Sing, sing, sing
The small woman pulls open the accordion door of the lift.
“The lift has only broken down once in four years, ” she says, twice, and I notice something about her, the dense green sheen of her eyeshadow, or maybe the cheerfulness in her eyes. There’s a soft silence as we push our bodies into the small, metallic space, our eyes fixed on the strips of light and darkness as we move past the floors, towards the soft familiar sounds of old music.
It is dusk and the room is inviting, with its warm dim lights and wooden floorboards. On one side the city skyline stretches out through large and generous windows. It is dark purple and warm pink, at once imperious and gentle, pierced by the sharp lines of the Shard. It’s been a while since I last came to this swing class. A few weeks ago the days were longer, sun streamed through the windows, and I danced, eyes closed, wishing these blissful Sunday afternoons would never end.
The faces in the room are familiar, still. There’s Y, the smiling frenchman, and A with his quiffy mohawk and black piercings. His girlfriend Bug gives me a hug, her pretty round doll’s face framed by a green floral shirt and an inky scarf tied artfully in her short red hair. F is there, of course, with the pale skin and dark circles that have shadowed me from Shoreditch to Farringdon, Angel to Bethnal Green. E stands like a gauche praying mantis, all long limbs and open happy features, a small pork pie hat pushed back on his head.
After class we head for the pub across the road. The barmaid has bottle black hair and orange skin; her accent is thick and heavy. On a stool by the bar sits a fat persian cat, his face screwed up in disdain as I stroke his grey and white fur. ”He’s a pedigree, he is. He never leaves the pub,” says the old man on the stool next to him. His eyes are glassy and his nose is bulbous and red.
We are tired and sweaty, and we sit with the awkwardness of strangers who have been in each other’s arms. I am fond of them, these familiar acquaintances, fond of their enthusiasm for dancing and laughing and things that are warm and bright. All around the room are portraits of dogs in military uniform. A lone rubber spider hangs by the side of the bar, a remnant of Halloween. Fairy lights have been strung around the window: red, green and blue – a blinking, colourful frame for the sickly potted plant and the greying man who sit beneath it. He is slumped in his seat in brown corduroy trousers. There are wisps of white hair on his chin and temples, and something in his face, something in the grey papery pallor of his skin and the sunken line of his lips tells me with certainty that he has months, maybe weeks to live. Red, green and blue. Blink, blink, blink.
The old man with the bulbous nose shuffles over to the jukebox and feeds it a few coins. He pokes at the buttons, leans back against the bar, opens his arms wide, and sings:
When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty, will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.