by Jude Rogers.
10. Flat Lines
Back in sunny London, our worlds are starting to move. This summer, we will leave our little rented flat in Newington Green, and take our lives somewhere else. This is partly because our landlady wants to sell up, but mainly because we know this is time to grow up. We have saved our deposit, started looking at other homes, other places, other possibilities, and are preparing ourselves to be sensible adults at last, at the grand old ages of 32 and 33.
Today, I leave my office in the shimmering heat. Leyton is less than four miles by foot, but it suddenly feels so much further away.
a. Down to the Lea Bridge Road roundabout, one of those transport hubs that has been part of my London forever. The first time I was here, it was past midnight, pitch-black, and an old boyfriend and I had to get off a night bus that was terminating early. We were dropped outside Chimes nightclub, back then the notorious centre of Hackney’s Murder Mile. I still remember the terror, the cold in our bones. Now, Chimes is long boarded up, its doors black with petrol fumes, its windows choked with dust, its bullet holes sealed with smoke.
But across the road, the times have moved on. Clapton Pond’s new fountains bubble, and wooden sculptures beam in the afternoon light. On this tiny patch of pavement, Hackney feels rural, utopian, hopeful, full of life.
b. Red flames of paint lick the sides of Pizza Vesuvio, before the Lea Bridge Road yawns ominously to the east. Past the trees that line the parks, white vans jam together, and everything looks deathly grey. I decide that I will make a diversion, and cut across the Marshes.
I pass a small row of 1970s houses iced in light pastels, and South Mill Fields opens up suddenly, taking me to the edges of the River Lee Navigation route. I used to come here when I lived ten minutes down the road, in an old Victorian mansion flat, that we’d manage to rent cheaply and luckily. Apart from a shower that only dribbled odd tears like a Pierrot clown, I loved that flat. But after we broke up, when I was alone, its size started to smother me. I needed light, grass and air.
These blades would bring me in; the blue would give me oxygen. I cross the bridge tenderly, remember that Dan and I got back together, and walk away from the past.
c. I pass a fat black and white cat sitting on a cream canal boat, purring in the warmth, scowling when I purr back. Disposable barbecue trays around the bins glint like silver bracelets, and empty bottles of tonic wine glug with disappointment. Pylons throw out their wires like spiders making webs, and the sky above them sparkles sapphire, making everything sublime.
On afternoons like these, Hackney Marshes looks so easy to cross, but as I keep walking, it seems never-ending. I realise I have taken the bendy eastern flank of it, but I allow myself time to lose myself; soak up the empty, silent acres.
To the west, I see Landmark Heights, the tall pink tower where I once imagined we would live. I dreamt of our home there, gazing out onto the city to one side, the Olympic Park to the other. Two months ago, the flat I went to see was dank, dark and saggy, the balcony glass broken, the wind-sway of the walls unromantic. I took the lift down, left the gates, called my boy, leaving an old dream behind for a new one.
d. It is a beautiful day, but there are few people here, only me and the man from the council on his neat, buzzy lawnmower, making grooves in the grass. Our only companions are the crows lining up before the goalposts, which fly away when I focus my lens on them, winning on home turf.
I go back to the eastern edge of the Marshes to try and find a way out, and spot someone several hundred metres ahead in a patch of tall grass. I assume he is sleeping, or wasting the hours away, before another head appears below him, and I realise what is happening.
I bite my lip, smile, and stride on to the south.
e. I pass the frosty mists of fallen catkins, the steel rump of the Old Spitalfields Market, the whirr and clang of cranes building the stadium at Temple Mills, and slowly but surely I reach the main road. I cross Ruckholt Road, and the A12 drones above me like an angry bee.
And then, out of nowhere, there is Leyton. Small streets of terraces that hug my sweaty limbs, blue one-way signs giving me spiritual directions. I look at the parked cars and the tall London planes, and try to imagine us being here, us being part of this.
Here is a corner shop where we might buy our newspapers. Here is an Indian takeaway where we could get 10% discount on pick-up. Here is a white labouring lorry, collecting our rubbish. Here is the red gate of a primary school, a message from the future.
I arrive a few minutes early, and the estate agent is inside with another young couple. Dan will be here soon, on his bike fresh from work. I look at the tree outside, and I think about how everything is changing. I watch its leaves gleam in the sunlight, think about watching them fall and die, watching them come to life again.