A Window in North London

I sat on the top deck of an unfamiliar bus, and I looked into the late stages of dusk, which were almost dark enough to be just night.

I said I would be “back by bats”, but this was a slightly optimistic promise. Bats being dusk, birds being dawn (as I expounded over a solitary cider before): there are four times of the day. Bats, birds, dark, and not dark. I sat on the bus and I plugged away through unfamiliar songs sung with familiar voices, or quoth the less poetic: a new album by a band I already liked. Comfort in the same old things.

In the dark the windows are like rectangular eyes. It’s not a new observation: houses look like faces, windows let you see inside. On the top deck of a bus there’s always the chance you’ll see something dramatic or strange inside a room where the curtains aren’t drawn: on the way back from Camden, one afternoon, a girl of maybe ten or so wedged up against the glass, behind the curtain, reading something with a lurid cover and her hand pressed over her mouth at an uncomfortable angle (snap). From a train, some years ago, the memorable sight of a teenage foursome disintegrating into a naked crying girl, a comforting naked girl, and two naked teenage boys looking nervous on the other side of the room (snap).

This time, somewhere between Seven Sisters and Wood Green: a woman and a girl, by a window that has no curtains, with their backs to the road in some kind of grim discussion with a woman standing at the door. The room walls are bare. The bus moves on but the image is stuck: so many people live their life in one room, and once I thought I would too.

White walls, white ceiling, no art, no hangings, no nothing. You sit and you sit and you sit and you sit, and you have nothing to do but think and eat carefully-spaced-out and measured meals. The room becomes claustrophobic, so you go out. But you don’t have any money and you don’t have anywhere to go, so you walk around your immediate neighbourhood until you’re tired, and you sit on a bench until you’re cold, and then you sit and you sit and you sit, then you sleep. And you sleep.

Over and over, for a whole lifetime. One room or another. I couldn’t stop myself thinking: how many potentially wonderful voices are drowned out by sitting, and sitting? How many artists and scientists and nurses and soldiers and comedians and revolutionaries sit, and sit, and sit, and never become more than a sad stain on a lonely carpet somewhere beyond a window in any given city in the world? How much are we missing out on as a culture, as a species? What life-changing thoughts are stored away and never given form because it’s cold or it’s dark and there’s one room with four white walls and overdue rent, everyone tucked away in lonely little pigeonholes, starving slowly to death?

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