CHAPTER 1 Red Snake
I chose him because of the red scarf.
My palms sweat. Dirt from the walls is smudged across them and slithers in the folds. There is a faint smell of kebab in the air and an excited murmur moving down the platform like Chinese whispers. I wonder how distorted the message will be by the time it reaches my end.
Can you hear it too, Mum? Do you think they’re whispering about me?
There are other scarves too, red and white combined and I guess that a football game must have taken place. Yet, his scarf is different. It is pure red, the red people affix to the badge of fiery passion, the badge of cold-blooded murder, without the interludes of white to dull its beauty.
He is unique. I’ve watched him for weeks now and the time has finally arrived. The clock says 15:32 as casually as ever but it secretly signals to me: this is the correct time. It is not destiny; it is careful planning and the instinctual knowledge inside.
Mum, this is the moment.
Now, my breath barely disturbs the stillness of the cavern the swarm of strangers are gathered in, all awaiting the rush of wind that will open up the arteries, revive us. Everybody appears lost, shuffling on their feet, staring at the same grotesquely large posters until they become less overpowering, fiddling with buttons, holding their phones and longing for reception. Anything to avoid eye contact.
My favourite moment is the shared objective, the upraised eyes facing the same direction, the temporary and forced community as the wind invites the dusty air to dance, flings the litter in celebration. All I can do to keep calm is count the seconds down in my head. Even when I think of you, you are bouncing in my mind.
The only details I know about him have been gathered through observation from afar. This is actually the closest I have been to him in three weeks. From here, I can smell his sweat weaving with his aftershave. I can also see how he has missed a belt loop and a tiny bald patch in the back of his hair, perhaps where he has a birthmark.
Are you excited too, Mum? I know you’ve been thinking about him when we’ve been trying to sleep. Now, we’re so close…
He is reading one of those trashy papers that have stormed the city. The wire of his iPod headphones is coming out of his ears and snaking down his chest to his jacket pocket. If he knew what is about to happen, would he change the song he is listening to, faintly nodding his head, and not struggling to remember the throwaway words. Would he fling down that paper and rush off to buy his favourite book?
It is the scarf that ensnared me. I had been wandering the streets three weeks before, in another dimension of thought or nowhere at all. Then, it flashed at me, like a camera suspending a moment in time. It is a snake that has coiled around my attention and shot its venom into my blood. I latched onto the scarf and followed it all the way home. The rain tried to bully my eyes closed but I stood firm, keeping them set on the scarf weaving through the grey world. When he reached his house, I stood outside for another half an hour, smiling, pouring with gratitude.
Since then, he has been my daily plot. Today, he has thrown his scarf on haphazardly, perhaps being late or not wearing it for warmth but simply out of habit. I can only guess who bought it for him. His girlfriend? His mother? An old friend or relative who put no thought into a present for him? Or perhaps he chose it himself and red is also his favourite colour.
Despite following him, I recall very little about his appearance and when I try to remember three days later, I won’t have a clue. I can guess that he has black hair but then I can also guess it is blond. I can say he’s short or maybe tall. I can say he is black, white or asian. Yet the fact is; I haven’t paid attention. When the photo appears in the paper, I will look on it as fresh-eyed as everybody else.
What I remember most is a sense of him, a presence. He is like a positive image in a photograph where the rest has been inverted. Even more peculiar is the sense that he is aware. Sometimes I have caught him pausing in the street, as though to let me catch up. Another time, when he was trying on clothes, he seemed to single me out in the mirror and mentally ask my opinion.
The countdown begins to flash: **STAND BACK TRAIN APPROACHING**. My chest implodes and the rest of my body springs alive. All I hear is a harmony of sounds: beating inside and the roar of the train.
Peer into dark.
Wind hisses at hot skin.
Roar gallops in heart.
Eyes of light emerge.
Monster creeps closer.
A unison of feet.
Red scarf flutters.
Head slightly turns.
Outstretched arms connect.
Eyes of train wide.
Mouths silent words.
Touch the scarf.
Faces press up to windows.
Scarf a ball in fist.
I breathe. Stop. Think: Right on time. As he fell, his lips moved in the shape of these words: Right on time. Right on time. Right. On. Time.
Mum, did you see?