Last night, I had to visit the city centre. I set out about 5.30 and it was already full dark and seasonally cold. The bus was packed with commuters: college students, office workers and young mothers who’d just collected their children from nurseries or grandparents. They were all bundled into winter coats. The air was fuggy and the windows streamed. As we nosed our way through the rush hour traffic, people flicked through the evidence that they were alive on their touchscreens or lost themselves in the clicking beats of their earbuds. Some stared unseeing through the handswipes they’d made in the condensation, thinking of home and food.
I alighted outside a brightly-lit pharmacy where some early Christmas displays were already set up but as I left the main shopping area, the night closed in. The mist that had drifted all day seemed to settle and solidify, making the upper floors of buildings vague and insubstantial. The streetlamps and the illuminated clock face of the Council House had soft-focus haloes and the sounds of nearby traffic were somehow muffled and distant. Knots of people, hunched into hoodies with their hands deep in their pockets, hurried through the damp skeins of mist into the warmth of pubs or cafes. A lone young woman tapped past determinedly in her heels, eyes glued to the slick pavement in front of her.
The air was cold, its density all but palpable. For a few minutes, I was a child again, queueing impatiently on Corporation Street for the Quinton 9 bus home, with my hand safely enclosed in my father’s, stamping my feet to keep warm and clutching a red-chequered Hudson’s bag containing a new book I couldn’t wait to start.
I love the autumn; it smells of secrets and promise.