Saturday, October 08, 2005

When you hear the tutor instructing to prepare for the last posture, Shavasna, relaxation, you feel as if you have won a well earned prize. The two hour practice has driven the clouds of anxiety from your mind, leaving behind almost a clear sky. But when you lie down, and lay your hands alongside your body, these troubling thoughts sneak back, one by one, dancing in the darkness of your closed eyelids. You try to keep them at bay, forcing your mind to focus on your breath. It is an ongoing struggle; when you succeed, it seems as if you disappear altogether for a brief moment, to a place of no thought, no consciousness, just a complete, and utter rest.

When you come back from these lapses, you are usually overcome with weariness; at times you see things, things that come from the dark, glimpses of nightmares. How this troubled journey can be considered relaxing, you do not know; yet when you hear the words commanding you back to the surface, and you slowly gather yourself and open your eyes, you feel revived, recovered, as it were, from the pains of being.

* * *

You close the co-op ten minutes early; you are by yourself today, and you do not want to stay behind too long. When you finish, the time is almost half past seven. Outside night had fallen; you wonder what time it gets dark nowdays – six? Half five? - the days disappear so quickly in October, it’s like watching a crashing airplane; soon it will get dark before four o’clock. You post the keys through the letterbox, as usual, and hear them make a sound as they hit the floor; only to realize you had left your water bottle inside the shop. Well, too late now.

As you unlock your bicycle, you notice three 16 old boys walking up the sidewalk, their pace cocky, their conversation loud. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but the music is unmistakeable, songs of inner-city bravado. It would be sensible to get out of their way, but you realize you don’t have enough time. Fortunately, the slightly dim neighbour from upstairs starts chatting to you through the window. You do not understand his sense of humour, but you are grateful, all the same. “Do you have jewels in there?” he asks, pointing at your bicycle panniers. “No, just lentils”. The boys have passed you; the neighbour says good night. You are about to get on the bike and cycle away, but you see the boys lingering not far, on the corner of the estate. They are up to something, their voices hissing with excitement; they light some sort of fire cracker and shoot it – at whom, you cannot tell – then they run away, laughing.

A moment later, a big commotion, and another pack of kids comes running from behind the corner, all swearing and shouting. There are about ten or twelve of them; it would be silly to try to cycle away now. They run towards you. “Where is he? Where’s he gone?” You are slow to reply; maybe you just don’t want to get involved. One of them grabs you by your shirt and shakes you, pushes you against the rubbish bin; another one takes something out of his pocket and waves it angrily in the air. You wonder if it’s a knife; your bicycle loses balance and tips over; you point towards the alley to where the first gang disappeared. The object in the boy’s hand now seems more like a mobile phone, though you’re still not sure. Shit, shit, they shout, where they gone, that way, where. The boy shakes you one more time, then lets go; the group loses its centre, wondering in all directions. Suddenly they are going, running, back to the estate. The last one to stay behind picks your bike from the floor. He turns his face to you, attempting to look hard; maybe he’s trying to say something. For a moment you think he’s about to try to get away with your bike. Strangely enough, you do not think about your notebook computer or your wages from last night at the CafĂ© – both are inside the bicycle panniers; it’s the prospect of losing the bike which terrifies you. You hold on to the bike; he then hands you the handlebars, in an awkward gesture, still keeping a tough face. Was he just trying to help? Or did he give up the idea because the bike was too heavy, loaded with two panniers?

Later, as you cycle home through the back streets, the moment of confrontation flashes back. Tonight could have been much worse, you know. That frustrated aggression could easily have found you as a target. Like anyone living in London, you have witnessed violence on the streets: a man chased down by a group of fifteen youngsters, brought to the floor and kicked all over his body; a man smashing a shop window in the middle of the day; a woman narrowly escaping from a violent man in a car; the aftermath of a shooting, a street away from your home. On those occasions, you chose to cycle away as quickly as possible, leaving it for others to deal with. But after three years of living in the poorer parts of London, it is only a matter of time and chance before you find yourself in an unpleasant situation. No damage done; you should consider yourself lucky.

More troubling, you find, is your almost lethargic response to the situation; when the boy waved the object towards you, you stared at it numbly, apathetically, as if you were an observer, a bystander. You used to think of your dislocated slowness as something quaint; ‘you’re as slow as a florescent light switching on’ said Lily once. Now this slowness seems more like a dangerous fault. Now, your inability to act and react without calculation feels like a crippling disadvantage.

You had plans to go to the Ritzy to watch David Cronenberg’s new film, The History of Violence, but you decide to leave it for another day.

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