Starbucks, Marylebone High Street – not a brilliant choice of café but it's busy with working people buying their first coffee of the day and the question that comes to mind concerns constructing a narrative from observed or experienced events. Yesterday another café on the South Bank, waiting for Leah. We had arranged to meet at 10 am in order to go to the Move exhibition at the Hayward. She was on the bus somewhere between Brockley and Waterloo and so I was having a coffee and waiting. So I had sat down, got Like a Fiery Elephant from my bag and started reading when a youngish woman sat down, sort of in my face and in words that I cannot now recall asked me for some change. A lilac hoody with a green tweedy jacket over it, the skin on her face roughened by living on the streets. I shook my head and carried on reading but she wasn't to be put off. This was merely the beginning of her campaign with me as the intended target (my first choice of word was victim but then I decided to find a more neutral term, to lessen the possible aggressive interpretation). On the other hand my intention was to get her to go away from me so I could wait and read in peace and for that matter drink my coffee.
But another story has intervened, here in Marylebone High Street. Four guys, three young white anglo-saxon Brits plus a chinese (Brit?). The chinese is more smartly dressed. They sit down at a table but make no move to go to the counter and order drinks. The chinese obviously has a higher status in the group, he says something to one of the others and he gives up his seat for the chinese and fetches another chair from a nearby table. Is this a meeting, a business transaction? Then the chinese and one of the others go together to the toilet and return shortly after. The chinese then goes to another seat by himself and busies himself with his mobile phone. The other who had gone to the toilet with him hands him what looks to me like a packet of cigarettes, he looks inside and seemingly satisfied puts the packet in his pocket. Then the other two go to toilet and as they are returning one of them is (rather carelessly) stuffing a small plastic bag filled with something white into the pocket of his jeans. Business over the four gather outside on the pavement and all shake hands and go off in different directions. Am I justified in interpreting al this as 'well, they're obviously drug dealers'.
Meanwhile, yesterday, my daughter has arrived and my self-invited friend tells her that I am mean and she checks that Leah is my daughter. The three of us are beginning to have some sort of business meeting too or are we making friends? I say something about how we can be too quick to judge others, meaning to make a general point but then I'm accused of being judgemental. After trying to start a conversation with Leah but failing because the intrusion is too strong I ask her 'what's your story?' and it is predictable. Childhood and adolescence in care, no family, on the streets, unwell, last night in hospital, trying to get into a hostel, a seven month daughter being looked after elsewhere, sleeping on the streets, illiterate. I attempt to engage her with what she might do about the reading and writing . . . after all we each to have start from where we are . . . and after a while I put my hand in my pocket and pull out a few coins and hand them to her. She's getting quite chatty, telling us how she had to give a false name at St Thomas's because 'they know me'. She's got a bit of money from me, she seems almost cheerful and Leah and I go off to the Hayward . . . it's a very engaging exhibition and I was particularly moved by The Ten Thousand Waves meditation on the death of the Chinese cockle pickers a few years ago.