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  • THE LAST LAUGH

    The street is deserted except for the girls at the bus-stop. They have taken over the flimsy plastic structure in their new millennium gear. Boot-leg cut trousered legs, stalk-like over platform shoes, coil around the sturdy yellow mast-head - these being the only thing, it would seem, keeping the shelter on its feet this Spring two p.m. of warm gusty breezes. Every so often, one of the girls breaks out into a shrill squawk echoing the occasional gull overhead. The breeze alternately rips away and restores the shreds of sound.

    I do not want a bus. Certainly, neither do they. I know some of them from the classes we do together and I know their antics are aimed in my direction. But, for this instant, my distant figure is an impersonal attachment for this mirth that mirth is not. They are not really ‘seeing’ me. Their attention is on themselves, individually and as part of the group, and all they want to do is exchange laughs. With my approach down the street, however, their glances begin to focus and become more penetrating. They are silenced for a moment in the effort of identification.

    And the street washes quiet under the tired jazz band effect of the wind: tick-tack of gravel against corrugated iron, flap of ancient overlaid referendum posters, occasional drum roll of iron shop-fronts. The heat has yet to gain in intensity but a rest in the afternoon is the custom, with little abroad except the occasional passing tram or car speeding the few home to late lunch.

    The effort of identification reveals nothing precise about me which makes me an oddity and so an event.Oh, why don’t they move off? Can’t they be satisfied by their sighting? By the something to peg their laughs on?

    Panic swirls within me and mirrors itself in the breeze which gains in intensity, whipping up fragments of dust and gravel from the unkempt road surface. I risk an open look at the shelter: its occupants are obscured by the frank wind now made gritty flesh. A flash of hope. Maybe they’ve gone? They braved the bland elements to exit from their houses safe in the privacy assured by tradition and the soaps on TV, have exchanged laughs (for these are possibly their confidences) and nothing has happened .....except for me. A sudden lull restores vision and sound to the scene. The screeches reach me loud and clear. I might well have been in the shelter along with them. The crude caws are dragging me into their range, scraping at my skin, levering at the roots of my hair. The shelter that seemed so far away comes zooming up at me and then the wind mercifully redimensions all.

    Like a maggot, I am practically blind to the route I always take, but my horror at the unexpected illuminates its winding down to the main intersection where a further strangeness now presents. A sudden massing of the sporadic early afternoon traffic spilling upwards into the smaller road. In the distance a sound which makes hearts pound, throats dry. And now the source is here. Space must be found and the vehicle screams its way to the city hospital leaving muddle behind with, at this hour, no official presence to sort things out.

    A motor-cycle breaks out of the huddle and with summary arrogance mounts the pavement, surges up towards the shelter. The event the girls have desired has come and who is laughing now as the haughty centaur, missing a beat in its progress,slips and veers and corruscates plastic, steel, flesh. As I step around the remains, what might be a laugh gavels in my throat.
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