Two red lines in black tarmac that stretch towards infinity but never meet, a double margin at the edge of the road. Two lines followed every day, Monday to Saturday, Monday to Saturday. To work and then home again. Down and up. To and fro.
The warm sluggish trundle down Holloway Road, top deck windows steamed. You wipe a patch to see out of, and buildings blur past. Outside Safeway men from faraway countries hustle cut-price cigarettes, always on the move. The bus rolls on, past them, past the university with its crash-landed spaceship that’s an architectural statement, past the shiny stilettos and furry handcuffs of Fettered Pleasures, past used furniture shops and a late-nite grocers called Setting Sun. A rainbow of flowers in the churchyard where the old Jamaican raises his first can of the day to greet the world; you smile back at him through unbreakable glass, the bus slowly edging downhill and upmarket, passing Hope Worker’s Cafe where two pounds fifty buys a Holloway Breakfast (bacon, egg, bubble, black pudding, two slices and tea), to the red brick terrace at the end of the road where the latest flat for sale is on a Foxton’s tip.
Pull yourself up the stairs with effort. It’s been a long day but you want to see the horizon. And it’s a crazy high red sky tonight because of the cold wind blowing, a red that fades to neon blue by the time the bus has squeezed its way round the roundabout on to Holloway Road. You’re thinking ‘ten more minutes’, but then the bus stops. Look down and it’s those same road machines that woke you last night with their insistent dirge under the bedroom window. They’ve shifted down here now, with their smells and their dirt and their luminously jacketed all-male workforce. A cop car edges alongside, blue light flashing silently, jamming the bus in mini-gridlock right by the melted tar. You sit there, breathing in the burning smell. Two girls near you are sharing headphones that go chink-a-chink-a-chink. The road is smooth when the bus moves on, tyres slipping easy and soft over new lane markings all clean and sharp like an unread comic. The double red lines at the edge are gone, and for a stretch it’s like there’s nothing there to hold the road in place. It is clean and naked. Full of possibility. But soon the gap closes.
Next stop. You ping the bell and half-fall down the steps, eager to trade the warm yellow light of the bus for the darkness of the street. Your foot feels for the pavement, crossing the gap between here and the kerb that is filled with spent cigarettes. Passing over, without seeing, those two red lines.