The red bricks crumble all around me, just at the corners losing the definition that made them so industrious when this city cared and had use for them. I spill my ash and pour a drop of beer on the hot road like I’ve seen American gang members do on TV, an ancient habit of mourning from that same impulse that makes us throw change in ponds and fountains. The same feeling that keeps you quiet at an open casket wake, the same feeling that keeps me silent now, finishing my cigarette alone in amongst Birmingham’s carcasses wishing for some voodoo to save Digbeth from it’s inevitable rhinoplasty, a glass and metal assassination.
A train shakes the bridge as I pass under it obscuring the beggars voice, making him mime sadness with folds of his face, I empty my shrapnel into his hand and cross his palm with rolling baccy he pockets it and in one movement shakes my hand hunching his back until we’ve adopted a sickening medieval tableau of master and serf, another train shakes the bridge clouding us in industrial dust, I reach the end of the road and head for the canal thinking that I’ll sit until the sun sets. The traffic is distant now, held at bay by a whole block of ghosts.
Down by the the heavy smell of burning weed, as I turn the corner a Rasta nods at me in slow motion the tips of his dreads dipped in silver, hovering at the edge of old age. I nod back and remember that I haven’t been down by this canal since I was 16, beaten up and robbed, spotting my black eye in the dark currents, hanging over the water the metallic tang of blood dripping from the loose tooth along my tongue drop by drop disrupting the distorted reflection. It was a day like this, mid summer the bricks and later I set fire to a dead tree watching the smoke rise over the city and spitting the tooth into the fire, returning hours later and finding it in the ash, it still lives in a tin in my bedroom. I finish the bottle and look back towards the Rasta who’s gone now maybe he felt the impending end of the day I rest the bottle against a wall and for a moment consider smashing it, but that would achieve nothing.
The cracking leather of my boots leads me back to Floodgate Street back past the beggar who approaches me again this time stumbling over his words with a spirit sodden tongue, I give him another cigarette’s worth of baccy and avoid the awkward handshake. I continue until my ears let me know I will imminently be returning to civilisation to the anointed bit of Digbeth that was granted a 21st Century purpose, back to the Irish bars and the coach station, to where the police station is that has a bolt on the door and no buzzer, back to where the brothel hides in the neck of a sex shop and a chippie the paint on it’s walls concealing a long history of insurance related arson, and where an hand written sign pokes out from behind a curtain, “new somalian ladees”.
I enjoy the gust of wind that brings the chill of the evening and I begin to lose purpose, I’ve wandered and reminisced I’ve mourned a cultural passing and more importantly run out of money and beer, I roll a fag and under the guilt regret being so generous to the beggar. There was a time when Birmingham pumped, when the canals railways that strap this city were less than tourniquets when the city bulged at the seams with working class opportunity, The Lunar Society’s face has lost all it’s teeth, nose like a brawler swelled with broken cartilage eyes burnt out smoky yellow iris lost it’s voice and it’s wisdom rolling it’s tongue over it’s cracked lips and going in for a another decade of surgery. This city is an unfinished sympathy, twilight drinkers the last indigenous inhabitants of the grand pause and this is the last brummie street the last place you can reflect with a can in the day and not fall foul of a last minute law, the last den’s of the Zulus a stone’s throw from St Andrews, the home of the best clubs and riots, soon to be a conference centre, the centre of dead star orbits. I’m at camphill now, at the round about before little Mogadishu, where the gunman twice grazed my mates teeth with his pistol and emptied out his bank account. The sun’s gone and only the wasteland lies ahead until you hit Balsall Heath and Moseley. There’s not much left for me now, I try to summon a bus with a fag and insulate myself against the catching breeze with hands in pockets.
As I wait letting my cigarette rush towards me with the breeze a figure zips up his fly and approaches me, his hand flexing instinctively for a pint that isn’t there. He asks me if I know when the bus is coming, but regardless of the answer he monologues about the red brick building behind us.
‘I was in there as a kid, run by nuns it was, brutal Irish women you know with tight lips and strong arms I used to run away all the time and when you’d come back the nuns would kick the shit out of you with anything they could get their hands on. God I hated it, you know, loads of abuse and that went on there, I was raised a catholic you know and if you can’t church who the, who the fuck can you trust?
He pauses and the wind blows ash into his face.
I finish my fag as well, the bus still hasn’t shown. The man rocks back and forth on the hell of his black brogues.
‘I went back there of course, years later after it was closed, squatted in one of the back rooms, I was in their coupla of weeks, kinda weird seeing it all falling apart cause you know however shit it was it made me, I got a council place now can’t stand it, thin walls and that ennit’
The bus pulls up.
‘Here mate you got a coupla quid for the bus’
I tell him I haven’t and show him my out of date ticket.
It’s no problem the drivers staring at his phone and doesn’t even look up as we got on, I sit up stairs and stare out the window, the guy sits at the back and I hear him cough every couple of minutes until I get off and go home.