The Rain

I’m  cycling across Waterloo bridge against the rain. I navigate the semi circle of  Aldwych then swirl into the straits of  Holborn.  Water crashes into me under pressure of unapologetic car tyres.  Through the raindrops on my eyelashes Holborn is a watercolour. Red. Traffic lights ahead.   Car in front. Left side.  Red brake lights on.

I’m on the floor on my side. I’m waking from a sleep with the kerb as a pillow, the kerb that juts out beneath the railings on the left side of the road.  On my right is the car. In front is the Holborn junction with the traffic lights.     I should get up now and wake up.   I’m getting up.

The voice of a woman:   She’s been talking for a while “I’m an NHS Nurse….. probably he’s  in shock”.  Things start to return like startled birds to the trees. “I’m an NHS Nurse” she says. I look right at her:  “Can you feel this?”   She’s holding my hand . I wiggle my fingers. Yes  She works through my body with her checklist. Can you feel your legs…. your arms….  my body starts to awake.

As if  sliding  out of a helter skelter into a swimming pool the noise of the city fills my ears.    The city is angry and unconcerned.  What was slow motion is  moving fast.  Cars circumnavigate us in the way water does a rock.   We are an island.    Thankyou I think I say to her.  “Thankyou”. My little finger is cut and bloated like a bust lip. There is blood abseiling down it.

“you are in shock. You shouldn’t cycle” she says.  “But you are okay”.  I thank her again.  The driver, a young Somalian man, probably in shock too, holds out a hand to shake mine. I remind him of the cut on my finger.  My back and head would have both cracked on the kerb were it not for my backpack.  Someone had opened the car  door in the second I was passing and I had slammed into it.

The throngs are nothing but a London Cliché now.  The rain magnifies me into a million droplets.  I am alone.   I send a text to  Jamie Byng whose birthday meal I was attending  I’m going home. Had a bit of an accident.  It sounds like another lame excuse.  I  cross the lights on foot. I’m walking up Southampton row. I feel  a crushing sense of sadness.   Family. Family. Family. It hollows me out.  The adrenalin is leaving.  I need coffee.

Excuse me are you my Chancellor”.  I turn.  “My  name is Ola and I’ve always wanted to meet you .” She’s just passed her studies in Business and Chinese.  She speaks Mandarin. “I’ve been meaning to catch one of your events  but I’ve always been away….”  She spent a year in China. She has no idea what happened only minutes ago.

We talk about her work in Uganda and other countries.  I tell her about the equity and merit scholarship scheme.   “Can I take a selfie”   she asks.   And in the rain she holds up her camera phone. If the phone were not there we would look like a man smiling with a young woman pointing to the magnificent future on the horizon.

(The date it happened was June 27th 2017. I couldn’t put the blog up at the time because I was in rehearsals for a theatre production called ROAD)


16 thoughts on “The Rain

  1. I had a minor cycling accident in March, mainly my own fault though. It’s a shock to be reminded how life can change or be finished in an instant. Still get aches from it, made me much more cautious …. and older.
    I don’t live with family. But I walked home where my homeless Habesha housemates made me at home. And I was okay.
    Take care Lemn, we don’t want to lose you!

  2. vivid and poetical portrayal as ever lemn. I’m sorry this frightening experience happened but I’m very happy that you were physically unscathed.( although I hope mentally you haven’t lost confidence in commuting by bike) It makes you realize how delicate life is doesn’t it.. how easily everything can be shaken up. And in a selfless way you still gave your time to the young lady – and for this intrinsic benevolence you are a true hero, a man of and for the people. Thanks for sharing this piece.. And keep being great. For you the greatness is simply in the ‘being’ .And keep safe. Alex.

  3. Dear Lemn,

    This made me think of something Virginia Woolf said, I think of it often and bore my husband quoting it. But it means a lot to me.

    Virginia Woolf was told not to have children, because of her mental illness, this was a source of great sorrow for her. Meanwhile her sister Vanessa had three children, a husband, a family home. (Vanessa’s life was really far more complex than that but in a very real way she had all Virginia craved.)

    Anyway, to the point, she said “Never pretend it doesn’t matter.” She acknowledged that her life was not as she would have wanted it. It seems to go against so much of our culture of positives and silver-linings but it is a liberating idea. She dared to believe that what she didn’t have, what she missed, what was absent mattered and that had she had it (a child, a parent, she lost both hers when she was relatively young) she would have been different, she may even have been happier or more fulfilled. All family-less people feel this and sometimes it helps to just accept it as true. (Sometimes you mustn’t).

    I think this piece of writing says this too. You show us where to locate that loss, in the absence of a concerned voice at the end of a phone, the default person to whom we tell our stories, be they frightening or fantastic. (This makes me think of Gabriel Garcia Marquez who said he never felt that anything had ever really happened to him until he had told his grandfather about it.) Not having that person is an everyday tragedy, even for those of us who have learnt how to live without it.

    It’s a beautiful piece of writing.


    • “Not having that person is an everyday tragedy, even for those of us who have learnt to live without it” Thankyou Lara, for taking the time and so eloquently placing your words in the perfect order to convey a very very particular condition. Thankyou


  4. I stopped breathing at the end of paragraph one. So relieved to know you are okay, dear Lemen.

    At that moment, I hope you found a little comfort in the sentence ” are you my chancellor?”
    You mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
    You have a huge virtual family; whatever that means.
    My respect bundled in a hug and sent in love!

  5. While I was reading I thought that you are not only a great poet but also an excellent novelist. Then when I realised that you were talking about yourself I started feeling anxious. I’m relieved to know that it happened months ago. Lemn, we are your family. Next time, give a call! I’ll come to rescue you with my helicopter 🙂

  6. family, family ,family ….Dear Lemn ,we all would love to let you into our families ,to be your brothers and sisters .So sorry that this accident made you feel alone even in a world full of admirers,however your Christmas dinners I am sure make all those who attend feel part of a family of friends at least for one day.Take care and stay safe xx

  7. I’m in the midst of experiencing some huge vulnerabilities, feeling exposed and alone. In my strong times, I can see that being with my vulnerability is a great strength but in the moment, it is grippingly awful. You are my ‘go to’ person for a reminder of the beauty and power of expressing one’s vulnerability. Thank you again and again.

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