Friday, June 02, 2006


He’s standing by the tube again, wearing smoke for dreads. A million times I’ve passed him by and never a penny has changed hands – I don’t think that’s the point. He’s a constant, a landmark, an installation amongst the backdrop of constant change. He smells of sandalwood, vanilla, musk and coffee bean; a varied mixture though strangely, all the same. The colours too are varied hues, but each less distinguishable than the last.

"Incense" says he, not the most arresting call, though most definitely noticeable from the noises in the street. His voice sounds like his sticks would if they were to one-day up and talk. Its deep and throaty and it seems like he says a million things to me when all he’s said is one. Striped trousers, striped shirt, little stripey bucket on a strap. His clothes have been made from joss-sticks it seems and then majicked into cloth. The face, a hundred years old at least, though looks barely thirty; I would never make a bet about his age.

He stands alone, rather more part of the town itself than of the crowd.Around him is the usual bustle of the street, the same dirt and detritus that lingers around Brixton tube; feeding from its warmth and providing the rich welcome that I’ve come to expect each time I arrive home. There are people selling tapes, batteries and "genuine" Marlborough Lights; people advocating socialism, black supremacy, religious conversion; people hand me flyers, take my tube ticket, offer me weed. I reject most though am strangely susceptible the religious conversion people and always faintly annoyed that the Black Supremacist people won’t let me have a paper. Sometimes it feels angry round there, sometimes relaxed; I’ve never known it to be quiet.

"Incense" he says. His voice cutting through the cacophony of accents, curses and pitches. I try and catch his eye, but he won’t look; in fact he never has and that’s in almost four years. I don’t think he catches anyone’s eye, ever; like if he did he wouldn’t be different anymore. I try and catch his eye so much that I am, essentially, staring at him, but he won’t look.

I sometimes wonder whether he is actually real, maybe I invented him and I conjure him up in my mind when I get to Brixton; I picture him so that I can locate one calm oasis in my hectic town.

"Incense" he says and I imagine he will forever.

Jo Arden

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