Know Your Place
Know Your Place
This was Eddie's favourite place to sit and watch the world go by. Sometimes the wind howled, and the rain teemed down, and it was easy to imagine that misery must prevail; at other times, the sun trapped him in its glare; warmed his heart, but made him shield his eyes, so that all he saw were the shoes of passing strangers, a metre away and then gone in an instant. Every day though, the growling of traffic across London Bridge provided him with company throughout another empty day, and whatever nature threw at him, this place remained at the centre of Eddie's universe; it was home.
The River Thames at its grandest ebbed by below him, but against the disorder of footsteps and babbling voices, the car and bus engines revving and whining, and the occasional party boat motoring by beneath, it was impossible to listen to the hushed sounds of the river itself until the early hours, when the city slept.
Eddie didn't mind that. He was usually still here even then – halfway across London Bridge, huddled against the elements, clinging to the blanket that was his shelter, and enjoying the river's whisper. He had no reason to be anywhere else in particular. As a boy growing up in the countryside in Northern Ireland, probably 50 years before, he had heard people talking about London, and he had listened with disbelieving ears, and imagined with wide eyes. Many people went to London; it was bigger even than Belfast, and its call was uniquely strong, its promise seductive. It was a well-worn path: off to London to seek your fortune. Eddie had followed that path himself years ago, and it had been good to him for a while; he had drawn energy and purpose from it. Not now though, and not for some time.
These were hard times now, but he didn't blame it on the city. Life did what it did to a man, and he accepted that phlegmatically. London was still where he wanted to be; and here, halfway across the bridge, thirty feet above the shimmering water, was where he calculated the heart of London to be. He had the river, he had the traffic, and he had the people, flowing according to their own tidal patterns, mostly from his left, the south bank, across to the City to his right every morning, and back again in the evening.
He could watch the world go by, and on those days when he'd not managed to secure a source of alcohol he could think, and wait, and watch his small metal tin, long emptied of tobacco, gradually fill with coins from passers-by. Eddie had become an avid people watcher over the years, and he indulged in it whenever he could rouse himself from fitful sleep or blurry-eyed indolence for long enough to take in what was in front of him.
And right now, as Eddie looked to his left, what was in front of him was a young man – probably about 30 years old, he reckoned; around 25 years younger than Eddie was. He stood on the bridge, not quite mid-river, looking out towards HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and beyond, as the Thames curved away towards Docklands.
Something about the man had caught Eddie's attention as he had approached from the south side of the river and then stopped about five yards short of where Eddie, an easily ignored, shapeless figure hunched beneath a mucky blanket, was huddled. It was a dark October weekday evening, becoming chilly, and with a gentle drizzle that came and went. The evening was drawing on, although Eddie judged that it wasn't yet closing time in the City pubs, since the flow of human traffic hadn't developed into a boisterous, alcohol-fuelled surge yet. People often staggered past Eddie after a night of boozing, but this young man – tall and skinny with a mop of fairish hair – looked more like he could still do with a drink Eddie had thought, judging by the grim frown on his face as he had neared where Eddie sat. He had walked quite slowly, almost reverentially. His f