31 October 2017
Number 49 bus to St James’s Hospital, Leeds. Fractured shoulder. Physiotherapy. This route is so familiar. Harehills Road running like an artery from home into the city. Every nationality under the sun (or Northern rain) steps on and off, as we trundle along. My shoulder hurts. It’s hard to balance, as the driver lurches to a stop. Time to kill. Wandering around the gloom of Beckett Street Cemetery. Tumbling gravestones. Strange lurking characters. A man, perched alone on someone’s tombstone, secret with his thoughts. A lad on a bench, headphones tight clamped, jiggling to a silent tune. Red bouncy curls escaping his cap. Roll-up fag on his nervous lips. Coffee at his side. “Hiya” he calls, too bright and twitchy. A little high. A little provocative. I step away fast. Later, on the bus home, I see him again, at the front, near the driver. Still jiggling and bouncing and ready to run – or pounce. I hold on to my shoulder. Everything feels unsafe, when a bone gets broken, and the feet are swept away from under. Not able to run myself, these days, through the wet slippy streets. It would be hard to escape. But he soon gets off. Grateful for the bus, and the tight swell of people. Happy to land at my own stop again. Easterly Road. And then just round the corner through the rain. Making it home – a little tentative – in the gathering gloom.
26th January 2018
“I’m pleased with you. Your shoulder is doing well. All credit” says the physio. “I’m signing you off.” I grin like a tiny child. Praise indeed. And out from the scaffolding of the scruffy old hospital, back onto Harehills Road again. The sun is shining. A rare benevolence. And I wait for the bus. But the bus doesn’t come. So I walk – with new confidence – take in the squalor and grime all around me. And look at it with a new appreciation.
Past the cemetery across the road. Round the corner, where the tiny businesses and mini markets jostle side by side, all the way downhill, in the sweep back to Roundhay. Wave after wave of immigration and re-settlement has made its mark here – working class English, then Asian, now East European. Krakow supermarket. Polski sklep. Peshawar Asian stores – and here and there, self-made shanties made of wood, packed to the gunnels with fruit and veg. An old Victorian church – no more prayers now – but a carpet warehouse instead. Banstead Park on my left – a scrubby patch of green in the middle of tightly packed terraces, red and black, holding on tight to their Northern hillside. Then a tiny back- to – back, packed floor to ceiling with used and remodelled tyres.Would you live here if you had a choice? With the noise, and the cars, and the wary hustle of the people, all struggling to make a living, just surviving, cheek by jowl? But it’s extraordinary, too. Energetic and fighting and always moving forward. Full of dirt. Full of attitude. Full of life.
A man lurches towards me, white, dreadlocked, pulling an ancient rottweiler on a lead, hat pulled down, dark glasses, distinctly lairy. I stiffen and speed up. We pass each other, he looks, and he grins, and the tension disappears. Just a man and his dog. I wander on. And its good to feel the cold winter sun on my face. Feel the ground coming back to me, safe under my feet. The shoulder strong and healing. The body on my side.
Then I am there, at the bottom of the road – East European Foods and the defunct Delaneys Bar nestling opposite me, side by side. Irish and Russian. Another unexpected marriage. Everything surprising can happen in Harehills Road.
Turn up the hill, and a man in a Kurdish hat and elegant baggy trousers makes his way down towards me. He doesn’t meet my eyes. There will be no smile here. But back near my home, an elderly Sikh man, turban immaculately coiled, bids me a courteous Good Morning, as he always does. And it always lifts my spirits. So much life all around me. If I remember to open my eyes again, trust my feet. Just look. And walk.