London, Born to Love

       Top floor of the number 9, drizzle pissing against the panes, the hole in the seat
beside me packed full of chewing gum, smells like juicy fruit. Fucking kids. But it’s
empty up here now, no school kids, no old bastards with their shopping – just me, my
book, on the way to the hospital to see my sister.
       I look at my watch, and it’s just hit 1am, a couple of disco biscuits jump on at
Stamford Hill, but they stay downstairs. They’re singing some shit from the charts,
break my concentration. Not that I’m reading anything that needs concentration.
Harry Potter. That’s all, makes me not need to think too hard.
       I don’t like to think.
       Seven Sisters is a cold dark piss ugly place in the middle of November, brightened
only by the whores hiking up their skirts on the corners. Sometimes I ride the buses
early in the morning just to count them, imagine them, spy their cracked smiles. But
tonight I’m off to the hospital.
       There’s one old whore that always used to be around, just by the church, third left
lamp post on the side street. She had thighs like conker trees, and her skirt was just a
couple inches long. Big blue boots too, and a face like a pig in a slaughterhouse. One
time I even jumped off the bus. Walked straight up to her, wanted to see her up close.
       She turned, to me smiled, “Hello gorgeous”, I caught sight of the gap in the front
of her gob, the smack behind her eyes. I looked at the floor, walked on.
       She disappeared about three months ago, never seen her since. Probably OD’ed in
some gutter, or killed by some perv. She’ll be better off now if she did get what was
       Just another piece of London the tourists don’t see. To be born here on the wrong
side of town is a bastard card from fate, one of the loneliest places in the world.
People don’t give a shit, you see.
       So many sub-cultures keeping themselves to themselves, but no society. Wasn’t it
Thatcher that said that? Well she was right, maybe helped it happen. I’ve never said
more than two words to my neighbours in the flats. Half of them can’t speak fucking
English, and the ones that can, would spit in your face as soon as look at you. There’s
an old crusty in number five, who only steps out to get his daily bread, milk and
vodka. If you happen to walk past him in the corridor, he’ll launch his stick at you –
“get out my fucking way, I’m an old man, I’ve had enough.” That’s all he says, he’s
had two breaks and enters in the last year, the scars say it all.
       I need to get out as much as possible. Does me no good holed up in that place. I
observe other people to keep my mind off me. And read crappy books like this Potter
       I’ve tried to end it all a few times, pills once, razors the other. But my fucking
sister found me both times, always interfering. Least she cares, I suppose, too much.
Should never have given her the key.
       We’re getting close now, rising up along the Holloway Road, Archway up ahead.
There’s a still a few wandering the streets – two old Irish drunks singing songs for
the Republic, three black kids on a park bench, smoking weed in silence.
       This is London, streets of gold and all that. The London the tourists don’t see
shacked up in their Russell Square high rises, taking a trip to the King’s Road,
Pimlico, Oxford Street, the London with lights. The London with a little hope.
       Gonna be there in a minute, to see the little sprog. Jermaine she’s called him –
Jermaine Rodney Clement is his full name. Two weeks early, three hours old. She
phoned soon as she could. Needed someone to be there with her. Tony, the black
fella that got her up the duff, disappeared soon after she found out, she didn’t want an
abortion, couldn’t face the guilt she said. He never came back.
       I’ve all Jodie’s got as far as family go, so left as soon as I got the call.
       I stroll down the bus stairs outside the Whittington, and the driver glares at me
       with a “getoffmyfuckingvehicle”, kind of stare. He’s got it too, gets everyone in the
end, this city.
       Last time I was here I was having my wrists sewn up, just another piece of dog
turd taking up a bed. No hoper, loser – I heard the nurses say as they cackled over
their coffee.
       “Can you tell me where the maternity ward is, please, mate?” I ask the fat old
porter, half asleep over his Daily Sport.
       He looks me up, down, sniffs his nose. I can hear the bastard’s thoughts. What’s
this fucking druggie doing here, wanting the maternity ward, bloody weirdo.

