Urban narratives advance in peculiar ways. The big city is a playground for lost and found stories, a stage on which characters turn up to deliver their soliloquies for whoever is there to listen (generally nobody; occasionally an eager ear). London is teeming with these narratives; every single square meter is flush with chance encounters. These are ephemeral encounters, bound to be forgotten; but then a random character or situation might stir the mind, bringing certain memories back to life. What you thought obliterated by forgetting can turn up at any moment.
Today, I remembered this guy, Tony Jones. I met him briefly back in 2002 or 2003, when I used to work behind the bar at some crappy pub in Shoreditch. They used to hold an open-mic session at the place and the cellar would be packed with the usual open-mic session crew: failed DJs, guitar-strumming middle-aged people, drunken poets with nothing poetic about their alcoholism, and me, the bartender, a mix of all these failures plus my own.
One night, Tony Jones (a name I would learn that night) walked into the place. He sang a couple of songs and then sat his stocky self at the bar and started chatting to me about the usual things open-mic people like to talk about. At some point, I don’t know how, I found myself holding one of his business cards. He went on for a while about this record company he was setting up. Then he changed tack and downscaled to tell me about a garage sale he was holding the following weekend. Next he talked about New York, about moving over there in the near future. He spoke about the weather and then he switched back, once more, to his upcoming garage sale, “I’m giving away everything I own for whatever people want to give me. If you think my Telecaster is worth a pound, then I’ll take a pound.” The conversation then went back to the weather and New York and leaving London. So on and so forth until he finished his drink, gave me a military salute, and took off. I was left there, holding his business card, thinking I had just met a particularly eccentric young man (undoubtedly I didn’t put it in these terms back then). Probably the next person was just as peculiar, because I forgot about Tony Jones that same night. I never made it to the garage sale.
A couple of years later, I was again toiling behind another bar, this time on Broadway Market. On a drunken Friday night after finishing my shift, I started to chat with one of the other bartenders, a short Kiwi with a strong BO and a huge, eternal, scar on his forehead. I can’t remember how, but we ended up talking about how one of the members of his band – yes, the Kiwi was another failed musician – had gone psychotic, sold all the band’s gear (including the Kiwi’s Telecaster), left for New York, and then jumped under a subway train a week later. Yes, that was Tony Jones. I recall an intense feeling of anguish taking hold of me. It was weird, a weird coincidence amplified by the size of the city and the time passed. And it was also very sad; not enough to cry but enough to get drunk with the Kiwi. He was sad for the loss of a friend and a guitar; I don’t know why I was sad; but I was sad.
Today I remembered Tony once more. I was on a Victoria Line train when they announced a passenger action: somebody had jumped under a train a couple of stations down the line. We were held in the tunnel for quite a while; then it was all back to normal. People were tutting and complaining about arriving late here or there. Normality implies a constant act of denial: let’s not think about whoever just died; let’s keep on as usual. So on and so forth.
I wonder how they announced Tony’s suicide; if they announced it; and I wonder how things went back to normal after his death. I guess I’ll never know; the chances of meeting characters threading the same narrative get slimmer every year.
Janko Novak-Stanic is a Slovene writer and filmmaker. He lives in London.