and experiences. The horizon is now a pool of fire that spreads like a cauldron brimming with magic. With life. I feast my eyes on the intense colours. I look around again. I want to shout at the other passengers to look at this miracle.
I see an old lady staring at the horizon. A dreamy expression in her eyes. I lean over. “Isn’t it magnificent?” I ask, my tone too excited, and too familiar, but I don’t care. She smiles at me, without the slightest hint of surprise. “Yes,” she says.
We turn to look at the shifting of shapes and colours in the sky. At this manifestation of life.