It was 11am and Olga in her knee length blue coat and thin skinny jeans was still there. I swear she hadn’t moved an inch in the last hour. Not a finger. Not a muscle. Not a twitch. But if you looked closely enough just below the cheekbone there was a little nervous fluttering under the skin like a trapped butterfly trying to get out.
But no one noticed her. Because, it may be presumed; she wasn’t bothering anyone yet. Now if she’d been more overt about it, had got a bike and manoeuvred herself to stand in front of a bus to stop the traffic; like the man I saw in Elephant and Castle yesterday, then there’d be a fuss. Horns would beep. Passengers would stare and mutter thickly. Pedestrians would gather on the pavement and shout,
Hey lady! What you doing gal’? Move yourself!
Hey lady! What’s wrong wid you eh? What you got going on in your head?
She’s mad! Mad girl! Look at this eh! What you doing..?!
And people would huff and puff. Some would produce mobiles and cameras and minutes later the films would be on youtube and facebook with comments like- WATCH this girl crazy LOL, this woman need serious help haha 🙂 and so forth.
But she wasn’t doing anything like this and so didn’t merit that attention.
No, instead everyone rushed out of the tube station seeing only the road ahead of them, they were late for school; one was late for a design meeting for cigarette lighters in Pret, yet another had a rehearsal and someone else was setting off to rob the unsuspecting men and women hanging out in the street’s bars and cafes.
On went life.
But not for Olga. It was as though someone had pressed the pause button. She was frozen mid walk, left foot coming forward poised into the next step, the right dragging back, her mouth open and taking a gulp of air – for Olga really had been walking fast-her arms flung out and hanging there.
The wind picked up and billowed her long brown hair behind her- she looked a picture but still no one noticed.
And just then a small white haired petite lady- her figure made me think she was Scottish – emerged from the tube station with her little girl. The woman was all for ignoring Olga but the little girl was having none of it. She stopped and stared, her mouth open.
Kylie come on, we’re late!
But Mummy she’s not moving!
Oh yes. Well isn’t she keeping still!
The woman stopped and stared too and then her eyes dropped to the floor and to a little piece of paper wafting around at Olga’s feet. She thought she knew and, bending down to whisper in Kylie’s ear; she shoved something in her hand and pushed her forward. Kylie moved timidly towards Olga, staring up at her with big blue eyes. But Olga didn’t look, didn’t move, not even a wink. Uncertain Kylie looked at her mother and she smiled encouragingly. Kylie turned back and ran and threw some coins down on the paper breathlessly calling out
before scooting back to the safe clutches of her mother. When Olga still did not move the mother muttered
and led Kylie away. Sitting on a bench across the road a man in a flat cap had been watching all of this. His mate exited the 24 hour shop grasping beer cans and they sat together ripping them open and gulping the foamy liquid down. The man in the cap nudged his mate and pointed to Olga. His mate said something and the man in the cap sniggered and got up, approaching Olga. His mate followed.
Imagine fucking that, said the man in the cap.
He walked away laughing. His mate was about to follow but saw the coins and paused. For a moment it seemed he might add to them but then his hand shot out and scooped up the lot into his pocket. He ambled off, a smile on his lips.
Olga seemed to make no sign she was aware of any of this. The wind had dropped and the sun came out and Olga’s blue head scarf made her seem beautified or like the Virgin Mary. A sort of peace seemed to come from her now. Around her pigeons and starlings gathered…they didn’t know what to make of this new addition to their manor. Eventually one perched on her shoe. The shoe was full of holes and was genderless, it was not the kind of shoe you would expect a sophisticated woman to wear. It was no good for Winter and no good in rain. As the pigeon standing on the foot proved to have no consequences the birds became more confident. They led little reconnaissance missions, swooping into the air and diving fast in towards her head and veering away only at the last moment to avoid her delicate cheeks. Bravely a fat male pigeon plonked itself on her shoulder. Delicately, head on one side all the time and his orange eyes darting; he lifted his right claw from her flesh and put it down on another bit of shoulder. He did the same with his left, plonking it down where the right had been. This way he moved slowly and closer and closer to that cheek. And when he was close enough he looked about him and then- quick!- pecked hard! that golden cheek. The beak definitely came into contact with flesh, even broke it but Olga barely flinched. But the little flutter just underneath the cheek bone gave more of a jump, threatened to break out even and then calmed.
In disgust and at the taste of Asda coca body lotion on his beak the pigeon flew off. At this sign and in one movement the rest followed.
And then there was quiet. For a moment a lull between the waves of passengers exiting the station and the cars agigtating each other on the road. This was always the way with traffic I’d observed. There’d be a sudden hush and in the quiet the road would settle into itself again, you could hear the space of the quietness and the buildings listening to themselves and the wind creaking the Army Store sign.
And Olga did not disappear into this quietness, far from it. No her presence seemed to stretch and become elongated, she took ownership of the road and the pavement. She was straining at something. Though she moved not one inch.
But the reprieve was over. Now other people came – one, thin and walking hurriedly; was a friend of Olga’s. She did not see Olga or if she did she pretended not to. She talked angrily on her phone
I know, don’t stress me man, I mean don’t stress me! I’ll see you soon, OK? OK.
