In the city, strangers pass close enough to catch the smell of coffee or cigarettes on their breath or the perfume of intercourse as they hurriedly make their way home, still harbouring the feeling of closeness. The ruffled hair and lipstick smudged tell the tale of bodies pressed together and fading cries of passion. Gentlemen in pressed white shirts rush to places of work. A handsome widow with the rosy cheeks of a toddler is moved by the story of a young gipsy woman for whom she will take pity and part with the change from the silk scarf around her neck. The hustle of the morning rush echoes the sound of steady feet in metre with the crowd’s noise. Polite smiles hide the hurried steps of delayed arrivals into the city, and the abandoned morning coffee rituals of chased romances leaving words unsaid with a knowing glance and a promised smile. Scooter’s scoot and the queue for the taxis’ snakes around the bagel kiosk as tourists crowd the exit from the inner sanctum of the arrival’s hall. People press past, close and touching without a word. A sharp wind draws coats closer and quickens steps into the morning sunshine between the buildings. Blurred faces smudge the background of the clear blue sky, and joggers’ jog and little dogs skip onto the pavement, too small to be alone, yet pressed forward on the leash and around a stranger’s legs.
The city holds you in the noisy grip of its bustle and ushers you forward ahead of your thoughts and across the blur of faces. Unknowable.
Further along from here and towards the Saine, the grey-green slate water of a canal holds the dapple of distorted branches reflected from the trees, the shape of the leaves lost for a moment and then regained in the changing mirror of the morning light.
Here, far from the noise of the arrivals hall and away from dressed up matters with bold intentions, the Isabella lay tethered to the bank, the weathered lines, slack then taught, braced her against half-sunken tyres that hang at her beam. So refitted and refurbished, she lay still in a world distracted by itself. A world sombre in face of the dizziness of its own making, and so, she went unnoticed.
The canal was connected to other waterways but barricaded by paved boulevards from sister vessels by tree-lined walkways running alongside its waters. The occasional steel bridge jaywalked, carrying passers-by, and displaying graffiti with colours resplendent against industrial green.
The city was quieter here, removed from the going-to-places, places. But, here, across the water, there was space to feel something. A place to remind you that there was something other than having to be somewhere. A bench to sit on and contemplate your contemplations and find moments amongst your thoughts that were unharried.
A bench to watch and follow the leaves to see if they will make it across to the other side. Caught on a gust that gathered those leaves dry enough before the floating pile disappeared on its way to another part of the city, to another unknowable life and adventure. Your gaze follows the leaves that have stayed dry enough to make it over and past their saturated cousins, who now melted into the mottled colours of the protean light that touched the water.
Leaves that made it across now gather under benches, where dogs find convenient places to relieve themselves as distracted owners pull at the leash and scold them and steam rises from their interrupted efforts. An enjoyed distraction, mentally guiding the leaves across the water, feeling free from where you were. Anything different from where you were. You sat with yourself, becoming a leaf and choosing with silent encouragement, to spirit across the water on the lift of the wind. Your hope for something more than a watery grave, the compost decay of its sunken colours as the weight of its wetness and that of its companions gathered in the swirl of an eddy bringing it to an unknown end. You sat forward and wished for it to be light and firm and able enough to bend to the lightest breeze that encouraged it above the water. To make it across was now as important as the taste of the first sip of a well-made coffee. The cup warm, the crema as expected, the temperature of the liquid just right.
A leaf, fallen, was oak with five tips off a fat palm of broad fingers to uneven ends that looked upon the steam as a curled leaf of spinach might.
The beautiful colours of early autumn were amongst the shapes hidden in the green of its centre, and the stiffness of its departure from the tree gave it a chance as the breeze lifted it across the canal and to the safety of the place beneath the bench, where the dogs casually urinate.
The corner bar had opened early, with tables on the sidewalk to view a hurried world, another vantage point for such an activity.
The coffee offered what you had inside you. It reminded you of an endless pursuit for the unattainable and a reminder of the transient nature of reality. Presented as intended, black and unsweetened, an Espresso, or double as needed, taken as given and received with thanks and appreciation.
The hurried world, realised only as a matter of history and more likely forgotten.