“My body dies with me,” she said, and within hours she was gone.
She arrives shortly before dawn. Even with the directions that came with her appointment letter it takes her a good few minutes to find the appropriate building within the complex of towering, windowless blocks. A long queue has already begun to form but the process is going to take all day. The same as yesterday. The same as tomorrow. The long benches that run down the walls are filled with people filling in forms. The walls have forgone colour in favour of sombre and unrelenting simplicity.
She signs in at the front desk and is handed a clipboard by a secretary. She takes a seat on the bench. A nurse takes blood and hair samples and attaches them to a piece of card that contains all of her details. She barely notices him do it; she is too busy reading through the forms and accompanying leaflets. They look almost identical to the ones she was given to practise with at school except that the paper is thinner. She can see the scribbles on the clipboard through the paper.
Oh, God, it says. Please. And there are doodles of people. She tries not to look at them, but they bleed through the paper. She finds if she lines up the pictures with the writing they seem to sit on the words. She smiles. Someone was trying to keep themselves occupied. She wished she could draw like that. Maybe she should take an art class.
She settles into her space on the bench, places her handbag beside her, takes out a pencil and starts to fill in the form. The person next to her twitches nervously. He distracts her. She crosses her legs the other way and aims her body away from him.
For a moment, she can see everybody in the room, wringing their hands, tapping their knees with their pens, shifting uncomfortably, wincing, frowning, scratching their heads, nervous ticks flick, breathing deeply and steadily, and shaking. Some are on the verge of tears, whilst others stare into the distance with shock etched into their faces. They glance nervously at their neighbours papers and try to keep calm.
According to her brother, she has no reason to be nervous. For them it is just a matter of protocol. It has to be done, but the results themselves are a foregone conclusion. Genetically, she has nothing to worry about. Out of everybody in that room, she has, by far, the best background. She comes from a good family. She is healthy. She has never had any problems. This is just a legal thing. She has to get her card and then she can begin to live the life she has planned.
She puts the thought of her great uncle out of her head. A fluke. A statistical anomaly.
She wonders about the girl across from her. She is wearing worn brown lace-up boots. Clearly hand-me-downs, and can’t help fidgeting. Her eyes keep wanding off the page and onto the floor, and her pen races as she taps. The boy sitting next to her is wearing a shirt a little to big for him.He can’t stop his writing hand from shaking. Several seats down from them there is a girl wearing a hand-stitched, knee length, Eduardo Marin-Zhu quippao dress that only came out three weeks ago. It is beautiful. She sits and stares at it jealously. She is particularly fond of art you can wear. The girl catches her eye, looks at her dress and smiles.
“Zoe Green?” the nurse calls. She stands up and walks over to the little, white room.
“Hello, Miss Green,” says the doctor looking up from the computer screen and resting his elbows on his desk. “How are you today?”
“I’m fine,” she says. The doctor nods, they all say they’re fine.
“Have you been ill recently? Are you taking any drugs?”
He looks at her. “Any drugs at all. We need to know.”
He nods and ticks off some boxes.
“Do you drink? Smoke?”
“Good, good,” he says ticking off some more boxes. “Stand up. Put your arms out to the side and stand on one leg.” She does. “Ok, you can put your foot down. Touch your toes. Good, good.”
He takes her over to the weighing scales, records her weight, then her height. He hands her a tube. “Take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can.”
“Ok,” he stays stamping her forms. “Sit near the nurses station and someone will call you soon.”
Zoe does question the point of a doctors exam considering what they are about to do, but she is in and out in a couple of minutes and lets it go.
It takes all morning for them to be processed. One by one, Zoe watches as the called into the offices at the end of the corridor. Not one of them returns. They never get to see the reactions of the others, nor do they have to suffer the humiliation of walking past those still left with tears in their eyes.
She regrets not bringing something to eat. She hadn’t eaten breakfast, she didn’t like eating that early, but she hadn’t expected to have to wait so long. She considers asking if she can be moved up the list, but shortly after midday, Zoe is called into the office.
