A Good Night for Walking Home

It's a good night for walking home. The night that follows the first really truly warm day of the season: that's always a good night for walking home. In the streets around Summertown, everything is hushed and the lights are out in the houses, or maybe everybody has just drawn their curtains shut, and there are fallen blossoms under my boots. Even the cars as they slide down the road seem to be saying, shhhh. Be reverent, be gentle.

The warmth is fading a little but when the sun was out it got trapped under my coat, so maybe it's stored up, and my limbs feel different.

On Broad Street the big issue seller suggests that if he can't have my spare change, maybe he can have the yellow flower pinned to my coat. And why can't he have my spare change, after all, I think? Because 20p is too little and 20 pounds too much, and that's all I have in my pocket, and besides, yesterday I tipped a man in the bike shop £2 just for pumping my tires.

(In retrospect that seems backwards, but then, maybe not. I don't want to feel guilty about my generosities. They're too tiny as it is.)

And also, once I actually bought a Big Issue. I don't know what came over me. I was exiting a shop and it was a bright sunny morning and I thought, well, okay, I guess you've got to do it eventually. But then I got to the office and couldn't figure out what I should actually do with the magazine itself. Not read it, surely--it's a symbol, not a consumable, a receipt, a badge. But I couldn't throw it away either. That would be a true waste. So in the end I tucked it behind the scanner on my desk and then found it eight months later and went through the same process of thought before deciding that, actually, I could bin it, so I did, but not before I offered it to everyone else in the office. They politely declined and I think for half a moment as I dropped it in the recycling I felt a little fickle, as if I'd committed myself to this thing and now I was breaking my commitment. Why do we care about objects so suddenly and irrationally?

Three figures pass under the Bridge of Sighs. They look like shadows. Sitting outside the entrance to Hertford College is a young man in a red t-shirt crouched on the ground, flipping through a magazine, which is barely illuminated by the lamplight. A girl takes a photo of her friend; I hear her say, "that's almost perfect, you know," but there are so many things about which she could be talking about.

Speaking of almost perfect, I don't suppose you could ever grow tired of Queen's Lane. There's that view of the back of All Souls and the windows of St. Edmund's Hall and sometimes some music coming from somewhere (once, late at night as the Man and I were walking home, it was real proper jazz-age jazz played on a piano and I probably danced, a little bit).

On the High Street, the candy shop looks funny all asleep. You can't see the colours of the candy and it's like Willy Wonka dreamed in black and white.

In the end it's a funny relief to be on the Cowley Road. Those North Oxford streets--they're so beautiful, so big. It smelled heavenly up there, all pink and white blossoms. It was black and deserted and it would be easy to imagine yourself the only inhabitant of the entire area.

But here we have something else entirely. Chefs standing outside having their cigarette breaks. Girls in heels, shorts, and leather jackets (not even as sexy as it sounds, not even close). An ambulance, parked, lights flashing, no driver, outside a darkened house. An ice cream shop, a burger joint, a cinema, a chinese restaurant. A woman walking her dog with an open bottle of cider pressed to her lips. It all smells a bit greasy. I like it.

On James Street. Next to the pub where an open mic night is going on. I pause and peer inside just to make sure I know someone inside; I do; that's good, I think. I won't go in but at least I still belong. As I'm peering someone outside, smoking, recognizes me and we exchange a few words. Then I keep going, past the Conservative Club, out of which drips balding blokes and strange music.

Then our street. Always a little cramped, this street. Sometimes I can't walk my bike on the pavement at all--how very unlike those wide North Oxford boulevards! And there, on the corner, is the house with the tall fence. Last summer I was thought the man who lived there was under house arrest because he used to stand next to that fence, eating his dinner or draping his arms over it and asking passers-by for a cigarette. Now I can't imagine why I was so convinced of that. Harmless little house, harmless little man.

Our house, when I get there, smells of laundry. The curtains have not been drawn. The Man will come home from football soon. It's one of those nights when I feel like it's been an odyssey just to get from one end of the city to the other.