Picture by Ewan-M, with permission: Under the M4
Somewhere near Boston Manor, and the sun’s bright. Gillian’s long since lost track of which way they came, and how to get back to the station, but there’s no rush: she’s seldom felt less urgent. The self-erecting volleyball net self-collapses again, as Kieren’s ambitious spike sends him stumbling into the pole at one end.
Tahani shouts out her victory, and flops onto the ground. “Water,” she calls out.
Gillian throws the bottle from where she’s sat, resting under the shade of the M4. It falls short.
Kieren sets the net upright again. “Your turn,” he says to her.
“Nah,” Gillian says, “I’m done.”
“Wuss,” Tahani says, stretching out a toe to hook the bottle towards her.
“I burn really easily,” Gillian says.
“You run away from losing at volleyball really easily, more like.”
That too. Tahani drinks without sitting, water splashing over her face, then she tosses the bottle up towards Kieren, who catches it (barely) and sits down. He squints in the sunlight.
Gillian likes it in the shade, the inland pier of the M4 above, the wide space below. The concrete pillars are huge and ribbed, stretching austerely from signs of life that cluster at the bottom (vines, sandwich wrappers, the three of them). She stands up, and reaches up to the tip of the graffiti, putting her hand flat on the concrete. It surprises her, how cool it is.
The spreading grass gives way to dirt, here. Probably just the lack of rain and sunlight, the edges are too ragged to signal intent, but the shape it traces under the motorway feels like a path. Gillian follows, looking back for a moment: Tahani and Kieren are lying on their backs, rolling the ball back and forth across the gap between them.
Further along the graffiti grows thicker, sharing its wallspace with vines and sprawling bushes. Birds sing. Cars roll overhead. After a few minutes the path dips (though the motorway above seems to stay level), and the quality of the sound shifts: there’s water ahead. It’s blocking the path completely, she sees as she gets closer; slow-moving, banked by concrete and pebbles.
It’s a hot day, and her sandals slip off easily. She pushes them away, along with memories from the day she spent fishing rubbish out of the Thames: something about rat urine, and flu symptoms, and see your doctor if. She looks away from the crisp packet and the broken bottle at the water’s edge.
Oh, it feels nice, though.
The whole meandering glade belongs to her, edges delineated by the breadth of the motorway. Across the water the pathway carries on and disappears, trees growing taller and impenetrable on either side, and there’s nobody in sight.
She heads back after ten minutes, not quite sure how far she’s come, but she recognises some of the brighter painted pillars as she returns. Here, was it? No volleyball net, though, and no sign of Tahani and Kieren, so maybe she hasn’t walked far enough yet; or maybe they’ve disappeared, subsumed into grass or graffiti. She traces painted swirls, looking for two stick figures and a ball lofting above them; or a TH 4 KQ 4 EVA in a bright circle.