The desk is piled high with files and a single photo frame of the case workers family. Above the second door are two LED lights. The red on is on. The same non-committal colour on the wall, but above the desk is a motivational poster of a sunset and the case worker’s certificates from one of the lower universities. Zoe wonders why she has even bothered to hang them up.
“Hello,” she looks down at the file, “Zoe. My name is Katie Dean.” The removable, metal name tag on the desk says the same. Zoe sits down. “I’m the case worker who’s been assigned to you. I don’t think you should anything to worry about. From what I see in your file, it all looks very promising. Though, of course, you should be prepared.”
Katie Dean looks to be in her mid-forties though something tells Zoe that she hasn’t got long to go. If the hair style and mediocre job weren’t enough to go on, the look of resignation in her eyes and the slight, self-pitying sigh she gives every time she catches a glimpse of the family portrait is a dead give away.
“I see you’ve already taking ‘society’ class that explains the procedure and the results.” Zoe nods. “You’d be surprised how many people haven’t. They think there’ll be time in their final year. I’ve had to explain it to more than half of you who have been in this morning.” She leans forward on the table and hands Zoe a card. “This is what your card will look like.”
It is a thin, sturdy business card with a metallic thread running through it, a lion embossed in the top corner and a rose in the bottom. She runs her finger over the raised name ‘Tommy Atkins’ in the centre, his birth and death dates and written in a font impossible to tamper with, and the way in which he would die.
Zoe counts the years. Poor Tommy Atkins never made it to twenty-six.
The corners are still crisp, even though the card itself is getting old. The corner cuts into her finger, not enough to draw blood but enough to
It is identical to her friend’s card. A few months older than her, one of the oldest at their school in fact, Ava Roberts had shown them all her card with pride. 87. No one in Ava’s family had ever passed 85 before and she beamed with pride when she handed it round to each of them. She had described the process n far more detail than the teachers, she spoke with a new wisdom. She knew what they were all going to go through. She had more authority than the teachers who hadn’t been to the fate offices since they’d been issued with their own cards.
“When you come in tomorrow, we’ll go through the details of your fate, but today you will receive your card. Do you have any questions?” Katie Dean asks her. Zoe shakes her head. “Are you nervous?” Zoe shrugs and places the card on the table. “Well it won’t be long now. Are your parents coming to pick you up?”
“That’s good. If it’s good news you can go out and celebrate.” The red light above the door goes out and the green light turns on. Katie stands up and walks round to the door holding out a business card, “If you need to talk or anything outside of our scheduled meetings.” She holds the door open. “You’re going down the hall, fifth on the left. I’ll see you tomorrow for our follow up meeting.”
This must be the long corridor that Ava described to them, far narrower than the last, it seems to taper off at the other end. As she walks down it, she tries to make out sounds from the other rooms, but she can hear nothing; all the doors are firmly shut except for the fifth door which has been left ajar for her. She gently knocks on it. A bright voice with an American lilt calls out,
“Yes, yes. Come in!”
She goes in.
It is stiflingly hot, even with the banks of fans there keeping machinery cool. Heat mingles with nerves and Zoe begins to sweat. She stands just inside the door. There is no one about.
“Hello?” she calls out. Her voice wobbles as anxiety bleeds to the surface. The technician bumbles out, fiddling with wires.
“Take a seat,” he says, ignoring her.
It is a small, red, plastic chair with metal legs. Apart from the technician, there is nothing natural in the room. Nothing wooden, no flowers, no natural fibres of any kind. The air tastes funny; small amounts of poison are leaked into the atmosphere to kill any insects that manage to get into the room. Something as big as a moth would completely throw off the machine.
“I need to take this,” he says taking her handbag. “Put these on,” he says passing her a smock.
She sits down. He takes her handbag into his booth, dumps it on the table and flicks on some stitches.
“What’s your name?” he asks through the loud speaker.
“Ok, Zoe, place your hands on the sensors on the chair arms. Are you right-handed?” She nods. He places a glove onto her left hand and places it back on the armrest. He nips her right index finger and wipes the blood on the sensor. He taps her legs and she puts them onto the foot rest. He pushes down a lever and a great whirring and clunking begins above her. She looks up to find an enormous, metal contraption coming down. The technician is beside her. “It might look scary but there’s nothing to fear. Just make sure you look forward at all times and don’t move.” he slides a mask over her face before the machine completely surrounds her. “Look through this right into the red and green lights. It’ll only take a few moments. Try to relax.”
