How long does it take to vanish "My Island is Beautiful" deals with questions of belonging, identity, sexuality and discovery. A compelling and entertaining read for anyone who has dreamt of escaping the rat race. Fiction, based on true events (London, New York, Thailand).
The Docklands Light Railway from Tower Bridge to South Quay. Funny Lego trains jolting along the track, curling like a cheap roller coaster over the roofs of East London. I would usually try to force my way to the front of the train so that I could sit and enjoy the weirdly sexual feeling of the carriage exploding out from the dark tunnel, into the daylight and then the uphill climb of Wapping. Crisp packets and bits of animals would fly out before us as we pushed the air forward. A rocket in a tube, slowed by the weight of suits. It always smells of fizzy drinks and sweat, damp dogs and catalogue shop perfume. No matter who I sat next to, or stood crouching beneath, my eyes would turn to those windows at the front of the train as we crossed from one world to another. West to East.
People dismiss East London, probably because they should, but it serves a crucial purpose for me. From the East, West London looks beautiful. Turning the twist between the Wharf and South Quay, one window right in the centre of the train captures London’s most exquisite view. Crossing over the river onto the island, just for a second or two, the skyline of the city and the dome of St Paul’s emerge from the mirrored towers and concrete castles.
There she lies, a pitifully elegant city, drifting on its own reflection,brown and white stone, marble, granite, limestone and glass. As if perfectly staged for only me to enjoy, the buildings form lines, one behind the other, tiered like the seats in a theatre seen from the eyes of an actor. Each spire or boardroom a character in a great play, frozen but alive. I love this view, it’s why I came here to live on The Isle of Dogs and play at being on London’s island. London loves me and rewards me daily with this little splendour in-between the armpits of bankers and wet Evening Standard curtains. We have our own language.
That one wet morning, I left my house as usual, a little sick and dry from the previous evening’s pub time. Having slept seven or eight hours I considered this a non-hangover day and even stopped to iron a shirt. I like the slightly see through kind that hang over shoulders rather than maintain their own shape. Mine were hand made by someone somewhere. When they started to stain or turn from white to grey, I threw them in the trash and ordered more. The shirts are what make us business people. We buy the shirts, wear them and work to buy them and wear them. It’s a comfortably small life and often comes with a lot of fulfilling sex. Girls like the way shirts hang off shoulders, no matter the size of the body beneath them. Shoulders are what make a man. That morning mine ached. Probably slept across my pillow again, twisting into it like it was another body sleeping next to mine.
I boarded the DLR at around eight, waiting at the little plastic shelter with everybody else. The nameless souls that share my morning routine. Two of us always smoked, lighting a *** just as the train came into view. It had become a marker point in the day- the connection between the train’s timetable and our own. I smoked. I sat. I stood again to retrieve my ticket from the floor. The train beeped and clacked and twisted up and around first-time-buyer-land. I sat back down and glanced outside just as the sky broke and the first heavy drops smeared into my window. I hadn’t even noticed the clouds being dark that morning, but the storm cracked as if it had been building up for a decade. Within seconds we were the only objects that existed, a tube of people sailing on tracks through a world that consisted only of moving water. As we turned to cross the river I instinctively looked towards the City. Just colour. Smudges of clay dribbling apart. I started to command myself as I always do when I get bored, or excited or remember to listen to my head. Breath slowly. The train was a little too full and the people were all staring at the floor. The rain was loud. The single thought in my head was loud. I stood, absolutely aware that I was about to feel a terrible and probably fatal pain. I stood, completely removed from the logic in the previous thought. Now I was standing. I sat. The water. My head hurt and I wanted air. The people were all around me and the sex in their shirts wasn’t sexy. A man immediately in-front of me had his crotch in my face and I could see the outline of his ***** folded into briefs. Everyone’s shirt was white and none of them were clean. I stood again.
A greyness with only one blade of light twisting like gas through the people. Perfect light, the yellow kind, reflected from somewhere to somewhere. Then just greyness. We all looked at the floor and then the thunder exploded and my head exploded and I was off the train.