And passed Olga by. Another friend exited the station almost immediately after. He had long flowing hair and looked like a Romantic. He spotted Olga straight off and his heart sank. He didn’t want to see her, didn’t want to talk. What if she saw him? He really didn’t want her to look his way, yet to get to where he was going; he had to walk past her. But then he clocked on she was just staring at nothing and not moving and relief hit him. In the squabble of the crowd this made it easier and he turned side on, his back to her and facing the wall and moved along side ways, like a crab.
Oh just from council, he would say if anyone asked; there’s been a complaint about the wall, I’m just checking it out. Yep, yep.
So he got round her and disappeared up the street.
So began the rabble of people again. The late afternoon rush.The man in the flat cap stumbled back pissed. He came up to Olga, rested one hand on her breast; undid his fly and peed all over her. It dripped down her legs and onto the floor.
Disgusting, an old lady said as she was passing, disgusting.
Sorry lady, I gotta piss.
No I mean this, nodding at Olga; this eyesore. Someone ought to be told.
Absolutely right lady, totally agree. Although she does serve as a good pisspot!
And he slapped Olga on her bum for good measure.
Now it seemed the crowds were getting more vicious. There was a sea change. Whereas before the flow of the tide had been indifferent or at most cruelly amused, the atmosphere was now irritated and aggressive.
It was approaching the evening rush hour and commuters poured out of the station and because of where Olga was positioned- on the corner by the wall- she was hidden to those running up the steps and taking a hard right. Thus many ran into her and strangely, perhaps because she was numb from the cold; bounced back off her and into the paths of the people behind them. One lady even dropped her handbag and there was much tutting.
Something should be done, someone muttered.
What a stupid place to stand, someone else said.
A former lover of Olga’s stood across the road watching. He saw the abuse Olga was receiving and felt a twinge but that was all. He allowed himself to feel but did not allow himself to approach. He turned on his heel and left.
And then one woman came along with her buggy, took one look at Olga and decided she wasn’t going to navigate around her; no way! No she could jolly well move herself! But Olga didn’t move and the woman pushed her buggy right up to her and eyeballed her.
Are you going to move or what? Because I ain’t, she said.
To which Olga did not reply.
Hello? Hello? Anyone at home or are you deaf as well as dumb eh?
She’s just pretending innit, said someone.
Stupid c**t, said another; for by this time a queue was forming to get round Olga.
It blocked the entrance to the station so queues began down the steps, past the ticket barriers and onto the escalators. This happened very quickly. Across the road people stared from Byron’s and the Greek Restaurant. Waiters hung out on the steps watching. Cars slowed and eventually stopped to avoid the swarms of people trying to walk in the road. From above it looked like a mini Mecca.
It was when the traffic stopped that the authorities decided to take action. The officials from the tube station donned fluorescent jackets and pushed their way through to the woman with the buggy who was still eye balling Olga.
Come on lady, you’re holding everyone up.
Are you talking to me? She’s the one not moving innit?!
Yes but come on now, she’s not going anywhere so you can move yeah.
Is it because I’m black eh? It’s because I’m black innit?
Yeah whatever, I’m black too; just move lady and then everyone else can.
Gnashing teeth angrily the woman steered around Olga muttering that it was not fair and the men formed a circle around her. The crowds slowly dispersed and the tube men sighed and looked at Olga. One of them knocked on her forehead but getting nothing he shrugged his shoulders and returned to his companions.
Well they’ll be here soon, one of them said. Best leave it to the professionals.
And they all trooped back to their warm offices.
And all was quiet again. What a relief! A dog came and stood in front of Olga barking at her but that was all. It soon tired and ran off.
But then there was a different sound. It started with an orange flashing light. Then a police car screeched out of the darkness and parked itself at the end of the road, blocking the way. The driver narrowed his eyes at Olga but did not get out. Then there was a beep beep beep and the circumference of the orange light got larger and larger in Olga’s eyes. A man appeared in jeans and thick boots. He was motioning something forward.
To your left. Now right. No right. That’s it. Steady, steady. Watch it!
Then suddenly silence. The vehicle had stopped. And if Olga had looked up she would have been terrified. For poised above her, tilted to one side like a pigeon’s head; were the huge jaws of a yellow crane. It hovered inches away from her hair, its teeth newly oiled. A drip slid down from the metal and splashed her lip.
The man in the police car slid back in his seat and sank into darkness. The man with the boots had disappeared. There didn’t even seem to be anyone in the crane’s cab, it was all in blackness. And at that moment the Scottish woman and Kylie walked back down the street.
Oh Mummy look, she’s still here, I told you she would be, cried Kylie.
She ran towards Olga but then stopped staring at the crane.
Come on, we’ll go another way, said the mother.; dragging Kylie back.
Come on Kylie, we have to go and see Granddad.
The mother took little Kylie away.
Then suddenly, as if prompted by some invisible signal, the crane’s jaws opened slowly, fitting themselves around Olga’s head. Olga still did not move but there was a slight dart of the eye upwards taking a look at this beast. And then I believe- and I swear on my life- she actually moved. Cowered.
But it was too late.
The jaws snapped at her scalp and picked her up by the roots of her hair, swinging her into the air as though she were a stiff rigid doll. For a moment she swung like a woman at the gallows before the jaws deposited her in the back of a waiting council truck.
And the truck drove off at full speed, with Olga still standing in the same position. And I think I was the only who saw- yes I am sure I was- a tiny little blue butterfly break out from under the skin of her cheek and fly far far away.