As she looks through the mask, she can see a red light, but can’t judge how far away it is. It is dark and light at the same time. She can see the same blue stars and grey squares she sees when she rubs her eyes. It hurts to keep her head still; she can hear the blood whooshing round her ears and a fizzling. After a moment, a green light appears and begins to blink, she tries to concentrate on the two twinkling lights as the flashes seem to get closer together, take over each other and then get further apart. The air gets closer together. She can’t breathe. She gasps, but gets no air. Everything is spinning. She wants to throw up. Her hands burn and she loses all feeling in her feet. A thousand needles stab into her head. She screams and passes out.
“Hey! Hey? Hey!?”the American calls her back into the room. “Oh, thank fuck!” he says. “I thought you were gone.” he smiles as he pulls her up to sit against the wall, “That was a rough one, huh!”
She is on the floor. The machine has gone. He hands her a glass of water. She tries to stand up.
“Uh-uh,” he says. “Take a minute. Just sit. Drink water.”
She drinks the water. It tastes as bad as the air. She could swear she can hear cogs turning and taping of keys. A small business sized card slips out into the tray next to her. The thin white slip of paper has a metallic thread running through it, a lion embossed in the top corner and a red rose in the bottom. Her name in the middle. The dates below.
“Shit,” the curse escapes him. He looks at her. He passes her the card and her handbag.
She looks at the card and feels ill. It isn’t the world that falls apart but her.
“Are you ok?” he asks, his voice low and cautious. He has seen some people go mad when they get a fate that bad, some spent their few months in institutions. He knows of some technicians who have been attacked, one nearly lost an ear when the guy he’d fated lashed out. But the poor girl just looks ill.
She takes her bag and leaves.
It is the middle of the afternoon outside. The sun scorches her eyes. Her skin heats up under its rays. People are lounging on the grass and park benches, soaking it up before the winter comes. People are chatting, reading and smoking, eating their lunches, fussing with newspapers, putting on make up, walking arm in arm down the street, eating ice-cream and simply enjoying existence.
She runs across the street and down an alleyway, where she throws up on the cobbles behind an industrial bin. Resting on her hands and knees she tries to bring up the nothing in her stomach. Bile stings her throat. She hears a couple talking at the mouth of the alley. She scrambles round the back of the bin, peeking out at the open road. She watches the two ladies walk past. They don’t notice her. They don’t look into the alley.
She sits back against the stone building and rests her head against it. It can’t be true, it just can’t be true. She doesn’t believe it. It’s a mistake. She looks at the card, gently rubbing her thumb over the raised edges. She stifles a cry and puts the card in her purse.
Out of sight…
No. It didn’t help. Her chest staggers as she breathes in, tears well up in her eyes and she trembles. A small cry escapes her. A wheezy, little breath that catches in the back of her throat. Her eyes squeeze shut and force a tear out onto her cheek. She draws in a dogged gasp but it runs away from her and she is left choking on shallow sighs.
It takes her almost half an hour to pull herself together and stand up. Her legs ache from cramp. Instead of walking back onto the main street, she walks further down into the alley.
On the other side of town, in a stern, imposing grey building, a man sits staring out of the window. There is no traffic and no parked cars. No signposts, electricity of telephone poles. Nothing connects the outside world to his inside one. There is a wide road scarred with potholes, rough, worn and uncared for. It has been dug up to gain access to the pipes below and left open to the elements. The pavement dips leaving hollows that the rain water collects in. A young girl makes her way along the path skipping over puddles. She sneaks peaks at the building he is sitting in with sidelong glances through the hood in her coat.
He watches her with great interest. She isn’t wearing his uniform, nor that of the guards, she has brown boots and a brown woollen coat. He can’t see her face, he can’t even tell how old she is.
