The bear had arrived in the story again, big and brown and powerful. It followed us to the dilapidated house that was meant to be a home and tore apart some rabbits in the pasture out front where it was always spring. It pawed open the front door and licked at the living room as we sneaked up stairs and exited by the rusting fire escape, fleeing up the hill to avoid the bear’s attack. We had heard no real news for days. The world had disappeared. I thought the bear signified the past; she thought it represented the future.
That ol’ London thing, waiting at a crossing in rush hour between showers and a book falls out of the sky, lands at the side of the road, hardback, heavy, with a thud, the biography of a sports personality with late-career broadsides to discharge, and you look up, and there are only clouds. A day or two later and the same pavements are rammed with the supporters and opponents of President Kagame of Rwanda who is due to arrive at The Savoy. All morning the air vibrates to the sound of horns and singing. A limousine arrives, above it clouds.
The grey months are back. The river is a monochrome line through a commuter town. Shrieking magpies hop across the railway sleepers; five for silver. Wheel rims slash the gutter puddles of a wet street. City towers wear loose shrouds and leak osmotically into the concrete sky. Coats are zipped, umbrellas black dots streaming past the tarmac and taxis. Fallen leaves darken and roadside sludge deepens. A thin Biro line traces the schedules towards the end of a year. Daylight fades earlier and the dawn unfixes itself from waking hours. I see my eyelids’ insides. The cloud billows over Kobani.
Out he went again, tearing down the road with his mother shouting for him to stop and stay. He ran to the wooden bridge over the stream, gathering pebbles and gravel along the way and filling his pockets with them. Leaning over the wooden handrail, he gazed into the water, which was made murky by recent floods. Then he dropped the stones in, one by one, hearing them plop as they hit the surface, watching the splash, and seeing them disappear in the blink of an eye, never once asking himself why he had ever begun to play this game.
I do feel unhappy, yes, although it shouldn’t be unexpected.
Maybe the darker mornings. And television, maybe.
Hell, and it’s not even over yet, there’s next week. Tis the season.
Well they’re setting us back years. The general polemic across all of them just appals me. I don’t know what’s to be done.
Don’t start me. It’s not opting out. I’m a full participating citizen. I couldn’t escape them if I wanted to. And I do want to.
I haven’t done for years. Is it any wonder? You’ve seen them. They’re all the same.
When he came down from his mountain and ended his isolation he sang us a song so deep that the hill itself shuddered. In the high altitude he had escaped his history and greeted us with a smile that was sweet with innocence. But we had not forgotten the pasts we shared and, while his tune was generous and warm, we also remembered the lilting melodies of old and could not share his creation as equals as once we had done. He did not see that while he had turned away, we had learned our own tunes and were happy.
I try to shut the thoughts away but the words he says prise open my every defence. I can’t not hear it. He talks about his life, his friends, the plans we’ve made, the things we’ve achieved, places we’ve been. He talks about his grandmother, about my own family history. He claims he’s talked to the bank manager. He shows me photographs of us in the pub, laughing with his mates. One of me in a dress – says I look fit. But he never once asks me how I feel: never imagines that I could be the one in charge.
Dark thoughts could creep in like a virus. Like if he got Ebola, if someone gave him it, or if he went and made contact with someone and got it. You couldn’t check all the people and the places they went, and the sanitary conditions of places.
People buried such awful fears.
On the news they showed aeroplanes and runway tarmac, doctors all scrubbed and polished wards…
…except it wasn’t about Ebola, it was just about fear, some terrible imagining that under someone’s fingernails was the possibility of real harm, real crazy harm. There were days when he felt doomed.
Do you remember that she’d laugh but in that sharp manic way and then cover her mouth with her hand as if to apologise? She could tell you all about everything except herself; be your best friend and not ask for anything in return. Sometimes she gave so much it amounted to a barrier you couldn’t get over. I know some people said it was all an act, but it was just her and the only way she knew to get by. I worried for her sometimes. Worried that she’d one day lose the energy and the show. It happened.
I can’t get into it, said Alex, shaking his head, turning his palms upward. The conversation is one that is built around a vocabulary linked inextricably to a standardised and, yes, populist argument put forward by the ruling classes. It doesn’t matter which side you take in the argument, the fact that you’re using their words is always used against you to prove you’ve accepted their terms, accepted the proposal, the game. You’re midwife to the delivery of your own subjugation. But let me ask you a question: do you think silence is really just silence? Or something else?