A Black Denim Canvas
I hover clumsily over the toilet seat, trying to steady myself as the bus turns a sharp corner. There is no toilet paper, but I make do with the coarse McDonald’s serviette I tore in half to share with my friend. I stand to secure my belt, its grip around my waist gradually tightening: full of crunchy roast potatoes, fruit cake and countless litres of beer. The tap pumps a limp stream of water over my soap-less hands as I’m thrown again to the other side of the cubicle.
I look down to inspect my grubby jeans: a smear of mud picked up when we trudged through puddles on the coast of Wales earlier in the week; a few fine white dog hairs collected from Bessie on the Somerset farm two days ago; a small patch of toothpaste lingering from my hasty brushing this morning when we rushed out to meet our new friends for Eggs Benny at the local Spoons.
I dry my hands on the tops of my legs, noticing the small callus on my palm from shovelling horse excrement in return for a warm bed. I turn my hand over and see an assortment of light pink scars, collected on our cliff-jumping adventure in the Balkans. Like tattoos, though much less attractive, the small etchings on my skin each tell a tale.
I return to my seat to put in my off-white, slightly gunky headphones and listen to the same playlist my battered old phone’s been repeating for the past four months. My head throbs lightly, punishing me for last night’s fun, and my stomach makes a grumbling ploy for a snack. I wince as my knee twinges with pain and vaguely recall a violent encounter between my leg and a bench. I smile. I wiggle my toes inside my shoes and feel one of them poke through a hole in my sock. I look over to my friend, mouth wide open with a faint rhythmic snore, as her head lolls in sync with the twists and bumps of the bus.
My mind swirls with the whirlwind of memories made in mere months and my body vibrates with the strangest mixture of emotions. I feel emotional, euphoric, electric – and fucking exhausted.
How bittersweet it is, to meet and connect with so many weird and wonderful people, who you will likely never see again. There’s the pair of 80-year-old ladies who ring each other on their curly-corded landlines every morning to check the other hasn’t died; the elderly British couple who have never left their farm for more than a week; the three Dutch roommates who invited us into their small apartment to drink their strange and potent home brews; the 73-year-old man who took me in for a week in central London and shared the most outrageous stories from his scandalous life; the flamboyant Irish gentleman who told us of his difficult separation from his five beloved Chihuahuas after his house burnt down.
You are left with the smallest taste of so many lives, their presence so fleeting, but their impact so profound.
With no room in your luggage for any tangible souvenirs, you have nothing but the memories you store so carefully in your overflowing mind, along with the temporary marks on your jeans that each tell a precious little story. I stare at them fondly: blood, sweat, tears, sleep deprivation, borderline alcoholism, garlic mayo, laughter, uncertainty, excitement, sadness and adventure.
I become attached to the stains; I don’t want to wash them away. But as the black denim canvas becomes too full, I must chuck them in the next available coin-operated washing machine to make room for another small collection of artworks.
Also, they fucking stink – but it doesn’t really bother me. Once they are somewhat clean again, I will keep on painting.
Cover provided by the author