Tavia Allan

We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
.                                                                                     Oscar Wilde

The Start of the End of the Reign of the Subcontinent: during the time of my forefathers by Firoz Mahmud

When I fell, I fell hard. There was no one to see. I sat on the kerb in Elgin Avenue and looked up through the leaves of a plane tree and there was nothing.

This is my gutter, and I’m staying here. Between two abandoned pubs, with the surgery behind me and the pharmacy opposite.

A hiss and a sigh. A bus pulled in, settled, opened its doors. This is the 328 to World’s End. My gutter, my bus.

The top deck was nearly empty. A loved-up couple in the prime seat at the front, a bulky laundry bag beside them, and three teenagers eating chips at the back. I took my favourite spot, just behind the stairwell, and looked out.

Windows, blank eyes in the grey facades. Streetlamps, hanging baskets, window boxes. White-faced geraniums. Do people plant window boxes for when they look out and down? Or for when, outside, they look up? They don’t do it for the benefit of the woman on the 328.

The final destination of this bus has been changed. This bus is being held to regulate the service. Please listen for further announcements.

This is how the world ends: not with a bang, but a pre-recorded announcement. Looks like I’m not getting there this time. I’ll have to make do with Kensington.

Movement behind me. And in front. The lovers walked past the stairs, past me. I turned and watched them head to the back, where the kids had got the emergency exit open.

I followed. Of course I knew there was an exit on the top of every double decker, but I’d never seen it used before. We stepped out on to the top of the bus shelter and then onto a raised walkway. At the end of the walkway were steps, a staircase that would take us down to the bin room and the fire doors and the street.

But my fellow travellers were heading upwards. A party? I strained to catch a bass beat but could only hear the steady scuff of trainers on concrete. So I followed, but at a cautious distance, unsure of the wisdom of going higher, wary of being trapped.

Onto the roof. The couple took a large blanket from their bag and spread it out. The kids joined them. A roof-top midnight picnic? Was this where they lived? A trespasser, I stayed in the doorway watching, as they each lay back.

Moon bathing. Star gazing.

You think it’s just darkness, that there’s nothing to see anymore but then you notice the Pole star, or Venus – or a satellite, does it matter? And as you continue to look you see Orion’s Belt, the Plough. I’d forgotten this.

We’ll never see the thickly dusted heavens in all their glory. But if we look up long enough, only long enough, there are cracks where a few stars get in.


About the writer:
Tavia Allan is a writer and teacher based in London, who has taken to writing Flash as a way of passing the time during chemotherapy.

Image: The Start of the End of the Reign of the Subcontinent: during the time of my forefathers by Firoz Mahmud (1974-). Layapa stencil painting. No size specified. 2011. By free license.