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Ways to go...

I leave New Street via WH Smith and M&S Simply Food Shop exit, past cash points and taxi rank, full with police raid vans, unmarked cars (either silver or dark blue), the sight of them always unnerves me, after the London Bombs, and one summer after September 11th, when the station was evacuated, we thought it might be a bomb, but it was a small fire. The panic was real and tangible, the public turned into lemmings, running to the way out.

They are always waiting, and watching – high visibility cops panic people more, so plain-clothed officers watch. I see them, I’m regular as the clock, the CCTV must know my face, same time each morning; and the police, their faces, positions, quasi-casual man at Topman clothes, blend in, mingle, and become one of the crowd. But they are easy to spot. I used to carry a backpack, because my spine won’t take heavy loads on my hip – paper round damage inflicted by those huge Sunday morning papers. After London in July, I found myself cautiously eying up all backpacks in my locale, and then realised it could as much be me with my backpack. Although a skinny white girl doesn’t fit the face of international modern terrorism, even so. I wonder if CCTV ever watched me. Probably not, those cameras never record anything, do they?

Speed walking through the deserted Bullring, I know this is not recommended for my safety- I could be raped, murdered, mugged, or any number of horrible urban crimes that Birmingham is noted for; shooting, stabbing, etc…I often enter the Bullring through the glass doors next to Boots, and the silence closes in, the cold and dark stays outside, sometimes I encounter the man filling up the vending machines, he ignores me, I ignore him (but secretly take in every detail, jut in case anything should happen and I need to give the police a description).

I see the shop girls waiting on the balcony outside Topshop; I wonder if they see me. I wonder why they need to be at work so early. I see some cleaners wheeling sanitary bins back and forth from the ladies toilets, I see security guards in pairs pacing about, and when I move to the underground level via the escalator, I am alone, my footsteps echo about the space, I feel a bit panicked, silly really, but if anything should happen, who would come to help me? I’m so stupid really, should stay where people can see me.

I see a man walking towards me, older; I’m a bit worried. It’s just me and him. I walk a bit faster, pass him without incident, round the corner and out into the open, the Indian man is setting up his shop, traffic is minimal, and buses are plentiful. I sometimes see a black cat, padding around by the entrance to Moor Street, that cat must be tough, a little city cat who knows the streets and gets fed by passers by, or goes after rats, which are in large supply on rail lines. I wonder what the cat is called.

Lauren McCarthy © 2006.

Lauren McCarthy currently lives in the heart of England’s Black Country, somewhere between a rock and a hard place.


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