Instead of smacking him between the eyes for insulting my choice of living space, I tried to reason that the neighbourhood was not so bad. Although it was 1.30 on a Saturday morning, I said, there was nothing to worry about in this bit of the inner city,all that fear-stalking-the-streets stuff was absurdly exaggerated, mainly by the people who lived round here writing about it in newspapers. The cabbie, with his patio and his gravel drive, looked unconvinced as he pulled up outside my house. I got out,and was about to lean through his front window to pay him when I noticed there was a body on my steps.
"There's a body on my steps," I said.
"Exactly my point," he said. And he drove off.
The body was lying in an unavoidable position; climbing over it was not an option. I wasn't sure if it was dead, so, as you do, I kicked its feet. There was no reaction, so I leant over it and heard it snoring happily. Drunk, not dead; well dressed, not vagrant; a man in his thirties mistaking my steps for his bed.
"Excuse me," I said, "are you all right?" The body snorted. I kicked it in the kidneys and it grunted. I grabbed it under the armpits and tried to pull it on to its feet. It grunted again, its shoes slipped, and we both fell into a comical scrum. At thispoint, the body, rapidly and unexpectedly, gained consciousness and lucidity.
"I'm sorry," it said, shaking its head. "Really, I am, sorry, sorry. I'll just be off then. See you later." I helped him to his feet and propped him against the gate-post.
"OK then," I said, and went inside. Just before I got into bed, I looked out the bedroom window to see if he was still there. He was out on the pavement, under a lamp-post, not standing but swaying, his hand to his temple as if he was trying to get his head back in place. I went to bed.
An hour later there was a banging on the door. Even though I knew who it might be, I felt oddly vulnerable opening up wearing a pair of spotty pyjamas. The body, now upright and talking, was on the doorstep.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Yeah, well, you could have waited until the morning to tell me," I said.
"Look, what's happened between us?" he said.
"Nothing," I said.
"But why have you been like this to me tonight?"
"Look," I said. "We have never met. I came home and found you asleep on my steps. We have no relationship."
"But I can sense you're unhappy with me," he said.
"No," I said. "But I would be happier if you went away."
"What have I done to you?" he asked. "What have I said that's annoyed you?"
At this point it occurred to me that there was no future in conversation.
"Do you know where you are?" I asked.
"Er, no," he said. "Sorry."
"Where do you want to go?"
"North London," he said.
"You are in north London. Whereabouts in north London?"
"Dalston," he said.
"You are in Dalston," I said. An expression of joy crossed his face. "What road do you want?" I asked.
He told me. I told him he was on that road. His mouth broke into a lottery winner's smile.
"What number do you want?"
"80," he told me.
"Well, this is 87," I said. "You're just over the road from home."
It was a miracle of some recalcitrant survival gene; even through his drink he had maintained the homing instinct of a racing pigeon. "Oh thanks," he said. "That's brilliant. Sorry. Bye then, sorry." And he staggered off home. As I watched him waddle across the road, I thought of the taxi driver. Living out in the suburbs, I thought, I bet he's never even met the bloke across the road.Reuse content