by Thomas James Stone
We move inside the lonely hours of the city. Chewing our sleeves in dead train carriages. Scurrying underground to leaf through pages of supermarket novels as we hurtle through the early mornings looking for sleep. We make conversations in fantasies, we don’t even know why we have them. The girl on the corner table in a 24 hour café. She drinks black coffee and you ask her what her name is but never hear it. She doesn’t use sugar but stirs in two sachets of sweetener. You joke that she is sweet enough and she laughs in such a way that you know she doesn’t pity you. You watch clock hands moving slow enough to savour the moment a little longer. Your voice sounds uncertain, like the flicker of the street lamp underneath your office window and hers is tinged with a lack of sleep. You don’t discuss why neither of you want to go home tonight, or why you’re even here. You just talk and that’s fine. You try to eat something but 3am is never the time for it. Your stomach just chews itself as she bitches about colleagues, you think of David in marketing and his fondness for passive aggressive post-it notes, she continues to drink her coffee.
You can’t remember what it’s like to see the sun in the winter months. You still smell like printer cartridges and vending machine tea. She puts on her coat but isn’t leaving; the fur on the hood still holds onto rain drops from hours ago. The waitress refills her coffee but you still nurse yours to warm your palms. She taps her fingers on the table to the music on the speakers, you recognise the song but can’t remember the name.
You watch a couple enter and walk to the counter, their arms loosely locked. She is wearing his leather jacket, the shoulders are far too big for her. They talk to each other quietly, like tinnitus; like they are tired of screaming. They order sandwiches and look at you as they find a table. You share a moment of obscure connection. They both wear t-shirts with drinks offers printed on the front; hers says ‘Cuba Libre 2 for £5’ his says ‘Jello-shots 3 for £4’. The waitress brings over their food and they smile. They eat in silence, tangling their legs under the table. Connecting. Enjoying the quiet.
You are all the same here, but none of us really understand it. We pulse through the veins of this city when everything else sleeps. We are the eyes that watch the neon lights on open front bars shut down. We watch the street lamps dying in suburbs and the secret lives of drunks unfolding on street corners and kebab shop windows at 4 A.M. We are all the same. Night shift workers, club photographers and late night bar staff, nurses and policemen, the restless and the sleep deprived. The runaways. We are all the same.
There’s a new song playing on the speakers, you know this one. Blackbird. You listen. All of you. The girl in the corner, Cuba Libre, Jello-shots, the waitress. You all listen to this song, as the morning keeps growing further away from last night. You look over at the girl in the corner and she smiles and the couple across the room are still silently in love. You finish your coffee and leave.
The birds are singing. Out in the dark. As though they don’t know when they are supposed to sing any more. Within these few hours when the rest of the world sleeps. The birds sing but do not understand that those that sing in the day will never hear them and will never know them. Your thoughts circle on these birds and you are filled with an inexplicable sadness.
The birds sing you home as the first light is starting to rise behind you. You try to wait for the sun; try to keep your eyes open. Just to see it. You want to hear the morning birds, those that sing for the sun. You want to tell them about the night birds, you want to tell them about those secret lives played between the melting of days. But you can’t wait. You’ve been awake for too long. All you can do is climb into single beds and shiver until it’s warm. You can finally sleep, as the sun begins to spill through the blinds.
Thomas James Stone is based in Lancashire.