- Vol. 06
- Chapter 01
The heat of the tube was comforting at that time of year.
At 7.47 a.m., he tapped at the barrier and fell into the quilt of damp heat created by congested bodies, his oily eyes sliding shut as the carriage doors hissed and shunted behind him.
His thick black Puffa jacket, which had been such a valiant barrier against the cold on ground level, was, down here near the city's boiler room, the creator of a slick layer of sweat around his neck like a noose.
The tips of his thinning hair slipped onto the rim of his jacket like the greasy tips of paint brushes, spreading his morning sweat in staccato brushstrokes.
A swift change at Fenchurch Street and with a bump and a shunt, the city spat him out along the expanse of the Thames Estuary, expelled matter, no longer needed, river as garbage chute.
The train bobbled along Essex’s southern border, the window framing a moving canvas of seaside towns and the future dreams of property developers horny on hyper-gazumped IPA dredged from the casks of oversea investment. The casks had rolled down flimsy boards of wood from the ships that Samuel Pepys would have seen, into the seaside pubs where sailors let rip.
He could ride the train as far as Shoeburyness but Pitsea or Benfleet were more appealing. Appealing because they were not the destination, they were not where he had to be. The Estuary has always been a portal, Ghent or Amsterdam via Limehouse, exiled Eastenders boarding an express train to the future. But for him it marked an end, a completion of a circuit.
They would find his body washed back into the city, but as foreseen by Heraclitus, he would not return the same man. He would leave a part of himself in Basildon. Same as it ever was. Carted back to the city on a current of loyalty card points and contactless payments, the river chiming with the arcade 64-bit peals of GAME OVER. TRY AGAIN.
Escape is not so simple. Heraclitus would stand above his body outside a rarely frequented Pizza Express franchise and a soon-to-be-arriving Pret a Manger, addressing the city with: “Everything changes and nothing remains still... and... you cannot step twice into the same stream".