They say their goodbyes and the lad climbs up into the kitchen sink, putting the books on the washboard. He steps out through the slatted panel onto the sill, turns, the Fish Man hands him the belted stack of books and, in one minute, he’s on Pentonville Road.
The road is bathed in street light and the lad starts walking away from Kings Cross. Pentonville is pretty empty right now. A few cars pass this way, that. A mail van and the all-nighter, the 68, empty but for the driver, the conductor, a couple sat halfway down its length; her head on the window, his on her shoulder, pass. Two scooters slow as they pass. The scooters have fat little wheels. One of the scooterists looks back for a moment, calls something and then is gone. The lights in the bedsits are yellow or orange. This one is red. A core of kebab meat turns on a spit; a moustached and sweaty man carves it lovingly. Looks up as he passes and taps the glass with the blade tip; beckons. But the lad ain’t hungry to be honest and keeps walking. On the corner of White Lion he sticks out his thumb and pulls up a car, a foreign job, blue perhaps, two seater. The driver looks him briefly up and down and nods him round to the roadside door.
He wears kid leather gloves. He wears a finger of moustache. His hair, a greased halo, gathers at the tops of his ears. There is a pint glass between his legs.
Streatham, he says, all sing-song and tapping the seat. The lad says Streatham’s alright, gets in, cradles the books between his legs. The streets blear and begin to blend and after awhile the driver chuckles and says, Streatham. Justin Streatham. But my friends call me Justin. You can call me Justin. What’s your name?
The lad thinks this through. But, you’re going to Streatham, right?
Not quite, he says. And his voice has lost a little of the sing-song and his eyes narrow in the windscreen, the rear view.
Like books, do you, son? And, for something to do, an almost-escape, the lad takes the offered pint glass and pretends a sip. Whisky.