“Proof that the small literary magazine is alive, well, and thriving can be found in the pages of the University of Westminster’s Wells Street Journal, a periodical of enjoyable variety and always interesting new writing.” — Travis Elborough, author, cultural commentator and lecturer “I am delighted to have been asked by the Creative Writing MA students on Westminster’s Writing the City programme to write a short foreword to the 13th issue of their online magazine, The Wells Street Journal. The hugely varied collection of fresh, original stories, and poetry, is thrilling to read. This is writing that you need to savour! I’m amazed by the quality of the work and look forward to reading future issues of this contemporary literary journal.” — Helena Halme, MACW, prize-winning author and publishing coach “There is a lot of exciting writing coming out of the University of Westminster, so the Wells Street Journal is a great addition to literary London, and beyond!” — Max Porter, writer and Senior Editor at Granta Books “The concept for the journal, along with the production of the maga‐ zine has been initiated entirely by the students. I wish them all well with this exciting new venture.” — Rachel Lichtenstein, artist, writer and lecturer “The Wells Street Journal is a fresh, charming and witty compilation of new creative work from the Westminster MA. I’m genuinely impressed by what I’m seeing, and hearing, from the samples. God speed, Suerte and Voraus, Wells Street Journal!” — Michael Nath, writer and professor
“I was given the privilege of reading several short stories from the Wells Street Journal. These stories have a fun and interesting mixture of fallen angels, dead bodies, and time travel.” — Grant Eagar, engineer and fantasy writer “The Wells Street Journal is a great new platform for fresh writing and a sincere supporter of both experienced and fledgling writers. I am proud to be involved with them.” — Anna Maconochie, award-nominated short story writer “What I love in poetry is the element of surprise. When words show us the world in a new light or startle us out of our complacency. Poems are often traditionally associated with the natural world, the beauty of rural landscapes or flowers. Yet as more and more of us live in cities, much contemporary poetry is increasingly inspired by the urban. They say if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life, and that’s because it is a city that is constantly surprising the huge variety of people who live there. That vibrancy and diversity is reflected in the poems presented here. There is a freshness to the language used, an excite‐ ment at discovering one of the great capitals of the world, and a fear‐ lessness at tackling the good, the bad and the ugly. Enjoy!” — Aoife Mannix, poet, writer and workshop facilitator
The Wells Street Journal is a London-based, biannual literary anthology of poetry and prose run by the University of Westminsterâ€™s Creative Writing: Writing the City MA students. Emblematising all ends of the globe, their main impetus is to provide their readers both nationally and internationally with literary works which represent equality, diversity, and inclusivity. They achieve this by means of showcasing not only their own talents as writers, but also by sharing their platform with a collection of external writers with a wide range of expeâ€? riences and locales. Disruption in the City marks their thirteenth issue, and third print edition.
THE WELLS STREET JOURNAL ISSUE 13 DISRUPTION IN THE CITY
The following collection is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the named authorâ€™s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright ÂŠ 2020 by The Wells Street Journal All rights reserved. Published by wellsstreetjournal.com
“Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.” — HENRY MILLER
CON TEN TS
1. The Developers 2. Anaesthesia and Other Poems 3. Saigon Slept 4. Reading the City: Graffiti and the Art of Attention 5. Dear Nationalism 6. Rosetta Stone 7. Approach
3 5 9 13 21 25 31
8. The Resilience 9. Outbreak 10. A Momentary Lapse 11. A Tearful Sky 12. Subterranean Lust 13. Friendship is a Love Affair and Other Poems
14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.
41 49 59 61 67 71
LONDON Where Southwark Meets the City The Man Who Can’t Be Moved Protest psychoSKELETALgeography@SOUTHWARK Adventures in Lewisham Leafleter’s Lament This is Us
81 89 97 101 107 113 115
Acknowledgments FOR MORE INFORMATION
THE DEVELOPERS BY HĂ‰LĂˆNE EZARD
They came wearing neat suits and wide smiles, They filled our ears with promises, and our minds with dreams, Could we envision, instead of having to travel so many miles, A sports centre here with our kids playing on teams? The towers went up; we were told they were affordable housing, They cast a gloom over the streets that their residents crowded, A community centre was built; we were told it would be a social setting, Yet it was a stodgy and sterile building that left us more divided.
We winced at the noise and stink of endless traffic, We went to the new restaurants, and were crestfallen by the lack of ethnic food, We looked around with nostalgia; the loss of our old buildings seemed tragic, And we wished the developers had never come to our neigh‐ bourhood.
