LIFE is temporary
DREAMS are forever
Ivy admired the mural and strode through the underpass against the autumn chill. “The most poignant philosophy of our age is to be found on the walls of the underpass,” she rehearsed. With burning hands she slid her phone out of her bag and threw her hair back dismissively.
The proximate megaphone thundered anti-everything platitudes though the tunnel. She looked up from her phone and met eyes with heap of old rags, hunched in a shadow. Ivy writhed uncomfortably in her “Kwanzaa-esque” throw over. The October sun cut strips of cold light against the walls of the tunnel. She stooped mechanically and dropped a 2p piece into his hat. A hot rush pulsed through her body and soothing blankets of satisfaction enveloped her. The old rag touched his hand to his cap and gave a toothless smile. Through the gaggle of protesters she could just make out the reply “God bless yer darlin.” She awoke abruptly. Her back straightened like a major on parade and the contents of her body dropped suddenly out of her feet.
“God bless me?” she huffed. “Darling?” She began to tremble, “Who the hell does he think he is?” Ivy marched out of the tunnel into the square.
Protesters seethed in the square, the great unwashed had descended in almost total force. Jamaican steel drums jostled for superiority with Free Palestine hip-hop and Brag-Dylan protest folk, which Ivy always considered too white. The result was a sludge of noise which the megaphone struggled to cut though. Flags of all genders and countries fluttered over the braying crowd. Fists in the air, some limply, and others forcefully, all fists unknowingly united. A man burst from the crowd supported by the artillery of stray bricks and dildos. A surge of intensity shot though the crowd and the mass began to heave. His gangly legs carried him faster than he would’ve probably liked. He clattered into a riot shield and Ivy could just make out a man being dragged behind the police line by his dreadlocks. The crowd stirred itself up into a shrieking frenzy. Police officers flanked the crowd. Suits of riot gear hurtled through the underpass, past the old rag, preventing any retreat.
The crowd exploded, and crashed against the police like a wave. Ivy was carried on the swell, past battered police officers, out of the kettle and at the doors of parliament. The shouts were deafening and the stench of fumes was thick in the air. The megaphone shrieked a call to war, “Storm the government buildings! Kill the enemies of the people!” Stones and dildos bounced off of parliament windows and a mass of bodies threw themselves against the doors. Hundreds of rioters stormed the palace. Like a plague of locusts they devastated everything in their path. Statues were ripped down and paintings were torn to shreds on the palace floor. Hooded men sprayed graffiti tags on the walls and urinated on the furniture. Ivy was swept by the crowd into the chaos. Amassing in the House of Commons, the rabble settled down and looked to each other for guidance.
A heavy man attempted to climb up to the speaker’s chair, pulling his tracksuit bottoms up at the same time. With much effort he wheezed onto the platform and proclaimed: “Now, erm, the people have the power. I didn’t think it would get this far…” An unenthusiastic ripple of applause and some nervous murmuring ran through the crowd. The fat man was bright red, and looked more like a bank clerk than a revolutionary.
Ivy struggled in the crowd and looked over to a lanky white man vaping to her side. He flicked his greasy dreadlocks.
“Wah gwan, citizen.”
“So we’re in a real revolution?” she laughed,
“De wite man gon pay fo he crime, we gon start it uh-huh,” he blew a cloud of vapour into Ivy’s face, “we gun kill de pickney, do you catch my word?”
The fat man rose from the chair and began his oration. He blustered about and became more uneasy with each sentence. He said a few lines and then looked to watch, read a few more and then adjusted his watch. He concluded, “Any self-proclaimed leaders step forward, who here wants to form the revolutionary council?” Silence was his reply. “Anyone?” Ivy looked over to the lanky man, and he looked away. Slowly, Ivy raised her hand and looked around the chamber expectantly. She let out a shriek as her arm was grabbed and twisted behind her back,
“You’re under arrest; anarchist scum,” the lanky man growled. He handcuffed her violently, his dreadlocks whipping against her face. The fat man held his breath and clasped his hands together.
“Is that it? One?” he laughed. Ivy was dragged past the speaker’s chair, unconscious. She slumped onto the floor. The crowd murmured. Some took out flasks of tea and began to remove their disguises, others started to file out of the chamber. The fat man grabbed the lanky man by the shoulder. “I don’t remember seeing you at the briefing, what’s your name?” The lanky man took off his hat and his dreadlocks to reveal a widows peak.
“Riley, sir, I’m on Samuelson’s team, did he not fill you in?”
“No,” the fat man replied, “the whole thing is a bloody shambles, Riley, a bloody shambles.” He shook his bald red head violently. Riley looked up at the fat man anxiously, who was now rubbing his eyes. The fat man held his hand up to the crowd and asked, “Are any of you on Samuelson’s team?” A few raised their hands.
“I’m on O’Neil’s team,” came a cry from the crowd
“Cooper’s running this operation, isn’t he?” called another. The fat man rocked on his heels and trembled. His eye began to twitch spasmodically and he let out a restrained shout,
“Are you telling me that this young girl is the only real rioter here?” The crowd stared back at him and he let out a silent howl. Riley tapped his feet anxiously and rested his finger over his lips. Ivy stirred at his feet, half dazed.
“The most poignant philosophy of our age is to be found on the walls of the underpass,” she slurred.
