COMING TO LONDON
By Fred Piechoczek
I have always felt that the word “arterial” is the wrong choice of medical terminology when applied to the main routes into London, and worst of the worst is what I have had to suffer today, that interminable grind from the end of the M11, right through central London to Knightsbridge, lights, traffic, pedestrians, bus lanes, stop start, start stop. Not even a full stack of CDs can insulate me from that particular subset of the real world in which I live. And now it’s traffic chaos at Hyde Park Corner, and the clock’s ticking: we are due to meet at the Albert Hall at five thirty. It’s decision time: go for that impossibly close parking space.
I know that the “Residents Parking” signs are put there to taunt me and me alone, as I circle Ennismore Gardens. No joy as I head down Exhibition Road and now I’m the wrong side of Cromwell Road, so I loop round and come back up Queen’s Gate. I spot a gap in the line of parked cars beneath the trees, and sure enough it’s a space and more than just a space, a meter. The black taxi two inches behind is, of course, bent on blocking me for reasons known only to him, but I persevere and it is only after reversing into the space that I spot the cover over the meter. Now tell me, in a democratic society who is going to vote for not being allowed to park at meters that are out of order. Certainly not me and I’m already late. Anyway, it’s almost the evening.
The grand circle that is the Albert Hall lies before me, and behind me across the road is Kensington Gardens. It is strangely empty here, so after a few minutes I pull out the mobile.
“Hello.” I hear a voice slightly strangled in the radio waves.
“Hello. It’s me, Bill. Where are you guys?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m here. Outside the Albert Hall.” I hear a muffled chuckle.
“I think you’re a bit early, Bill. It’s tomorrow we meet.”
The chuckle has by now spread its wings, and I click the phone off. Damn.
As I walk back to the car, the vision of parking clamps begins to form in my mind. But it’s not an inanimate lump of yellow metal that confronts me: it’s the real thing, flesh and blood in uniform. I break into a run, trip on the curb and fall flat on my face and look up to see her inserting a plastic envelope beneath the wipers.
I know she knows who I am, as she glances down at me struggling to my feet. It’s the corners of her mouth that give her away, that smirk. Why do these people do this? I want to shout and start to tremble as I bottle it up. As I rise to my feet and take a step forward to confront her, I hear a metallic click and look down to see my car keys slip through the grating of a drain. And as she turns away she smiles.