Ellingford Road is quiet and narrow. It is lined with plane trees at its western end, where it meets the brick arches of the Overground lines, commuter-veins taking blood back into the dark heart of the city. It is a road that must have witnessed much, over the course of the two centuries it has served as a tributary from the commotion of Mare Street to the oasis of green of London Fields. The wail of sirens during blitz night-raids, many a love story, the odd broken dream, one almighty 1966 street party, and the whistling of numberless kettles boiling water for cups of tea, milky remedies for the arrival of news of every sort.
All this of course becomes irrelevant when you're tailing a 7ft crackhead down it.
A mountain of a man with dreadlocks well down below his shoulders, atop what you're almost sure is your mate's stolen bike, one that was taken a month before from outside a coffee shop. And right now you're hyperventilating, experiencing the shrinking of the nutsack that all face-downs with crackheads must rightly involve, while your mate is on the line all of 300 metres away, talking you out of the defining heroic moment of your life, on account of a pint he has to finish.
But i know something Wilma doesn't.
Unless one is after some crack, one might struggle to think of too many situations where following a crackhead anywhere would seem like a good idea. Not me. Like a fox about-turning and beginning to chase an entire hunting party back to the stables, i grit my teeth and hurtle down Ellingford Road after the oppressor, with my balls by now vying for space with my Adam's apple.
The aforementioned plane trees and remnants of broken dreams fly by, and before i know it i'm nearing the black brick of the railway arches. Passing under the overground i find time to capture an artistic photo of my handlebars in a wild dance with their shadow, in silhouette against the sun-splashed tarmac.
Stammering updates down the phone to Wilma, we hang a left onto Martello Street and ride up past the Pub on the Park, running parallel to the edge of London Fields. There are people in the beer-garden in full cheer, enjoying the sunshine of their youth. But this is no time for a pint. As i follow it dawns on me that our man might be heading directly back into the Lion's Den, in some macabre revisiting of the scene of the crime maybe, the exact place where Wilma is sat drinking his beer on Broadway Market.
Just as my hopes pick up speed and begin to take flight, turning languidly right onto London Fields he ignores the thoroughfare going left towards Broadway, and continues straight-on, bisecting the park westwards towards Dalston. Fuck.
I hazard a guess from his dreads that he is of Afro-Caribbean origin, that and the fact our man has settled on an average speed unlikely to set any velodrome on fire. But it makes tailing him even more difficult, for in my excitement i keep unintentionally catching up with him, suddenly remembering to keep my fucking voice down unless he starts getting suspicious of some white dude doing a running commentary down the phone of each and every one of his pedal strokes.
Back in Jason Bourne mode i refocus, and remain glued to his back wheel from a distance of 15 metres, whispering coordinates to Wilma. In this fashion, we edge westwards across the park, in the direction of the council estates that line the western edge and whose alleyways and stairwells form an impenetrable web running deep into their heart.
The genuinely scary thing about this was that i had absolutely no idea where he was going. And knowing at the same time that alone, i stood no chance whatsoever of getting anything from him, apart from a personalised gift requiring a fair amount of stitches. My word against his was nothing. You can't just accuse someone of stealing a bike in plain daylight. Especially not someone with a vested interest in testing out a kitchen knife on your upper leg.
I press on, and hear Wilma on the other end of the line, mumbling what sounds ridiculously like someone reading a pint of beer its last rites. And then, his voice changes. Right where the fuck are you.. keep tailing him, i'm legging it to my vespa right now. In the knowledge we have just doubled in number, my fear subsides a little and my balls drop down a few inches. I explain to him as best i can the direction in which i think we're headed. The line is shitty, i can just make out the sound of an engine spluttering into life, and as i strain to tell him we're still moving westwards... he cuts out. Fuck.
I'm on my own.
The immortal line from Shawshank echoes around the haunted attic of my mind.
Fear can hold you prisoner.
Fucking right fear can hold you prisoner. I can hardly move. I calculate i'm about another 25 metres from urinating powerfully down both trouser legs, and try to remember the the rest of the line.
Hope can set you free.
What the fuck use is hope to me now. Hope might have worked for Andy Dufresne and his rock-hammer, but hope holds no sway in this situation whatsoever. Hope isn't getting my mate's bike back.
Right now is the time for screwface.
With no way of knowing if Wilma knows where the hell i am, we start moving back in the direction of Broadway, back the way Wilma is now moving away from. Then out of nowhere, our man takes a right on a path i didn't even know existed, and doubles back in the direction of the council estates and their very heart. It dawns on me he is taking me into the mouth of the Lion's Den. His own.
He edges out onto the road, me behind him.
I'm bricking it. I have no idea which direction Wilma has gone. One man alone can't face up to another. Not in this situation. This is of course not strictly true, but when they're over a foot taller than you and used to killing people, it is a point that carries some validity. Just as i'm about to faint, my terror is pierced by a noise some way off to my left. I think it might just be the sweetest noise to have ever met a pair of ears. Like siren-song to Odysseus, it is a sound of such purity it sends me into a dream state, a sound i will take with me to the grave.
It is the sound of 150cc's careering towards me at just under the speed-limit.
Like a surging rapid of white water, Wilma appears on the horizon, rounding the corner in a cloud of burning rubber. He full-throttles towards us. Even from a distance of 30metres i can make out the expression on his face. His jaw is clenched in granite-like determination. He looks at me and nods.