Come Home Adam

After more than two weeks of 50-word stories, I thought I’d combine a couple to expand into a longer piece.

Come Home Adam

Either he’s searching for his son or I’m searching for meaning, a connection, a postponement of death. Perhaps it’s both. Either way, we’re both on this bus.

He’s got some stickers. Small, round stickers, orange, with a small photo and white writing.

Come Home Adam.

The photo was taken the last time he visited. Messy, mousy hair, black-rimmed glasses, fluffy hint of a beard, awkward smile. Let me know if you see him.

But in my heart there’s a radio silence going on
I don’t know how you feel

He listens to the music Adam used to like, still likes, will like, hoping it will give him a clue, as if James Murphy is going to point him to an abandoned warehouse in Edmonton where his dismembered body is currently decomposing in three separate bin liners, waiting to be buried in a forest in Essex. Or James Blake will tell him he’s in Chicago, working for an outreach program that helps kids on the gang-infested south side.

I haven’t decided yet.

He’ll finish this with the words ‘the journey is the reward’ ringing emptily around in his head and as long as he stays busy, he’ll convince himself it’s true.

Right now, this is all he can do. Ride the bus, a different route every time, from start to finish.

Come Home Adam.

There is only one Adam in his small town. Outside, a terrifying city unspools. The city that swallowed his son. Nine millions faces to parse. He’s had some prank calls, but deals with them in good grace. Most people call him thinking it’s some marketing gimmick for a new Channel 4 show.

He’d never been to London before.

Look at me now, Adam, in the belly of the beast.

His pride is disgusting, gut-wrenching, pathetic. Awww, he thinks might have been able to do something, if only he’d engaged.

He tried. He took him to watch Norwich City play football once, but Adam spent whole time counting the swearwords and they left at half-time.

Get on the bus. I prefer downstairs. Upstairs gets the crazies, but downstairs, in the guts of the journey, that’s where the real action is. The best chance of feeling anything. But upstairs means he can see more, gives him ridiculous hope of seeing Adam. Every story needs hope, right? It’s not fair on him really, making him suffer like this. I can’t even give him any real pain, just loss.

What will become of me, if I can’t show my love?

The bus scuttles, gateway to the south, Peter Sellers.
A frail old man boards with a huge dog.
*Off to walk her on the Common*
His twiglet legs look ready to snap. A bead of dribble drips from his chin.
*I do it every day. I don’t mind walking down the hill, but can’t walk up so get the bus.*
*Ah deploy your parachute son, we’re coming to a stop.*
A polite chuckle.
*Fucking black bus drivers. Don’t give you a chance do they? Bye then.*

Bit cheery that goodbye, don’t you think? For a racist, I mean. Still, at least he cleans up his dog poo. Even Hitler loved his dog etc etc.

The bus lurches, pokes forward, jabbing at the traffic in front, impatient. Once there were Georgian mansions and regency villas. A common. A spa. Then, railways tore the Mansions down and German bombs did the rest. Now, a creaking fairground vandalises the common. The wide, tree-lined avenue narrows, the gradient steepens. We’re in the Village at the top of the hill.

Delis and dental surgeries. Apples, freshly-cut grass. Ladies with umbrellas to shade from the sun. Extravagant, expensive haircuts. From over hedgerows, the polite competitiveness of the country club.

Oh, just out. Unlucky.

Talk between points of nursery fees and aqua aerobics.

Stark, bare, bony trees claw upwards into the blue sky, squeezed ephemera, Artemidorous.

Blossom and prep schools. Adam sick in the dormitory for weeks. Everyone knew he was faking it. No one did anything about it, just let it play out and when he’d had enough of sticking his fingers down his throat, he went home and never came back. He shuffled off to the local state school, avoiding the social assault course by hiding under the netting.

Such as it is, around the corner, cement mixers and prolonged, angry horns. A man stands in the road to take a photo of an Audi. An elderly lady offers to go and ‘tell him off’.

A lap of the hospital. A lap of the supermarket. Progress, glacial. He pushes the insanity away. Unlike me, he’s not being honest.

Back down the hill.

Girls wearing branded t-shirts swoop on the weak-willed, slow-footed, kind-hearted.
Clipboards and promises of redemption for only 16p a day.
You’re looking good today
Everything just wow and fantastic.
But no.
Those poor dogs.
They need a home.
Not today, sorry.

KFC, Greggs, the old pub now a vodka bar. Community wardens prowl outside a glass-fronted Burger King. Mecca Bingo, drug drop-in centre.
A father and son, in identical black tracksuits, peruse the menu outside a chicken restaurant. Kids lark on judicial steps. Racial Equality Council boarded up, closed for business.
A poster for a ‘week of hope’. Austerity. Rationing hope.

Gum-toting teenagers jabber into mobiles.

Definitely not chatting’ shit man. The car overtook me, it must have overtaken you Simone. I was crackin’ up man. Kelly said the same thing.

Low sun reflects off the wet road. He squints, clocking everyone. Nine million faces.

You can normalise, don’t it make you feel alive.

Through residential rabbit warrens, twisting, grinding, through narrow, shabby housing estates, framed by unapologetic gleaming towers of the City. The juxtaposition is so obvious even he realises its significance, so obscene I almost push the bus on a diversion. It’s too obvious, cliche, but I can’t.