“I’m not willing to martyr myself like those kids at Vice. George will explain to why I’m here and the old boy will spring me out,” the journalist quavered. The mantra of denial was reassuring. It was quite apparent that there would be no more “on the record off the record” mischief. No Rachmaninov concert with an after performance soiree, and perhaps a little too much wine with Valentin. He had acquiesced to the guards and allowed himself to be masked and chained. “These men will surely treat me with the respect befitting a man of my station,” he made the sounds with his mouth as if casting a spell. All of the government buildings were decorated with 1970s décor, vogue with failed Arabic states and making a resurgence after the Arab spring. Every police station, military base, and government building was a time capsule. The grimy veil of order draped over sham governments. Yellow ceilings, paper bureaucracy and the jingle: your papers are in perfect order, sir. In the tattered wallpaper of a secret police office was the imprint of his life. Helping his grandfather build small punts, sailing them through the marshes on hot summer afternoons. When he discussed the latest N.A.T.O. debt restructuring programme, or humanitarian intervention he would often be preoccupied by his Grandmother’s Eccles cakes. A few sharp words and the journalist was thrown into his cell, the door slammed behind him.
The wall was cool and made up for the lack of windows or air conditioning. He groped against the wall and limped up and down. His worries were compounded by the lack of a bed. “Am I to sleep on the floor?” he thought. He sat against the wall defeated, and stretched out his leg. He had a system when it came to stretching his leg and rolling his ankle. Controlled and practised Pilates. His calves were in a constant tension and his ankle was inflamed by the heat. He had thought it to be gout, the doctor wasn’t really sure what it was. Gout or no gout it hardly mattered now. He closed his eyes. He could faintly hear the outside world and its comings and goings.
A creamy baritone stirred the journalist, muffled by opaque walls. He shuffled to the wall and listened, the singing ebbed.
“It’s so dark in here, there’s not even a bulb for light,” the Journalist croaked. And so began an exchange of tentative questions between the journalist and the baritone, each struggling to hear the other though the stone. To break the despair, the prisoner offered to describe the world beyond as seen through his window. “How did you get a window in you cell?” the journalist said wearily, overhearing himself.
“I suppose I was lucky,” the prisoner replied. The journalist listened intently to the prisoner’s description.
Children hurried ahead of their mothers triumphantly, kicking up the dusty street, before glancing behind them to check their mothers had not absconded. The boys carried bags with their names lovingly stitched on the side. Dry, impatient smoke rises from a grubby suit; unconscious of the boys’ sniggering. One boy; pencil in mouth; strutted about to the nervous delight of the less assured boys, before being soundly clipped over the head by his mother, who had by now caught up to the rabble. On a café table an old man sat apart, watching the people from without. He ran his fingers though thinning silver hair and dabbed the sweat from his forehead. Sapped by his efforts he lays back against the hot glass and rests. A passing waitress noted the snoring and smiled warmly to herself. Tepid tea and half a biscuit cleared unobtrusively to leave the silly old thing in peace. At the end of the street; only seen with some strain by the prisoner; was a mosque. He laughed affectionately. The journalist stirred and asked,
“How can you be so calm in a place like this?”
“I know my government is just, they uphold the law of Allah. If the president could see what these guards are doing there would be trouble! If only he knew! Besides, I’m quite content here, I can watch the world from my window.” The journalist furrowed his brow,
“Are you deluded, man? His soldiers dragged me into this pit and they’ve dragged you into this pit too. How can you sit there staring out of the window without any anxiety?”
“The soldiers will release us in good time. When you are released, look up and I’ll wave to you from my window,” the prisoner laughed.
Footsteps. George? Could that old lout have done it? He laughed deliriously, packing his glasses and pen into his pocket. He neatly folded a torn and shabby tissue before sliding it into his jacket. Packed and ready, swaying on his gammy stick, he listened intensely to a few sharp words he couldn’t understand. There was a pause before the cell door opened. He collapsed back into his corner hopelessly, cowering from the light and the guards.
The guards grabbed the journalist by his arms and pulled him out of the cell. The journalist howled and they pushed him against the whitewashed wall of the corridor.
“You walk,” the officer barked, waving his revolver in the journalist’s face. They lead him, squinting, down flights of crumbling stairs. The prison was full of doors that revealed only walls behind them. Giant staircases and corridors that only lead back to where they started. The architect was a madman. The floor sloped violently in each room, and every room had ceilings either so small, the journalist had to hunch over and scrape his head on the concrete, or so tall that his footsteps sounded like drops of water in a cave.
The officer pushed him out into a courtyard. The heat was oppressive and he dragged his feet across the sandy concrete. Before him towered a dead tree. The shadow of the tree lay outstretched and beckoned him towards annihilation. Sweat stung his eyes and he could see a blurred line of guards, resting their rifles on their shoulders. The courtyard was silent except for his shuffling feet. He glanced though an opening in the outer wall and could see only desert.
Swaying, he ran his eyes over the monolithic prison. There was no birdsong and not even a single cloud, only the prison and the sky. Dismal concrete piled on dismal concrete. He searched for the prisoner, but could find no faces or windows. Turning, he mumbled horsely, “Where are the windows?”
“Here,” he gestured to the wall, “or the whole prison?”
“No windows.” The officer brought down the revolver on to the journalist’s head, and he crumpled into the dust under the officer’s long shadow. The journalist writhed on the coarse and burning concrete. “No windows?” he simpered. The officer waved over to the firing squad and the journalist started to cackle, shaking his gammy leg on the concrete. A guard hurried to the officer and looked at the journalist, perplexed. The officer exchanged some heated and confused words with his subordinate, and when he pointed angrily to the building shouting, “Subbaak! Subbaak!”, the journalist burst into laughter and tears, rolling about in the dust and clutching his belly. The rest of the firing squad formed a circle around the hysterical journalist. There was only the sky, and the prison, and the laughter.