BIG CITY LIGHTS

By Elliot Egerton

I grew up in a new town. The one-way systems enforced a general linear perspective but my planned existence made me feel wanted. This lethal concoction coerced me into shutting the fuck up and playing my role. My father worked at a factory that made cogs and my mother was a midwife. At school I listened, remembered and regurgitated well, that was until my teenage years when I rebelled in all the traditional fashions. One night I got drunk and walked right up to where the town met the motorway and sat on the bank watching the cars go by; I felt jealous, then guilty. I thought about every person in every car that went by and how they were superior to me. I sat there for a good hour as countless whizzed past; almost punishing myself for the guilt.

A lot of days happened… Occurred… Then out of nowhere I woke up on a Tuesday. I wasn’t even drunk this time. I had to forget about my jealousy of the motorists. Acceptance would have meant further admittance that would snowball out of control causing a chain reaction throughout my whole belief system. Next thing I would be thinking: Hold on, the chip shop on my estate does not make good food, the food is really bad but I put it in my mouth, chew it and feel rewarded because it’s just there, down the street. I can’t do a life affirming jump off a jungle waterfall every Tuesday, it’s a convenient delusion. However this was that Tuesday. The first Tuesday of the rest of my life.

I was always first on in the morning and last off the bus after school because of where I lived. This Tuesday I was on the way home, just me, all alone, back seat, old bus. The seats looked and felt a bit like optical illusion office carpets I could imagine staring at with my head between my knees before vomiting in a bin. My stop was approaching, every weekday of that year I had stood up, alighted, got a chip barm and went home. I just didn’t move this time. Kept my arse planted, my inaction was my liberation, the revolution was televised after all. A shiver went up my spine as my bus stop flashed past in my peripheral; I couldn’t bear to look… Eyes ahead like a gang across the street was staring me down. It was barely 4pm but because of the time of year and the whereabouts of my birthplace it was near pitch black. This was the first time I had really been out these ways but the country lanes weren’t very well lit either so I couldn’t see fuck all. That actually made it cooler, in fact all I could really see was my own reflection, looking pretty excited… I could really see myself here.

The bus came to a halt and quickly turned off the engine and its lights: “Last stop…” the driver divulged. You never realise how noisy a bus is until it turns off, and then you’re like: “Oh shit, someone has been screaming in my ear this entire time, now I can hear my heart beating and shit.’ My stomach was also growling to an amplified degree, partly due to the aforementioned phenomenon but mainly due to its rigorous chip barm routine of being knocked for six. As I alighted I noticed a group of shops including what seemed to be a dimly lit chippy over the road.

I had rocked the boat enough at this point, so upon entering the establishment (after a short while spent humbled by the vast, all-encompassing Chinese/English menu which could swallow said boat like a dingy in the eye of a Pacific swell) I ordered a chip barm. This gave me at least one constant I could latch on to during the madness, like checking the time during a bad trip. However, as it was being prepared, I was left alone drumming on the counter, and it wasn’t long until my eyes were drawn to the big sexy fridge in the corner. It was the brightest light in the room, even more powerful it seemed than the ‘big light’. A vast array of colours caused a sensory overload, distorted my vision and almost hurt my eyes, which had acquired the capacity to long divide grey into a seventeenth of a decimal point. I had never seen anything like this before, even Burma has Coca-Cola now but some of the fizzy juice on display here was awe-inspiring. I was squinting with my hands on the desk, so enthralled that I didn’t even hear the door open behind me.

As the elderly Asian woman who served me reappeared and announced a sequence of numbers I assumed must be the price, I realised I wasn’t going to come this far and stop now, I needed to try one of the juices: “Erm, I would also like to try… that can there please…” my finger aimed squarely at a weird-arse fruit that looked a bit like a vagina. It was at that moment that laughter erupted from behind me, the gang let their presence be known and I turned around as someone mockingly repeated what I had just said: “That can there, please!”

The hyena-like laughter felt disingenuous, sycophantic, facetious, tactical and devoid of any joy. The ensemble of male adolescents I was greeted with were pale, had poor posture and dressed in a monochrome uniform. Their faces were either covered, or they were facing away, or they were looking down and they stayed constantly moving, trading positions like a five-a-side team. “Where are you from, lad?” one enquired, although I couldn’t tell which one, and I think it was a hypothetical question, he didn’t really want an answer. Before I had time to reply, “On ya bike!” another concluded.

That was more of a statement, and I didn’t have a bike so I didn’t really know what to do with that information. Midway through this thought my perspective of the room rapidly changed and I realised that I’d been hit. I was on the floor now, somehow it all happened so fast, but in slow motion. I felt like I should have been able to save my fall but I didn’t. Similarly, I thought I could spring back up, but by the time I had my feet planted and hands in position, I had been hit a second time and I was completely unguarded and open due to my stance, or lack thereof. I got that horrible burny feeling in my nose that makes you want to sneeze and my head ricocheted off the floor as I fell back. I felt super-concussed and woozy. The black splodges in my blurry peripheral backed off slightly and allowed me time to stand. So I tried the same manoeuvre again, getting to my feet this time but lurching wildly to the right.

I managed to grab on to a pillar and remain on my feet, slumped against it: “Don’t be a faggot!” a shrill, lost voice cut through the ringing in my ears as I felt something hit me in the ribs.

Each blink became harder to perform, I dropped straight to my arse without lowering myself, I couldn’t breathe, I felt really scared, I wanted air and to be outside, I wanted my mum there, I wished I had just stayed in bed this morning.

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