Gus awoke on the third Monday of January to a grey sky and a tube strike. That familiar and sickening feeling which grips a body just before it’s about to cry, but held, prolonged, heightened slightly by its perseverance.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are currently experiencing severe delays on; the Victoria line, Circle line, District line, Piccadilly line, Central line, Jubilee line, Northern line, Bakerloo line, Hammersmith and City line, and Metropolitan line. There is a good service on all other underground lines.
He set off, on the seventy-minute walk to work; compounded by his failure to remember the earphones that could distract him, the earphones that blocked the grim world outside. Then the rain started.
Running from cover to cover, watching cyclists swearing at stuffed busses lumbering by, familiar sounds he hadn’t heard in a long time started to drift over him, draw him in. The smatter of rain on the stretched blue umbrella canvasses, a brief hiss of wind through a naked tree, the hubbub of conversation in a busy café. Were those birds singing, even in the rain?
A man blocked his path without noticing, face screwed in a ball of angst, shoulders barging but not stopping.
A smile formed at the edge of Gus’s mouth in disbelief, then widened when he registered scores of the same man, all over the street, all with their heads down and elbows out. He continued on his way, getting wet, looking up.
Down a familiar road a new sight caught his eye. A blue plaque perched on a wall, high above a door. A poet had lived here. Gus stood and looked up further still.
“Long, long afterward, in an oak, I found the arrow, still unbroke.”
An unfamiliar sound—a voice from behind him—soft in his ear but startling and direct. Gus spun around; saw a smile, a friendly face, wet hair and a pair of eyes whose colour he would someday come to know better than his own.
“Hello. I didn’t . . . ”
The rain danced around them.
“I hadn’t noticed you.”