H ÉLÈNE E ZARD IS A F RENCH -G ERMAN POSTGRADUATE STUDENT at the University of Westminster. She studies International Liaison and Communication. She enjoys learning languages as well as writing novels, short stories, poems, and fanfiction.
ANAESTHESIA AND OTHER POEMS BY JACQUELINE AHEARN
Anaesthesia There is a light above my head and I am in a cold hard bed— but no, this is a table. I struggle to remember— anything, really. I might be dead, or dying, because I was in a proper bed before. I can’t remember whether I am meant to go toward or away from the light. I remain still, and still, and still,
as a compromise. I move my arm tentatively reaching out— a pull and pain and pulse of blood— I guess I can’t be quite dead yet. Then a mask leans over the light, go back to sleep, it says, and closing my eyes, the light recedes. You aren’t supposed to move away from it.
Everything Moves in the Direction of Reality I just got the news, and sat down. They told me to sit down but I want to pace, maybe shout or maybe I don’t, since you hate it when I shout. Or hated. Do I have to use the past tense now? They are asking me if I need anything; I might be screaming. Screaming at them, and they are moving away. I’ve stood, without knowing it, how interesting, but I sink back into the chair when they’ve left me alone. I stare at my hands and swear I can see the blood pound skeletal rivers in my wrists.
I feel a tingling sensation everywhere, my skin numb and alive all at once, something is wetting my shirt—like tears— but I never cry so it can’t be me. And maybe I don’t believe them and maybe you are fine and maybe I’m not here right now and maybe we are together and I’m so sorry I wasn’t there with you. Someone has their hand on my arm and is pulling me up but I can’t feel myself rise or walk. I’m guided toward a car that will take me to a cold white room and you in the middle, a car that will drive me to a reality that I believe is fiction.
Between London’s Branches The city, like a tree, grows up and out in rings. It dates itself: inner, smaller, older, wiser; outer, larger, younger, spryer. Most people never see beyond the bark or peer past outer branches.
But a single second’s study— gentle disruption of the leaves— shows a hidden world beneath. Proud strong boughs that tenderly shelter so many little lives, Countless, boundless, endless always growing, dying, changing. Nests and hollows are all that mark the ones who’ve come and gone, until another comes to claim them. The city is growing, always growing, in the spaces left behind.
J ACQUELINE A HEARN IS AN ATTORNEY ORIGINALLY FROM B OSTON , moved here from New York City to pursue her hidden love for creative pursuits. Her hobbies include getting lost in new cities, debating politics and literature, mountain climbing, and learning new things. Her work focuses largely on speculative fiction and on psychology and trauma.
SAIGON SLEPT BY LAURA KURLANSKY
S AIGON FELL ASLEEP AT AROUND 2.30 PM ON A T UESDAY afternoon, sometime in early February. No one was sure if it was the excessive heat or the build up of fear that caused this usually pulsating city to grind to halt. Whatever caused it, somewhere deep inside the quarantine, a slumber grew until the city was suddenly still. The same thing had happened to a small town in western Switzerland during the Spanish flu, its population’s rapid retreat indoors causing Bonfol to doze gently off into unconsciousness. That’s not to say that Saigon’s inhabitants all suddenly, spon‐
taneously went to sleep. Most had stocked their fridges weeks ago and bunkered down against the pandemic. They now sat, wide awake, wide eyes fixated on televisions, hoping for some glorious end to the ongoing panic. It was the city itself that slept, the earth it was built on, the metal and concrete, the train lines and road signs. No longer sustained by its daily fix of life parading the streets, it decided to take a siesta. You remember where you were when it happened, just leaving a cafe on Hai Bà Trưng, the remnants of your too sweet, too strong coffee clutched in one hand. As you stepped onto the pavement, you were struck by the intrusive absence of sound and movement, broken only by the sound of a door locking behind you. As you looked around you noticed the expected carousel of motorbikes—their tune a chorus of beeps and shouts—had disappeared, leaving only sunsoaked roads basking quietly. It had been quieter than usual when you entered the cafe, but now the silence and stillness seemed to have thickened. You coughed, forced and sharp, into the quiet scene. Normally this would cause a significant response from the surrounding pedestrians, crossing roads to avoid the potentially infected, eyes full of fear. But the sound was absorbed by the silence. Taking this as an opportunity, you took the long way home, walking down the nearly empty road. A few cars were still out though, now littering the road like abandoned toys. You dared not look through the windows as you passed.
