Friday 29th December 2006 – Marylebone train station, London
Struggling with my rucksack, in which I seem to have stored a quantity of rocks, I stood on the concourse waiting for Cathy to make herself known to me. Cathy and I have known each other many years. We are both late. Habitually. The knowledge of which makes us later, knowing that the other won’t be there. I wonder if she’ll recognise me, travelling incognito as I am in large wool coat and hat low over my eyes. Jesus it’s cold in this country. Does no-one mind that their shoulder blades have been frozen together?
A tall, gangly man of around thirty and his mother are exiting the underground onto the concourse. He has a collection of items in his right hand, with which he is also trying to drag a wheelie suitcase. They seem a happy duo, neither antagonising the other. They appear to travel together a lot. It’s possibly a little sad for a man of reasonable attractiveness to be travelling with his mother, not his lover, but who am I to question, my dad still picks me up from the train with a thermos. As he wheeled towards the coffee stall, a pen fell from his suitcase-grasping mit and bounced onto the floor. It was a freebie, a hotel pen. I thought to myself ‘leave it mate, it’s not worth the effort of bending down and dropping everything else’. His mother said something, he replied more audibly ‘it’s just a pen, leave it’ and on they walked. And it struck me. That would never have happened in Sierra Leone. Pens are of inordinate value. I once offered a free conference centre pen to a boy on the beach and his face lit up. The money I had previously given him meant nothing against it. I had given him the equivalent of a day’s income for some families up-country (40p). But the pen signified an opportunity, to write and to access learning. In a country where education is yearned for more than diamonds, the pen is mightier than the caterpillar truck. Or something. And I tell you what else wouldn’t have happened. If that pen had been dropped, the person who picked it up would have put it in their pocket. But I’d like to bet that the cleaner who found it at Marylebone, threw it away. In our obsession with sanitisation and health and safety, no cleaner would risk such a germ-carrier as a pen. In a metropolis like London, who can say who’d been chewing it’s non-ink end? Consigned to a bin bag like so much else that could be reused. Taken for granted because it had been free. It’s monetary value signifying it’s only worth.
I waited for Cathy. I cursed myself for my right-on-ness. For thinking the words ‘that would never happen in SL’. You’re not in SL now. Get a grip. Cathy arrived 15 minutes late. I had been early.