The building opposite is as ugly as the one he is sitting in, and yet it’s not an unwelcome sight. His eyes rest on the grey building. Scanning it from top to bottom, from the pigeon spikes on the roof, the concrete window slabs the jut out from under the blacked-out windows, the drainpipe draped with barbedwire, the air-conditioning box hanging outside the top floor’s central window with its whirring round, the little faux-flourish above the main doorway with heavy steps going up to it, and a slight, twisting staircase heading down to a cellar, sectioned off from the world with a gate and padlock.
He takes it all in. He hasn’t seen out this side of the building for many years. He has spent his time watching the clouds from a tower block and watching his back. Now his release is imminent, he longs to walk on the street and look people in the eye. He longs to get out of his blue cotton shirt.
He looks down at his clothes, worn with years of wear. His navy blue trousers dig in at the thigh. Badly tailored and impossible to get comfortable in, whether sitting or standing. It has crossed his mind before that this is part of the design, in order to stop them being sluggish whilst also discouraging running. There are no identifying marks on his clothes, nothing that singles him out from the thousands of others, nothing that allows him to be an individual, a person.
A woman enters the room. She sits opposite him, smiles guardedly, and places a sound recorder between them.
He adjusts himself to sit square on to her, pulling his trousers to relieve the tight crease that formed at the top of his leg.
She pushes record.
“Could you state your full name, please?” She asks with as much confidence as she can muster.
“Michael Jame Fuller.”
“A little louder,” she says.
He hasn’t spoken in an audible voice since he arrived. He knew to keep quiet when in the building. He clears his throat and forces his name through his cords, “Michael Jame Fuller.”
“Hello Michael. My name is Nina Feeney. I am here doing research on the St. Nicholas’ Riots on behalf of the Gillies-McKensie Research Group. We are conducting interviews with people involved in the riots. We would like to interview you about your role in the riots.”
“Could you speak for the recorder?”
“Ok,” he says.
“Would you like a cigarette?” she asks, proffering him one. This isn’t how he’s going to die. He takes one.
“So, before the guard comes to release you, I’d like to ask you some questions. Is that alright?”
Micchael shrugs. The woman looks at him. “Yeah, that’s fine.”
He tries to look up at her face but can’t.
“Ok, let’s start with some background info?” Michael nods. The woman sighs, but continues. “So, where did you grow up?”
“On the Abbeystead Estate?”
“Yeah,” he coughs.
“Didn’t they close it down a few years ago? A scandal?”
Michael stares out of the window. Not long now. He watches a bird land on the street and peck at the ground. His takes a long drag of cigarette and falls into a dark memory. He has tried not to think about it.
“What happened to your family?”
“I never knew my father. And my mum died when I was thirteen.”
“She wasn’t carded?”
“She had me when she was fifteen.”
“How did she do that?”
“She went to live with a cousin on a farm.”
She pulls out a notebook from her handbag and makes a note.
“Was this the first time you have been in prison?”
His mouth falls open but shuts again. She has his records, why is she even bothering to ask. “No.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
“I got done for GBH.”
“What did you do?”
Michael shifts uneasily away from the memory. “I beat someone up.”
“I have the reports here,” says Nina, fumbling through the papers. “It says the man was in hospital for three days, that the police had to pull you off him, and that you also struck a policeman.”
He doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t give in. She leaves him sitting in silence.
“I was angry.”
“This was at Wray?”
She waits for him to elaborate. He knows he needs to start answering her questions. They are probably watching and they might not let him out until he does.
“I, er,” he stutters. He decides he might as well tell her everything, it is all on record anyway. “There was this bloke, right, and he… he worked at the house. I’d had a bad day at school and he was pushing me and starting on me, and I tried to get away from him, but he was in my face and he was saying stuff and he wouldn’t back off, so I pushed him away. He came back and swung at me, so I punched him. I couldn’t stop punching him. I… I… it was,” he stumbles over the words. The longest phrase he has uttered in years. “I couldn’t stop myself.”
“And you were locked up?”
“Why? How old were you?”
“Do you think a lot of people at the riots were repeat offenders?”
He shrugs and looks up at the sky outside. A thick cloud is disappearing and he can see the sun. “Maybe.”
“It says here that you were caught stealing during the riots and committed arson.”
“That’s what they said.”
“What were you stealing?”
