Part Five – London Streets: Nigel, Catherine and “Me”
London subway, late Sunday afternoon and I am sitting across from “Nigel” and “Catherine.” Maybe because they are no longer young with no time for the neurotic concerns regarding public appearance, they sleep. They appear too tired even to mind my open observation. And I take advantage, inventing lives that I hope they won’t mind.
Nigel and Catherine are on their way home from a long day at some celebration. I discerned from other passengers that Piccadilly Circus was abuzz but I think Nigel and Catherine are fatigued from a more formal (English High Tea maybe?) affair. Catherine’s brown, wind-blown hair, falling over her sallow face is not long enough to obscure her very English nose. She rests her head on the plexiglass shield that separates her seat from the exit. And Nigel, to her right, struggling with the herky-jerky motion of the train, keeps his fine English, well-barbered head that sits atop his long English neck from bobbing forward too noticeably. He closes his eyes after finding some purchase on Catherine’s thin, painfully thin shoulder. Their dress is proper. Her frock a conservative small print, a simple knee-length linen sheath hints at a much envied figure – 10 years ago. Her slip-on shoes are not quite out of fashion as one dangles from her narrow foot. Nigel’s suit is still well cut for his long frame even if a bit rumpled. His shoes, the timeless oxfords or wingtips belie a trace of challenge with heels worn a bit too thin at the edges. The Sunday afternoon London train stops and starts with impunity as the couple sleep the sleep of the unencumbered. (Childless. Maybe a cat or two waiting imperious and impatient at their Kensington flat). The red boutonnière in his lapel remains crisp in contrast to Nigel’s and Catherine’s combined visage; two spent, long-stemmed lilies out of water, in danger of wilting and missing their subway stop.
In spite of their threat to life and limb, I continued to take pictures of the dull little vehicles known as the London cab. Truth be told, I have a real respect for London cabs. Getting the chance to wear the uniform is not easy work. I was told that to be a London cab driver (a real London Cabbie) one has to spend two years studying the numerous streets and thoroughfares in and around London. Students or potential London cab drivers can be spotted on their scooters flying through traffic as they flip the plastic pages of the map book affixed to the front of their scooters. I found this remarkable but not as much as the intelligence offered by a London guide who informed us of the study done on the brain of a dead London cabbie (hope he didn’t die just for this experiment). An autopsy found a much larger part of the brain (hippocampus) as a result of memorizing over 7,000 established city routes along with all the shortcuts. Successful cabbies pass an impressive oral exam at the end of the two years. (Those dependant upon GPS devices need not apply). I take back all the mean and nasty things I’ve said about London cabs. But I digress. As I was taking pictures a group of English school children on field trip passed between my camera and the cab that was the object of my focus. I was stunned as I witnessed myself – at 10 maybe – standing in front of my lens arms spread out as if embracing life and shouting “cheese.” I moved the camera away from my face to get a better look at this young girl, hazel eyed, honey colored skin and light brown braids that were smooth with a mother’s attention in the morning but, by the afternoon, fluffy with stray strands escaping non-stop, forming a fuzzy halo about her face. I tried to catch another glimpse of her through my camera lens as she moved down the sidewalk with her classmates but I was too late. All I could capture in photo was her back and a bit of a facial profile as she entered a subway with her classmates. Even then, she moved quickly in the line from one friend to another, talking – always talking.