Y OU STRAINED YOUR EARS FOR THE SOUND OF SOMETHING , THE familiar call of the street hawkers’ loudspeakers, strapped to the front of their bicycles, their wares balanced in bowls and cabi‐ nets behind them. But all you could hear were the sounds of birds, chirruping happily, no longer competing to broadcast against the city’s endless clamour.
It wasn’t until you passed the unusually empty market that you saw anyone else. Far at the end of the street, past the empty market stalls, you heard the familiar rattle of a motorbike engine. The bike came into view, gently swerving round the abandoned fruit and debris, pausing every so often as the figure peered into the dark alleys between the stalls. Eventually they seemed to notice your presence. The bike slowed gently, coming to a full stop just before its tyres met the remnants of a mango that had been smeared across the road. You lifted your hand to wave and after a pause they returned the gesture, but in a way that seemed tentative, if not reluctant. You began to walk towards them, but as soon as you started to move, they did too, turning the bike around, spreading the mango further into the grit of the road in a dirty orange circle. They sped off, back the way they came, not glancing back to see your hand still raised, your gesture hanging empty and unful‐ filled in the silent air.
T HE REST OF THE JOURNEY HOME WENT BY IN A BLUR , THE CITY ’ S strange shift in pace simply allowed the time to move quicker and before you knew it you were through the white gates and at the front door of your apartment. Inside you could hear the sound of someone listening to the news, a monotone announce‐ ment of how many more cases, the news presenter couldn’t have sounded more bored. Or maybe it was the door’s fault, absorbing any interest, a filter for the emotion so all that was relayed to you were blank words. It was at this point, at exactly 3.05pm on the same Tuesday afternoon, that the city snored. A long, guttural inhale that shook your very bones. You took this as your cue, a sign that you had stayed too long, enjoying a city gone silent. Steadying yourself against the vibrations, you opened the door and went inside, being sure to lock it behind you.
L AURA K URLANSKY IS A WRITER , IMMERSIVE GAME DESIGNER AND teacher currently based in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). She lives with her two cats and fiancÃ©e, all of whom leave their own mark on her work. She writes about the world around her, the small pains and triumphs of the everyday.
READING THE CITY: GRAFFITI AND THE ART OF ATTENTION BY CLARA NG
I T WASN ’ T UNTIL THE THIRD ENCOUNTER THAT I PAUSED , TOOK out my phone, snapped a picture, and sent it to a friend—an innocuous white rectangle of a sticker stamped in bold black letters: J’EXISTE, on the side of a bus stop rubbish bin. The next time I received one in return—this time located on a parking meter box—it became our “thing.” I would look out for these small white strips and feel a slight thrill upon some new discovery on lamp posts, gates, post boxes, as well as pasted onto graffiti, and on dilapidated walls—a carefully choreo‐ graphed dance of attention and intention.
This simple two-step soon made way for a repertoire of other moves, increasingly improvised. Other pieces of graffiti found their way into our exchange: I found myself circling streetlamps, lunging sideways to contemplate a colourful label, backtracking to where I’d glimpsed something interesting. There were a few recurrent motifs: I LOVE BARRY; a cartoon koala wearing a Native American headdress; sno man in quirky font; the classic you are beautiful (this turned out to be a Bumble ad). The game was no longer hide-and-seek; it was now a trea‐ sure hunt, where seemingly ordinary things, like formerly negli‐ gible bits of trash, yielded a new kind of potential for delight and discovery. I had unchecked the filter boxes that had put blinders on what I saw. This expanded the repertoire of things I was able to notice—it wasn’t new spaces being discovered, but new dimensions to the ones already familiar. But what was the uncanny power of J’EXISTE that made me look in the first place—not once or twice, but again and again, until there seemed none left to find? Taking an existential lens here proves apt: this simple assertion—I can imagine it said, whispered or yelled exuberantly—is at the same time a plea for recognition. In the age where identity has been co-opted by algorithms and social media platforms, we face an epidemic of a dwindling, or at least compromised, sense of self. Google knows you more than your friends do; we are reduced to faceless permutations of spending habits, click-preferences, and website visits. When one’s existence seems marginal and somehow provisional, he or she is constantly forced to proclaim: I, too, exist! (Amidst the several million other users of this platform!) And what better, more straightforward way to distinguish oneself than by accumulating the greatest number of likes, the most friends, and the trendiest things? But the further you get in the game, the higher your score and the loftier your status— the more it paradoxically and unhelpfully reinforces these anxi‐ eties. God knows I’ve felt like that.