“Just stuff.” The woman raises her eyebrows. Michael sighs before he elaborates. “A phone. Money. Clothes. Just… stuff.”
“What did you set on fire?”
“I didn’t, but they said I did.”
“Why did they say that?” she asks making notes.
“I was caught next to a burning building. I had a lighter on me and someone said they’d seen me do it.”
“But you hadn’t.”
“No, I was just stood there.”
His stubs out his cigarette and is offered another. He takes it.
“Could you tell me about how you got involved in the riots? Why and when? Just tell me everything you can remember. Take your time.”
Michael breathes in the smoke, in a long steadying breath. “Erm,” his brow furrows as he searches into the past. “The second day. My mate sent me a message telling me they were meeting on the High Street. I’d heard about everything that had happened the night before, so I went down to see what was happening.” He had finished his day at work and walked down to the city centre. He had past broken glass, fire, ripped metal, torn clothing, puddles of blood, rubbish, overturned bins, and people trying to hide down the passages, but he walked on. He saw something monumental happening, something extraordinary, and he wanted to be a part of it.
“When I got down there, there were loads of people and they were just hanging about on the street. You know, no cars could get through. All the police cars were on fire. They’d cordoned off one end of the road, completely stopped the traffic. They weren’t letting anyone through, they were just stood there watching us. People slipped through people’s houses to get to the street because the coppers wouldn’t let them through.”
“What did you do when you got there?”
“We were drinking. People were shouting at the coppers. Swearing at them and they never did owt. It was people were trying to outdo each other, you know, shout somet better. And then they just disappeared. They weren’t at the end of the street any more. And someone, I don’t know who, kicked in a window of this shop. I saw stuff just lying on the floor. Phones and all sorts just lying there and people were picking it up.”
“What did it feel like?” she asks him.
“What stealing?” he asks. She nods. “It was a rush. I liked it. You could take anything you wanted; stuff you’d never even had the chance to have before, you could just pick it up and people… people would take it, even if it was just crap.”
“What was it like on the streets? What was the mood like?”
“What was the feeling among the people? The atmosphere?” she clarifies.
He thinks for a moment and shrugs. “Happy. Like it was a big party. You know, people were drinking and you could hear music. Someone set a bin on fire,” he smiles. “They got this packet of marshmallows, right, and they were were roasting them, and when the cars where on fire people were dancing and jumping about. Someone got hold of fireworks out of one of the shops and they lit them and they lit up the whole street like it was Bonfire Night or somet. People were joking about what they were taking and about the police. Yeah, it was a party.”
“Who was there? Who did you go with?”
“I didn’t go with anyone.”
“Who was in charge of where to meet?”
“No one was,” he says. She looks disappointed. “It wasn’t like that. I got a text from a mate, but it wasn’t like ‘let’s meet up and break and steal stuff’. We just went down to see what was happening. It kicked off the night before near the market but it was going on all over the place. People hadn’t slept since the night before. They’d built, like, barricades out of trolleys and industrial bins and the like. It was all burning. The whole street was covered in rubbish and smoke.”
“Who else was there?”
“Loads of people. People from the area. People from other areas. Some students, I think. There were even families. Everyone was just mixing together. Like everyone was family. Everyone was angry.”
“What were they angry about?”
He looks up at her. He can see it in the way she holds her head, the way she looks down her nose at him, the hint of contempt in the corner of her mouth and disgust in the crease of her eye, the way her hands clasp the papers a little too tightly, the curl in her hair, the cut of her jacket, the heels of her shoe, and the way she’s drawn on her eyelashes.
“Being lied to,” he says. “We were angry because we were lied to.”
Michael is given his clothes, shoes, watch and wallet with the few photos he has of his family. He is then given papers that detail his new accommodation and work permit, as well as a pittance of cash to get him through to pay day. The officer passes his parcel through the glass window and Michael has to sign for it.
He pulls his thin coat on and is sent out the door. The last thing handed to him as he is ushered out is a wispy paper bus ticket to his new home. He doesn’t look back at the building. He doesn’t speak to the guard that opens the gate for him. He shows his papers at the checkpoint and goes outside onto the street.
