Things That Miles Cannot Touch

for Miles Davis, by Erica Masserano

The part of himself that looked at the world like a child, because when you are a child, you do not see the world as you do now

When you’re little you’re just like a sponge

The fence that separates Harry Roberts nursery from Ben Jonson primary school, the years he grew up on one side or the other, a life all collecting itself in one place

Like a pearl in an oyster in Stepney

His father: he was a cobbler, initially he made shoes at home, then in the shoe factory in Redchurch Street; he was from Dominica, Miles does not know how he and his mom came over, they didn’t tell him, probably for a reason, probably it was rough business

He laughs

His mother: from Saint Lucia, mums are the salt of the earth, you can have one father, two stepfathers, three or four, he says, but you can only have one mother and you have to cherish her, she does all that work for you from even before you are in the world and in his darkest days she´d been there for Miles and his brother

You have to put her on a pedestal on high

The sunlit sound of the Patois his parents spoke, a bit African, a bit French and a bit English, he would hear a word bounce from one side of the table to another a few times and then catch it and pick it up and retain it

When you’re little you’re just like a sponge

Saint Lucia, which he visited in 1980; he had a little tour of the island, which didn’t take too long; maybe he saw the turquoise sea crashing on the volcanic beaches and the green peaks plunging into the turquoise sea, maybe he heard the waterfalls shattering sheet after sheet of white water in the rainforest, he is not too sure

It´s just so far now

His younger brother after their parents moved him to a boarding school, which Miles could not understand, he just wanted to be with him, the school was way out of Stepney and his brother was only 10, they said he was badly behaved

You don´t see these things as children

The door to his old council flat on the Ocean Estate: his family lived in Bothnia House, his friend Frankie lived in Bengal House, they bulldozed it; the newspapers always talk about the poverty, the people crammed 12 to a flat, but on the inside it was a tight-knit community with neighbours who cared about one another

It´s strange

The neighbour’s bell he used to ring and run away, growing up in Tower Hamlets maybe wasn’t the best but he had fun times, like most children, mischievous, playing knock-down-ginger and football on the inter-estate competitions

Like the world was his oyster in Stepney

The Ocean’s women and children, the Krays saw to it that no one could touch them, because they had a code; one woman he talked to had lived in army camps all across Europe and told him she had never been safe until she came to East London

We know these things happen

The blackened window on the second floor from the Reed family fire, he does not know if the fire was accidental; the drugs – never touched them – if you get hooked to a substance you’re going to be kept under control, the papers say that the Ocean was the cheapest place in Europe to get heroin

You don´t see these things as children

The promises from the developers who said they were going to knock down the estate and build a new one and relocate people there, his mother did not want to leave, they moved her into temporary accommodation on Bethnal Green Road and never moved her back in

We know these things happen

The brightly coloured football gear in the sports shop in Hackney where he did his first placement on the Youth Training Scheme, didn’t want to be on the dole when he left school, he does not think the shop exists anymore but he was blessed to do a lot of things in his early years – Jack of all trades, master of none

He laughs

His desk in the bookies office on Bethnal Green Road where he did his second placement on the Youth Training Scheme as an accountant, on an empty office floor, which was a strange experience; he was always bright with numbers, a real number-cruncher, that place is probably gone too and if it’s not gone it’s not like he can visit

It’s just so far now

His son Elijah, who is a teaching assistant, who is academically minded, who should be in Bristol; and his son Miles, who is more practically minded, he is in Liverpool, Tier 3, but that does not seem to be bothering him; they are from two different mothers, he is proud of them both and loves them both equally, his mum helped him raise them

You have to put her on a pedestal on high

His first son when he was just born, his flesh and blood, it was a shock; it´s a shock when you contemplate in your mind how your actions have produced another human, and you have to take care of them

When you´re little you´re just like a sponge

The part of his brain that was injured in the accident, he just remembers he was driving, then hearing the ticking of the machines and the doctors around him saying “neuro this, neuro that” and he knew they meant brain; the words he could not tell them, I´m here, you can talk to me, waking up in a hospital bed, unable to move, thinking

I’m here, I’m here, I’m OK

The ways his life changed, at first it left him confused, but then he accepted it, started joining community organisations, doing rehab, being active; he likes to think that he can make a difference, if he can make a difference in one person’s life every day that’s his dream achieved

Don´t do tomorrow what you can do today

His disability, which he does not call disability, he calls it inability, every day it’s just different, but he thinks other people are good at seeing things from his point of view; he doesn´t want to complain, he thinks that there are people worse off in this world and if he falls down, he’ll get up and brush himself off and carry on

I’m here, I’m here, I’m OK

The machines in the gym he frequents for his physical rehab, which is closed, it has been very helpful for his ABI; he went to the gym and swam and walked every day before lockdown, it’s helpful for his physical rehab, he has a long list of goals, he’s always had it, and he is still working on it

It’s just so far now

The woman in the gym who had an issue at the job she just started and he would like to tell her that it’s going to be alright, he says he is a touchy-feely person, he likes high-fiving people, he has been asked not to do it, it has become evident that he should not do it

The touching is a big change

The homeless people that he talks to on the street or at Chrisp Street Market, the people in Mile End Park he sits on a bench and makes Covid chitchat with, he cannot bear to be inside all day, he is too active for that; he has signed a petition against the cuts to community centres, he got 1000 signatures on the one to save his gym

Don´t do tomorrow what you can do today

Lockdown, which is like Christmas used to be in the old days when everything was closed except that was joyful, and which is an opportunity to reflect on what life is really about, to not rush all the time, to just live it; the realisation of another lockdown coming, he cannot wait to get back to normality

It’s just so far now

The mixed messages from the government: don’t go out but go back to work; don’t go out of your house but you can go to restaurants, you can go to pubs; communication was clearer last time, when they just had a clear directive, do not go out, boom, period, but it’s only when people started getting financial penalties they actually started taking notice

It’s strange

The news on TV, which is all negative, he thinks it is too negative, he doesn’t do negative; just like with Covid, he says, the people who he knows who had Covid have come through the other side, they want to keep people in a dark place, once the light starts coming through people will see that it’s not that bad

I’m here, I’m here, I’m OK

The pandemic, which he calls a plan-demic; in history illnesses keep coming and going, it’s just evolution, people have to learn from the experiences of the past, it appears to him that we’re not learning; we have to learn to be nice to each other, look after each other, just be nice, it’s not too difficult

Don´t do tomorrow what you can do today

God, who made the world and we are going to end it, whenever Miles needs to he can turn to his faith, what’s going on in the world today has all been written, it has all been foreseen by past scholars

He laughs

The bonds you have with people, so many are passing away and if you didn’t take the opportunity to talk to them then you will have lost it, he has seen too many people pass suddenly like his friend Frankie from the estate, it’s life, people come, people go; especially in times like now, it doesn’t matter how the relationship is, you have to grab on to it

Don´t do tomorrow what you can do today

The sudden rain batting the ground outside the Toynbee Hall windows while we’re having what he calls his therapy session

It’s therapy because we’re talking

But really, it hasn’t been that much of a change at all, except for the staying inside and the touching

The touching is a big change

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