A quick online search yielded myriad results, several tracing it to a slogan popular with Palestinian artists calling for the liberation of their territories. Je resiste donc j’existe. I resist, there‐ fore I exist. It was also linked to various North African media websites in Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritius: in these politically charged contexts, J’EXISTE served as a rallying cry of solidarity and resistance. It is impossible to remain passive against a system that runs counter to what one values. One demonstrates his aliveness, his will, his agency, by fighting against it. The phrase can also be attributed to Albert Camus, whose protago‐ nist in The Rebel says, “Je me révolte donc je suis,” which trans‐ lates to I resist, therefore I am. This, in turn, is a playful reference to Descartes’ cogito: “Je pense donc je suis,” I think, therefore I am. But “I exist” is distinct from “I am”—the former is a political statement (I am here to bear witness; you won’t get away with this); the latter is existential (I am a living, whole being whose existence is nevertheless contingent on everything that surrounds me in the here-and-now). I wasn’t the only one to have been wondering about the who-and-why behind the art. On the Reddit thread r/brussels headlined “Street art mysteries,” the user “Idiomatiq” posted just six months ago that he had noticed several instances of “repeti‐ tive arts that pop up without anyone really knowing where it comes from, nor what it's supposed to mean.” Interesting way to put it—a big part of street art is its ethos of proliferation, or the ability of a piece of art to appear then disappear simultaneously in various places, seemingly overnight, leaving no trace. It is thus not surprising that street artists like Banksy are often elevated to the level of myth: the heroic vigilante rallying the city for some larger cause, or else embodying a wicked, destruc‐ tive force wreaking havoc wall by wall. Following the same thread, someone offered that the J’EX‐ ISTE stickers, which are “everywhere, not just Brussels,” had been put up by a “guy called Thierry Jaspart.” The Belgian street
artist was easy enough to look up. The small white stickers, his website reveals, form only a small part of the larger project J’EXISTE. Rather than proliferate it in the small, subtle ways that first caught my attention, he “used to take serious risks to place the J’EXISTE logo on highly visible spots”—a linked YouTube video shows him walking unsteadily across a bridge to roller-paste a blown-up version of the logo visible from miles away. Another shows him placing a big J’EXISTE sticker on a large yellow road sign announcing the western German city of Bielefeld. Despite a population numbering in the hundreds of thousands, Bielefeld is nonetheless known in conspiracy circles as the “city that does not exist”—a theory that first gained trac‐ tion on the German Usenet in 1994. All this leads me to wonder: what happens when street art does not detract from the notion of place, or material space, but adds to and affirms it? When someone cares enough not just to name a space, but declare its status as a place, as in the case of Bielefeld? Interestingly, the project’s original motive was no metaphys‐ ical stunt, but to distil the ethos driving the practice of street art. The J’EXISTE section is headlined in large letters—what is he doing but “simplifying every graffiti to what it really says?” This is the same impulse that spurred someone to press their hand to the walls of what is now known the Chauvet-Pontd’Arc Cave in France, some 30,000 years ago, in order to declare I was here! I think most writers just want to show the world they exist,” his website continues. Despite its lofty connotations— metaphysical and philosophical—it is worth thinking about what it means in the most fundamental sense to “exist.” For the Lithuanian-born philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, a genuine encounter with another person or the “other” can only take place “face-to-face,” or with their “living presence.” Such an encounter would exert an ethical imperative to recognise the other person's fundamental separateness from themselves,
without trying to reconcile it. When viewed in this context, the plain text J’EXISTE deliberately withholds the image of the other, whose presence is instead perceived through a conscious, effortful reaching out; one is invited, or forced, to imagine a “face” behind the words and images. Such rogue art serves as a kind of deliberate disruption that confronts us with the lived materiality of the city—specifically, with the narratives of iden‐ tity beneath it. And so street art serves as a site of contestation —not just in the spatial sense (against the prevailing urban configurations), but in the political sense, too (concerning our relationship with others).
