Coffee and Donuts, or, the Love Song of Julius Artemis
At nine I get restless and go out into the city to walk and brood. Mine is an energetic kind of brooding. I take my earphones but I don’t put them in.
In the stairwell of my building is a stroller which has been abandoned there for months. I can never avoid noticing it. I think it’s a metaphor for something, but if so, it’s something I don’t want to know. I let the door close behind me, and move along.
At the station I pass a group of children. Adults, really, but children nonetheless. I don’t want to dislike them, but I have no choice.
I board a train as six thousand loud people get off. They seem confused about the way transport works, or perhaps just too happy to care. I have never been that happy, but I have been that drunk. Or is it the other way around? I hate them because they are loud. No. I hate them because I am not drunk.
As I get off the train a man stands, talking to a woman. Or rather, she talks at him. He is writing on his phone. Over his shoulder I can make out the title: New Year’s Resolutions.
I leave the train and walk through the heart of the city, the boring part without any pubs. There are policemen on horses. Do the horses aspire to this work? Or would they rather be eating hay in the countryside. I envy a horse’s sense of simplicity, its easy happiness. Maybe one day I will buy a dog, and get high off its happiness.
I miss clubbing, being out, getting drunk, getting loud. I don’t miss the cold waits for buses, the sore feet, the sore head the next day, the empty bank account. But I miss the high, the sense of euphoria, the girls I sometimes talked to, the energy of dancing.
I walk up past the Duke of York Monument, into Piccadilly Circus. It’s pretty on the way, but so what? A set of buskers are drowned out by people singing Hare Krishna. I could never be like them. It seems the key to happiness really is ignorance. But don’t tell the Buddhists.
I go in and get donuts and coffee, and take the last seat left, a stool by the window. I watch a drunk man holding two cans of Carling try and talk to people. I consider talking with him, in the part of my mind which permits such things. I mark it down as curiosity, ignoring the truth. Someone has grafittied the window, and the paint drips down in bars, and I look through them out into the world. Girls walk by in short dresses.
Coffee and donuts, £7.32. Worth every penny.
The dark lights of Soho. The strip clubs and dirty bars. I consider going in one, but I am saving money. Hell, I’d do it just for the human touch, but I am saving money. I am always saving money. But one day… When did I become that man? I turn away from the door, pull my hat down and walk away. Outside, girls stand around talking to the bouncers. Are they the dancers, or are they clubbing? It’s hard to tell the difference.
I like the girls except when they talk. Some of them are beautiful, but just so inane. A horrifying combination. Do I tell myself I could have picked up more, if the conversation were better? I doubt it, that’s not the art. And I was never an artist anyway. Do I sound like a prick? I guess I am one.
I walk on through the racketing streets, stop and pretend to be lost, move on; in and out of lights and shadows. I head into the tube, where’s it’s warm and bright. A couple on the platform embrace. Her dress is bright blue, her legs long, her hair blonde. I try not to stare, and then the train arrives.
The trains are dirty, but you get used to it. I could say the same thing about myself. I follow the train home, and enter the stairwell. You know what. It occurs to me that life is a series of trade offs. Opportunity cost of living. If it’s the best we can do, it’s the best we can do. Maybe there’s value in decision, but tonight it’s hard to see.
I hate this city. Or is it just the people? All the good people have left or are leaving, and I am still here, walking the streets. Heading for donuts and coffee. It’s an event. What a joke. I am the man I used to pity.