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I leave the tower block 8 a.m. on the dot. He's standing by the bus stop, a young version of Paul Simon, sunglasses on, waiting for the No. 488 to Hackney Wick station.

I walk past him and turn left, past the garden centre, Growing Concerns. On the other side of the road, cyclists and joggers wait to cross the bridge over the Hertford Union canal. A shuttered pub looms over them, the shadows of a man and woman etched on its door. In a few months this pub will be knocked down to make way for expensive flats.

I walk alongside Victoria Park's eastern edge – past families dropping off their children at the Montessori school, past builders about to spend a long day painting and plastering, past the middle-aged going for a run or standing by their window, a cup of tea in hand, watching the world wake up. I then turn right onto Cadogan Close and a few steps later I’m up on the metallic bridge over the A12 motorway, breathing in the fumes.

I watch the cars for a moment speeding north and south. A giant poster on the other side of the bridge tantalises drivers with the image of a cool bottle of beer propped on a Caribbean beach.

There’s a mattress and duvet underneath the eastern pedestrian ramp, newspapers and books scattered around it, like a Tracey Emin art piece. Two of the legible novels are David Baldacci’s The Escape and Angela Carter's A Night at the Circus. It was once the home of a black man, always asleep whenever I walked past. He’s moved on, or been moved on.

One day, I notice young Paul Simon following me from the bus stop. I feel self-aware as I take my usual route by foot, as if all my movements are being carefully watched. Maybe he realised taking the 488 bus to the station didn't buy him any more time. Maybe London’s summer is finally nice enough for him to take a little walk instead of relying on public transportation. Maybe he's just looking for a short cut.

I catch him looking in my direction on Hackney Wick’s platform. I can’t see his eyes behind the sunshades.

In the evening, I stop on the other side of the bridge and take a photo of the A12 motorway and the ramp. I then post it on Instagram. When I click on the image’s A12 location, to see what other people have posted, I find a photo of the homeless man on his mattress. The person who took the image comments: ‘How can this man sleep with all the noise?’

Another Monday morning and young Paul Simon is by the bus stop as usual. He looks at his watch with some annoyance. When he looks up and sees me, he spins around and takes off. When I reach the bridge, he’s already on the other side, walking down the ramp with his hands in his pocket.

First published in The Fractured Nuance: Place, issue #4, May 2017

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Ollie

June 2017

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