S O FAR SO GOOD — BUT THIS PARTICULAR ART FORM FACES THE relatively recent challenge: the trivialization of what was once considered radical. Despite its heroic impulse toward material expression, some critics now see street art as a domesticated art form bound to a corporate, institutional visual regime. Tellingly, even the most politically dissident art activists have been accused of this. In a recent article in The Critic entitled “Banksy and the Triumph of Banality,” Alexander Adams describes Banksy as a “talented graphic designer with a flair for selfpromotion, no more or less." His work does not provide new insight or bring about meaningful change, but “fails to surprise,” with shallow "clichés of the progressive left." In the same vein, Dr. Rafael Schacter of the University College London suggests that what we need from street art is a kind of critique: forget “beautiful cities;” it is the “ugly” and the “disagreeable” that hold the potential to reveal what lies beneath the surface, rather than produce more of it. In keeping with this ethos, Jaspart’s art seems to challenge not just the conventional means and media through which public spaces are marked, but also the way street art is executed
in an era of “artwashing.” The artist’s website contains a reper‐ toire of much critical work. Reminiscent of the anti-art, Dada and Fluxus spirit of the 60s and 70s, his pieces are often charac‐ terised by a blend of different media (objects, sounds, images, text), raw simplicity, and humour. In “Real Name Graffiti,” he pastes photocopies of his passport on walls—a gesture that defies authority as it defers to it, illustrating the ever-compli‐ cating bureaucracies of migration and identity. In “Graffiti Definitions,” he pastes what looks like dictionary definitions to other artists’ tags on the street. Perhaps the most striking is “Graffiti with Blood,” where Jaspart is videotaped in a clinical setting drawing a considerable amount of blood into a clear plastic packet. The scene then cuts to him spraying J’EXISTE with this presumably just-collected blood—bright red on grey pavement. He seems perhaps a bit too nonchalant about this particular enterprise, which he has to repeat after “mess[ing] up with the camera.” Videotaped and uploaded on his website, these acts seem not so much street art as situational performances bound to a particular time, place, and set of materials.
I F J’EXISTE WAS THE CLARION CALL OF STREET ARTISTS , THESE pieces by Jaspart—incorporating bodily fluid, ephemeral canvases, and a very liberal interpretation of “graffiti”—are muti‐ nous, material manifestations of this ethos. These singular pieces forcibly and creatively imprint one’s identity onto the morass of the city. Taken together, they challenge our idea of what graffiti should look like. Bielefeld exists because someone says so, has spoken on its behalf—this, in turn, directs our attention to all the reasons why it does (or doesn’t) exist, is (or isn’t) a place. It is hard to discern straightforward motivations to Jaspart’s art, political or otherwise—and therein lies its power. His pieces simultaneously
conceal and celebrate the artist behind the work, and embedded into the text of the city is the irreducibly human self “written into existence.” They all but grab you by the collar, yelling “I was here!” One can’t complain about not being surprised. More often than not, disruptions are held to be bad things— problematic interruptions of an event, activity, or process—a roadblock, a lost wallet, a call that jolts you awake, some jerk cutting in front of you in the queue. But not all disruptions are equal. For the French theorist Jacques Rancière, art is not an exemplary site of sensory pleasure, nor the sublime—its polit‐ ical clout lies in the capacity to enact a “critical break with common sense” and by such aesthetic protest, create a "gap in the sensible.” Such art would encourage new ways of thinking, feeling, and perceiving toward greater plurality. Looking at Jaspart’s art through the lens of J’EXISTE, I realise that his work not only challenges what we see and expect to see, but also prompts new ways of seeing, noticing, and being. This kind of disruption draws and holds curiosity oriented toward and around the surrounding space. A city is “a language, a repository of possibilities,” writes Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust. All my life I’ve lived in a city without bothering to learn to read it. It took chance and a certain sustained curiosity for me to discover a new wealth of textual surface that had previously gone unnoticed. Learning to pay attention has changed the way I navigate urban spaces, which no longer appear as sterile, linear configurations going from one point to another, but dense with meaning: a palimpsest of ideas and images. Consequently, the process of moving through the city is no longer linear, but lateral, playful and oblique—it lends itself less to distraction than willful diver‐ sion. And if this kind of disruption makes me two minutes later for work; if I look a little silly standing still contemplating a nondescript poster in the middle of a busy junction; if the city
no longer seems to me like a mechanistic, efficient means to an end... well, I donâ€™t think I mind.
After finishing a Master's in Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh, Clara Ng is trying to read less and write more. She can be reached at email@example.com.
DEAR NATIONALISM BY TINA ONUR
You say you love this country, Iâ€™m trying to understand. Are you kissing the land with bullets to make the orange tree groan? And caressing the ground with explosives to make Mount Qassioun move?