A young man, cap on, hoodie up, peroxide hair edging out below the hood, on his phone, sits next to him, antsy, legs jigging. He finds it impossible to tell if young people are having an argument or talking to their best friend.

Kebab shops and trendy pubs remain, for bankers who like to slum it. A mural of a huge rat.
Half-hour photo, free eye-check, internet cafe, off licence.
He’s been here before. It was raining then.
Maps in front of vast, unrelenting housing estates, colour-coded zones, like a theme park.
YOU ARE HERE
Please do not allow your dog to foul the estate.

The bus stops amid a flurry of sirens. Ambulances one way, police cars the other.

Now the neighbours can dance, in the police disco lights.

He peers into a window above a newsagent. A girl sits on the windowsill smoking, talking to an unseen character, off-screen. Cigarette half-smoked, she flicks it out the window, nonchalant. It falls to the pavement below. She waves her hand, pushing the smoke out of the window, extravagant, removing the evidence. She stands, pregnant.

Evening sunshine casts saintly glow on Mr Qs
The ONLY place to meet.
Shuttered.
Also shuttered: dry cleaners, nursery toyshop, sandwich shop, unnamed shop, carpet shop, Sam’s Burgers, window frame shop, fruiterers.
Not shuttered: bookies, Citizens Advice Bureau
Kids bunny hop over the litter, run sticks along corrugated iron.
Above it all: Retail Development Opportunity.
Local gossip: Cold war bunker underneath it all.
A man puts a Mars wrapper in a hedge.
A roundabout sponsored by a funeral directors.

A man, in shorts and thick overcoat, holds a brown paper bag. He opens it for our man.
I’ve got asparagus honestly mate is was two fucking quid for all that he even chopped the ends off for me here have a look I only wanted a couple but he gave me all that I just can’t believe they were only two quid do you want a couple mate go on I’ll never eat all these. I don’t even eat asparagus. I said I don’t even eat asparagus. Why won’t you take the asparagus look at it see that’s what asparagus looks like I didn’t even know before now will you just take it just fucking take it. Prick.

It’s not asparagus. It’s just some fern.

Parks, sites of Chartists and Anti-Nazi leagues sit scruffy, unused swings wobbling in the breeze.
An old drunk, Stella in hand, chases a pigeon,
staggering,
burning fury in his bloodshot eyes,
the taunting bird hops in large circle,
too lazy to fly away,
enjoying the game.
Finally, the man collapses to the turf and the pigeon flies nonchalantly away.

An abandoned tower block casts a shadow 360 degrees around its base. Negative matter, sucking in the light. It reminds him of the baddies in Superman 2 that used to terrify Adam. Yet he watched it compulsively. The clues were there mate.

MOT centres and chicken takeaways. Rain. Buffeted up against the river, sculptures make solid the ghosts of porters and Canadian timber. Home to 19th century labourers of shipbuilders and coal wharfs.
WareHouse At River Front.

A woman, crying into her phone. Hysterical. The family is going under. Why won’t he pay the money?
Young eyes stare in wonder.
A muttered shut the fuck up.

My brother and my sister don’t talk to me
But I don’t blame them
But I don’t blame them
But I don’t blame them
But I don’t blame them

The river at low-tide, dirty and drained, mocking property prices.

Relics of newspaper cathedrals shine like black gold, art deco clock hinting at former opulence.

A solitary man wages a lonely campaign, the Royal Courts deaf to his concern. Still he remains. Forlorn, defiant, human. Alive.

Casual cyclists.
Hobbyist cyclists.
Militant cyclists.
Fundamentalist cyclists.
Suicidal cyclists.
Freedom Fighter cyclists.

Statues and courtyards. Embassy flags hang limp. An old man lethargically polishes a gold letterbox, his progress interrupted by four serious men in serious suits wearing serious frowns talking serious words. They look ridiculous, he thinks. One of them looks like the Adam of his dreams.

Planes power down as they track the Thames on their descent under portentous skies. iPhones, Androids and thousand-yard stares,
A giant Tom Hanks scans the horizon.
Broken oyster, free ride for all.

Behind him.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
My favourite colour is blue.
Is it?
Yes.
Don’t judge her mother. It’s just a moment. Who knows how long she’s been up, what state of exhaustion she’s in? None of us. Well, I do, and she’s not proud of her behaviour as a Mum, but she knows her daughter will love her tomorrow.

Then again.

A mother smiles at her teenage daughter. The daughter is not looking at her, but fiddling with her phone. Sensing her mum staring at her, she looks up. Mum’s smile widens, deep with pride, but the daughter snarls and looks away out the window, at workers lounging and lunching on the green. A little boy runs behind a tree to wee, hidden from Mum, but no one else. Mum continues to smile, unconcerned by her daughter’s – at best – indifference. She accepts, is looking forward to when her daughter will return an appreciative smile.

He stands and screams at her.

‘NOW, DO IT NOW! DON’T WAIT.’

He sits down again. The mother and daughter raise their eyebrows, before returning to their own thoughts. Someone behind him starts to sing. It sounds Arabic, recalling the muezzin reciting the adhan on his honeymoon. Cairo unfathomable, being escorted through the underground and ending up on a night train to the Aswan dam.

What happens when he’s ridden all the buses? He pushes the thought away. This bus is new. There is already a sticker on his window.

Come Home, Dear.