The day is as still and limpid as a summer holiday; the skyline framed in azure like a painting. Time has slowed down, as it does in the sun, but for us time is running out fast. I set out for Portobello Road in the sunshine, thinking about how short our time here might be. I walk the familiar stretch of pavement, and emerge from shade into sunlight, next to the postbox with flaking paint, its royal crest ringed by black marker-pen tag. Beside my shadow, plant shapes tint the paving stones. I feel the heat on my skin.
A little further on, among tall trees, stands the imposing church, an abandoned street-cleaner’s cart outside. Branches sway in the breeze, mocking its immobility. The bells chime midday as an elderly couple pass by, pushing a shopping-cart effortfully. I move on, past the window of Mario’s shoe repair shop, through which he leers, like a murderous chimney-sweep. Opposite, a couple sit at a table outside the bar, drinking from pint glasses; smiling and talking, just out of earshot. I want to hear what they are saying, to get a shot of youth and certainty. If only for a few strides. On the corner of Portobello Road a black man with greying curls is playing a single steel drum with a removed yet faintly good-natured look. Yesterday… the metal resonates across the street.
Around the corner a man is sitting on a fold-up chair on the pavement in the shadow of a coffee shop, face turned towards the sky. People look as if they’re not quite prepared for the heat and are in hats, coats, t-shirts. Another man sits with his trousers hitched up, facing the road in an aggressive pose. The warmth has quietened the stall-holders, with only the fruit and veg man shouting and cursing as usual. He’s even angrier in the heat.
I’m not half the man I used to be… the drummer drums.
The market twists up and away. I used to push my daughter down this road from her first nursery. I would point out the big brown teapot hanging above the antiques shop. My daughter would marvel. I would laugh. I had already forgotten that. Soon we will forget other things about our lives here.
Oh, I believe in yesterday... beats the metal drum behind me.