       “Who ya here to see?”
       “Jodie Clement, she’s my sister, just popped a few hours ago. The kid’s name’s
       The old fella’s still eyeing me suspiciously as he makes the call. He puts the
receiver down.
       “Okay, 3rd floor, that’s the second flight on the left. Head right the way down to
the end. There’ll be a nurse to meet you at the door. Her name’s Jones.”
       I head off, catching sight of the queue at A & E. There’s some guy with a face
full of glass, holding his nose, his two mates asleep either side of him. A small Asian
woman is nursing two big bruises to her face, while a man with an eye patch is
fingering the scabs on his forearms. Remnants of another night in the shitty city.
       When I reach the ward door upstairs, I meet the nurse, Jones, she’s a pretty girl,
looks kinda Greek I think, though her name says Welsh. She takes a look at my ID,
smiles, leads me to the room where my sister is. And the sprog.
       Jodie’s propped up on the bed, wearing one of those green hospital gowns with
the stupid gap at the back, though I can’t see for sure because she’s lying on her back.
Her face looks real messed up, like she’s had two rounds with Tyson, eyes all puffed,
face blood red.
       “Tom, you made it… we’d almost given up.”
       She pushes a white wet bundle of blankets toward me, and I spot the little face
squashed up in the middle of it all. A little black face, loadsa frizzy black hair, eyes
closed, peaceful sleeping. A little hand reaches up, unfurls, furls, tiny little finger
nails. Tiny.
       “You okay, sis?”
       “Don’t you think he’s beautiful, Tom, look at him, place your finger in his palm,”
she nods to the baby, “Jermaine, it’s your uncle, your uncle Tommy’s here to meet
       I look at him again, his little nose breathing in-out. I do what Jodie said. The
baby’s hand twitches when my finger touches his hand, unfurls, and his little fingers
wrap around mine. He grabs so tight, so strong.
       Then he opens his eyes. Big, brown, they’re beautiful eyes. Just beautiful. It’s as
if he’s looking straight at me, eye to eye, it’s as if he can really see me, see my mug
for the first time. Then his mouth, moves, he yawns, then his lips twist into a smile.
He’s staring into my eyes, holding on to my finger, smiling.
       “He’s smiling, Jodie, he’s smiling at me.”
       “It’s just wind, Tom, just wind. His eyes aren’t formed yet, he can’t really see
anything but a blur.”
       But it’s not true. He can see me. He is smiling at me.
       The innocence hits me like a raged fist, the beauty. I never expected to feel like
this. Just a baby, I’d thought, just gotta be there for my sis, gotta go and give her
       I look into the baby’s eyes, again, Jermaine, those deep brown eyes.
       He knows nothing.
       He knows nothing about life, about London, about the shit you have to go through
to stay straight, to survive. He knows nothing about worrying about cash, nothing
about what it feels like to cry yourself to sleep every night, have no one, nothing.
       What’ll he end up as? Look at him now, so oblivious, just full of love, loving his
mother, the cool tang of outside air on his lips, in his lungs. He knows nothing.
       What’s he going to think of the coldwater flat in Dalston, the high rise low life
lifestyle? The dealers on the corner, the under age whores at the churchyard, daddies
beating mummies, the damp on the bathroom wall.
       What does he think about all this, if he could think? What will he think?
       He’s still smiling, still staring. I can feel his love, warmth, his innocence. He’s
my nephew, my blood.
       “Do you want to hold him, Tom? I think he really likes you.”
       I take him in my arms, gently hold him. I’ve never held a baby before.
       “Support his neck, place your arm under it.”
       He feels so warm, and he’s still smiling.
       “Will you be alright with him for a little bit? I’m dying for a piss.”
       Jodie leaves the room, I sit on the bed, stare at Jermaine staring at me, staring at
him. He knows nothing. He feels nothing.
       He feels nothing when I press the pillow against his face. Tears run down my
face. He doesn’t cry. He knows nothing. I do it for love, for him, for Jodie, she can’t
look after him, not really, she can’t.
       The baby’s eyes are still open, staring, he’s still smiling. I shut his eyes for him,
kiss his little head, still warm, lay him back in his cot.
       Jermaine’ll be happy forever now.
       I walk through to the toilet, the disabled toilet, the empty one, the pills and
razorblades weighing heavy in my inside pocket.
       I’m doing it for love. I’m doing it for life. I’m doing it for London.

Joe Zorzi is 27 and harks from the depths of darkest flattest England. He
is a member of Alex Keegan's Bootcamp, and has had fiction and non-fiction
published in a number of literary magazines including Bluemag,
Defenestration, Edifice Wrecked, A Literary Bent and Seventh Quark.

© 2005 Underground Voices