It is cold out. He had gone in in the summer and it is almost winter. He pulls his collar up, tucking his chin into it, and jabs his hands under his armpits. The air bites his ears as the wind whistles down the street. He breathes smoke.
He turns left at the end of the road, and now, out of the sight of his old residence he lets out a sigh of relief. He’s out. He’d even had a quasi-conversation with a woman. He is his own man again.
Suddenly he finds it difficult to breath. He leans over and places his hands on his knees as he tries to get some oxygen into his lungs. The cold stings his chest like thistles. It feels like he’s hardly breathing at all. He braces himself on the wall for a moment before he continues down the street to the bus stop. There is a woman sitting surrounded by bags full of clothes. She budges up for him.
“Cold today, isn’t it,” she says.
“It said it’ll get colder this weekend.”
“Did it now,” she contemplates this. “I need some gloves, then. Looks like you do too.” She smiles. “It’s no good when you young ones go out wearing nothing. You’ll catch your death of cold!”
“I’ll get myself a scarf,” he promises.
She looks down the street for the bus.
“Bloody thing’s always late,” she tuts. “You off into town, then?”
“Yeah, down to Bowland’s.”
“Ah,” she nods, “you’ve just got out.” He nods slowly. “Not escaped, have you?”
“No,” he laughs. “No, they let me out.”
“Good, good,” she beams. She nudges him.“My old man was in there twenty years. I hated going in there to visit him.” The bus appears down the street. The woman stands and collects all her bags together. “Worst place in the world. Bet you’re glad to be out. This your bus?”
He looks at the number on his ticket and then the number on the bus. “No.”
“Well, mind how you go,” she waddles onto the bus and buys her ticket. He smiles to her as the bus sets off.
Left alone in the bus shelter, his thoughts turn to the conversation with the researcher that morning. He had answered her questions fully, like they had told him to. He hadn’t asked anything, again, like they’d told him.
His bus arrives before he can follow the thought through to some sort of conclusion, and he is left with a deep sensation of unsatisfied wonderings.
His digs are fairly standard: an iron bedstead in a cell, a single door wardrobe and a sink with a shelf. He has the use of a kitchen on the ground floor and a bathroom on the first. There are five others in the house with him. He knows them all by type but doesn’t know a single one of them. He passes a petty thief on the way to the kitchen but says nothing. They have come from other places and keep to themselves. An old habit, thinks Michael, one he needs to get out of. They barely even so much as look at each other as they pass in the hallway. He can hear his neighbour enjoying his new found freedom in his room with whoever it is he’s found on the street.
Michael tries to break his routine by sitting in the kitchen after it gets dark outside. He can’t bring himself to go for a walk. He has already seen how much the city has changed in the few years he’s been absent. He will leave it to the morning to reacquaint himself with his surroundings.
He sits at the kitchen table with a mug of tea. He isn’t drinking it, though. He just stares at it waiting for the night to pass. He isn’t sure what to make himself to eat. He hasn’t made that decision for so long and he is overwhelmed by it. There are potatoes and a loaf of bread in the cupboard and a block of cheese in the fridge.
He makes himself a sandwich, puts it on a plate and sits back down at the table. He doesn’t eat it. He spends an hour staring at it and letting his tea go cold. He puts the sandwich in the fridge and goes back to his room promising himself something proper to eat in the morning. He passes a young girl on the stairs, pulling on her brown coat as she leaves.
The heavens open and rain pitters down over the city, washing away the even the most hardy from the streets. The tension in the air that has been building up over the last few days has finally cracked into lightning, and each bout of thunder rocks the window panes in the ageing masonry. The street lights turned on an hour ago when darkness rolled in, but on this side of town the lights barely penetrate through the grim darkness. The residents are left with a gloomy pool of light at the base of the pole but little else. Most have gone inside, but the lightening has blown the electricity. They are dry but left in total darkness.
