I found myself wandering the streets again, jolted back to consciousness by the cold night air, I had no idea where I was or how I had got there but my bearings returned after a few seconds as they had always done, it was a trait I was grateful for, particularly given my recent propensity for forgetting in the first place.
It was around 01:45 and the streets of Soho were filled with the last leavings of the nights festivities, media-execs talking even faster than usual, a cocaine breakfast already crusting in their nostrils, haggard looking models wearing a lot less than the bitter autumn weather advocated, most with the seductive sales pitch of “you want a massage baby” not far from their lips and scores of beggars, all looking to make enough cider money to wash away their self-loathing for yet another night.
Revellers leaving bars, clubs and late-night restaurants, all with the dull gleam of alcohol smudging their eyeballs, I pitied them all. I envied them all. Mine was a world where celebrations did not come easy, the usual medicine for the masses no longer cured my disease.
Crossing Shaftesbury Avenue, I headed into China-town, tourists lit-up by the neon mingled happily with the smells of old fried prawns, stale alcohol and the slops from the kitchens that ran thick in the gutters, all oblivious to the insignificance of most of their lives.
Standing and just taking it all in as I had done too little of late, trying to re-learn that there was a world beyond my consciousness. I noticed a small crowd gathered, watching a man shuffle upturned plastic cups on an old barrel, “guess where the coin is” he mockingly enticed, he was letting them win the first time, before gambling with them and winning there-after, how naïve could they be, certain things are not worth gambling on. I remember being glad for my cynicism, maybe the world wasn’t worth watching after-all.
The moments that followed probably lasted for little more than 60 seconds, but it felt to me as though in that minute the whole world changed just slightly, shifted on its axis by an incident that happens hundreds of times each day, in every major city on earth. It wasn’t so much the event, but what it represented to me, another slight chance for redemption, which might just serve to quell the longings for revenge that had travelled with me for so long, until such time as I could act on them.
The mugger had an angular face, he was small but lithe, clearly toned from running the streets day in day out, his dark, darting eyes looked furtive and restless and he had more than a few soft wisps of beard to match his cropped curly hair. The effect was to make him look older than the 15 or 16 that he probably was but it didn’t help him much when my elbow exploded through his nose. It wasn’t an act of heroism as such, more a product of fortunate timing and quick thinking. I saw him on the move from about 20 feet away, heard the whine of the victim as she realised too late what had happened. 20 feet, just over 6 metres but far enough away for me to position myself correctly and get ready to strike. The bmx he was riding was not travelling as fast as it might have been as he approached me through the parting crowd, due to the over-sized purple handbag that was impeding every awkward stride. I knew I would need to use momentum of my own to meet him with the required force. As he rode toward me I shifted left, moving with the rest of the crowd so as not to get run down, but unlike the rest of the crowd, I moved back. Swivelling sharply, I forced my right elbow through a whipping arc, the apex of which fell directly across the bridge of his nose, the impact sent him reeling in the opposite direction and he found himself sprawled on the cobbles looking up at me as the bike continued on for a few more metres, un-troubled by the fact it no longer had a rider. As I took the bag from him I recognised the look in his eyes of a beaten man and found myself wondering how he would re-count the story when he met up with his gang mates, not how it actually happened, now that I would have gambled on.
As I headed back towards the woman whose shriek had alerted me moments earlier a faint ripple of applause preceded me. I can’t say that it was pride that I felt, things I had done in my past life prevented that, but the pulse of adrenaline that swelled from knowing I had done the right thing, instead of just letting it happen and the understanding that despite most of their flaws these people actually appreciated it, resonated within me. It was the first time in a long time that I had felt even vaguely alive and it was a feeling I needed again.