On a darkening winter evening I sought cover from the rain in a pub on either Fleet Street or High Holborne. I can't remember which. It had been raining incessantly, and I was wet. I had spent the day walking around the back streets, unclear about what it was that I was looking for. I stood transfixed outside St John's Gate watching an aeroplane scratching the underside of the shredded clouds. Later, I came upon a dead market; a few hooded figures picking at the skeletons of the stalls, torn polythene struggling to escape with the wind as the rain pasted it to the tarmac. And I stood for some time at Ludgate Circus, staring at the yellow lines drawn as diamonds on the road, hypnotised by the endless passage of black tyres hissing through the rain across them. By this time the scant grey light that had accompanied me on my perambulations was fading, and I was extremely wet. I don't recall which direction I took, but as I say, I ducked into a pub somewhere nearby.
The place was quiet; a warren of rooms, it seemed to me. I peeled my raincoat from myself and eased my soaked hat off. I found a small table next to a gas fire that sputtered warmly below the red 'appliance condemned' sticker, and took out my notebook. I was part-way through what was becoming an interminable project that was frustrating me further with every turn that it took. I didn't know if any of these turns were the right ones, or if I was wasting my time.
My soaked clothes began to gently steam by the gas fire in the pub, though I felt cold, chilled deep to my core. I held a biro over my open notebook as I tried to make something useful of the small events of the day. The old walls of the building muffled the traffic's roar, and my thoughts seemed likewise faded. The yellow light from the tasselled shade reflected against the frosted glass in the window. It was a black night outside. The fire continued to wheeze and choke. I looked down at my notebook. 'There will be no Quiet. There will be no Peace.' My pen was poised above the final full-stop. I frowned, unable to remember writing the words. For the first time I gazed around the room. When I had come in I'd thought the small room was empty, but now I saw that a man was sitting at another table, his back to me. He was wearing a cheap-looking chalk-striped suit, with scuffed black patent leather shoes. Leaning against the wall next to him was an umbrella, water pooling darkly where the ferrule rested on the floor. His greying hair was slicked back from a balding head, and the lines on his face continued round the back of his neck. He was wearing glasses. I realised I was staring, and looked away.
Sighing, I closed my notebook and tucked my biro back in my pocket. I wondered if it was still pouring outside. I gazed around the room. The man at the other table had opened a briefcase that he had in front of him on the table. From it he pulled a sheaf of A4 papers, which had what looked like monochrome photocopied passport photographs on them, about nine to a page. There were about four or five lines of what I guessed were details about each person printed under each photo. He shuffled quickly through the papers, as if to count them, then started to look methodically at each. His pen paused a few times over certain of the pictures on each page, but he evidently decided not to mark any of them. The light glinted in the portion of his glasses that I could see, and suddenly I had the uncomfortable feeling that he could see my reflection in them, and that he had noticed that I was looking at him. But he made no sign that he had. He continued to slowly leaf through his papers. Nevertheless, I looked away.
I couldn't stare at the ceiling for ever. I found my eye was drawn across that small, yellow-lit room, back to the shabby man. He had begun to spend longer on each page, bending towards the photocopied images, carefully reading whatever it was that was written beneath them. I had finished my drink, and gathered my wet things, about to leave, when I glanced once more at the man. He was closely studying an image on one of his papers. I now felt coldly certain that he had been aware of my scrutiny, and at that moment he turned his lined face towards me, studied me for a moment, nodded slowly and slightly, and and mirthlessly smiled. He turned back before circling a photograph with his red pen. I rushed past his icy presence, bolted from the room, along the passage and out into the cold rain of either High Holborn or Fleet Street. But not before I had recognised the face in the photograph, and read, unmistakably, my own name beneath it.