Cerys runs down the street, her shoes silently passing over the cobbles. Each lengthy stride twists her torso as her arms and legs work in harmony to carry her forward. She leans forward, willing herself to move faster. She can hear the tapping boots clunking on the cobbles behind her. She beelines for a ginnel and jumps up to grab the bottom run of the fire escape. Although the rusted metal doesn’t move, she heaves herself up and reaches the top of the ladder before her uniformed pursuers begin to climb behind her. She swings round and throws herself up the next flight of stairs, er bag follows her in a greater arc. Silent on each step. Her dress quivering in the wind. There is a rip in her jacket at the shoulder where she was almost caught. Her hair is a damp ragged mess curled up in her hood.
She grabs hold of the second shorter ladder and gracefully hauls herself up onto the roof. The men behind her have almost caught up, but there’s nowhere for her to go. She crosses the roof to the trap door but as she bends down to open it she can hear people on the other side of it. Some must have come up the centre of the building to cut her off. There is nothing she can do about it. They think she can’t escape.
She backs off to the centre of the roof and waits for a moment. Preparing herself, she tries to clear her mind. Rain beats down on the brim of her hood. Her face, plastered with water, twitches. When the trap door is thrown open a jolt of excitement runs through her body and she tingles to the extremities. She begins to smile.
They have sent the big guns after her this time. They shout at her to give herself up but their voices are lost in the wind. It doesn’t matter, she wouldn’t have done what they asked anyway.
This time, she turns left and runs. She doesn’t know why left, last time she picked right and the time before was right also, but she runs with all her might. Within seconds she has launched herself off the roof and is hurtling towards the floor.
She can’t hear the reactions of the men on the roof but she imagines they are much the same as all the others. None of them will follow her.
She closes her eyes and feels the rain hit her face as she falls through the air. She begins to count. Two.
She opens her arms to catch the air. Spreading herself over a wide area. She loves the sensation of the moments after two, when it no longer feels like falling. With her eyes closed it feels like she’s flying.
She thinks back over the evening and tries to pinpoint the moment that they worked it out. She can feel the drag of her bag behind her.
Her arms tremble as she holds them against the wind. Her arm hits something, she instinctively grabs it. It pulls her arm out of its socket but she doesn’t let go as the pain shoots down to her hand. She swings round and lets go.
Turning through the air, she rolls onto the canopy of the shop and tumbles to the ground. Landing on her feet she runs off down into the warren of the Shambles. They won’t follow her there. The city within the city: the Shambles is a shanty town inside a housing project of squatters. Left to its own devices, it has been abandoned to its residents. Half a square mile of lawlessness bordered on all sides by flyovers. Haphazard tower blocks thrown up by anyone with the bricks. Wires running over one another in an erratic attempt at getting electricity into the flats.
The narrow alleys are already filling with water, it gushes down the inside and dribbles down the outside of the pipes. Clothes are still hanging on the lines outside the windows. The shops have been hastily tidied away out of the street, but the eateries are still crammed open. Noodle shops and cafes are still serving their customers, even though the water is rising around their ankles. Neon lights gleam out against the eternal night of the slum. She can hear the quacks in their practises, the metalworks churning out anything of use, the brothels running at full capacity, and the newborn nobodies screaming their lungs out.
Officially, that is, at least on paper, it doesn’t exist. It is an embarrassment and a damning shame on the failures of society. It isn’t discussed. It is mentioned. It is a terrible secret hidden in plain sight.
She heads into one of the concrete buildings between a fruit shop and a laundrette and up the stairwell to the first floor where she knocks on the door. It is opened by a little, balding, bespectacled woman who looks at Cerys suspiciously.
“Doctor Foster?” Cerys asks and is let in.
Foster is a relatively well-respected doctor. Relative in terms of location. A nobody with no formal training, he studied himself a medical degree which he will never be presented with. The room, although reasonably clean, is filled with antique equipment and plastic furniture.
“Hello, June,” Foster says looking up from desk. “What can I do for you today?
“Hello, Doctor Foster,” says Cerys. “I fell when I was out.”
“Oh, dear,” he says. “Let’s have a look.”
She sits on the hard bed and pulls her jacket off.
“Ah, yes,” he says. “Nothing to worry about; it’s just popped out. I’ll just,” he pulls it out, twists, and puts it back in, “there we are. Get yourself a painkiller and you’ll be fine.”
“Thanks, doc,” she says and turns to leave.
“Yes?” she says pausing at the door.
“April wants to see you.”