Or do you hope your rockets will impregnate the moon and leave proof of your love for this city in the sky? Iâ€™m trying to understand. Maybe you think your missiles are love songs sent all the way to Palmyra and back? That their melody parts the petals of the Dimashk rose? Or could it be that you see your tanks as ploughs? Like fingers teasing the soil in the hopes jasmine will rise? Iâ€™m just trying to understand. Perhaps you scramble fighter jets to break the hearts of clouds? To drench your parched beloved in rain? Or do you scream battle cries over the Barada and imagine she flows just for you? Like the people, who out of the city flow: because. of. you. I don't understand how it is you think love is engendered by oppression: you think you can make your cold, twisted love to this city with war. Love is not cultivated with violence. Love is not forced silence. They will not. lie. down. You took him from me. I will not. lie. down. You took them from us. We. Will. Not. Lie. Down.
T INA O NUR ’ S WORK IS INSPIRED BY HER TIME LIVING IN S YRIA during the war. She also publishes feminist poetry, which is read in women’s circles around the world. Tina is currently an MA English literature student at Westminster.
ROSETTA STONE BY ADRIAN RADU
M USEUMS ARE MAGICAL TEMPLES THAT CONTAIN PIECES OF TIME ; in these sanctuaries, the shrines are built from feelings on a canvas, from remains of armies and treasures, statues and rocks, from weapons, once tools of death, now masterpiecesâ€”a whole composed of broken pieces from the soul of the world. History shows its face, and we are instantly charmed. It was difficult for me to make up a list of London museums that I would have liked to visit; there are so many! However, it wasnâ€™t hard to take my first trip. I think most of the people would head to the British Museum first, without reflecting for too long. Art, history, fame, and glory; it is a place where anybody can find his favourite corner of delight and awe.
Tourists from all over the world come here in a celebration of knowledge and joy. I arrived at the British Museum in the early morning. A long queue of people were waiting in the street in the first hours of the day. The dawn had faded, but it still held the fresh air of morning. The pilgrimage continued, and the people kept arriving from bars, restaurants, and shops. As usual, in places like this, there were many shops with souvenirs - a clichĂŠ specific to any similar spots the world over. There was a long queue, for obvious reasons: The Magical Temple attracted an ocean of people, and there were security checks taking place. There were also many guides, but nobody complained, and I do not think that anybody felt the stress of waiting. The people talked in Babylonian, looking at each other and charging the stream with positive energy. The children jumped and clamoured; the shadow of death was shaking. This was the celebration of our humanity. Once inside, I was in the large entrance hall. Without a guide and without a plan and prior preparation, I just started to wander from one place to another, from one floor to another, gazing at everything, sometimes stopping longer and trying to go inside a painting, or to visualise a scene of deadly fighting in front of a samurai sword. I could feel the stream of energy flowing vividly, with fresh and primitive richness of life. You could see the brightness of the tourists walking unaware in the middle of this river of life. I understood, and I felt once more this human necessity to come together, to gather in large crowds. There was a time when I was angry meeting an entire city on the same main street, struggling to walk without any reason, just to be there, but after a while I realised the real meaning of all of this: the people are coming together unconâ€? sciously, attracted by the invisible energies of life. The allpowerful death goes back and fades in such places, and loses its purpose and terror.
Suddenly, in front of my eyes, there appeared a familiar image: an orthodox priest was leading a small group of believers from eastern Europe on a touristic adventure. They were happy, but looked quite lost, while the priest was trying to find the way, focusing on a map. Just a few minutes later, I was surprised to see that on the stairs in front of me was a group of shaolin monks dressed specifically in orange robes. They were coming down, with their heads shaven, and a few bright dots on their forehead, showing their level of training. I smiled; maybe this museum is one of the few places where all religions have their own place, and come to the same sacred shrine which turns discrepancies and confusions into inner peace and knowledge. In the first few minutes I tried to follow an itinerary, looking at all the titles of the rooms, trying to keep in mind a map of my position, but after a while I renounced that attempt and instead decided to just visit the place instinctively. I realised that it was a good idea, because I could feel the surprise of the exploration; yes, I think that this is the best word to describe my journey: exploration. In a moment, I was in a huge hall watching the mummies, the sarcophagi, the huge statues and columns standing still, representing the glory of Ancient Egypt. In the next moment, I was looking at large amounts of gold coins, treasures, and medals from different eras. All around me, a swarm of people were moving, often without words, astonished by the colours, shapes, and the unexpected. Eventually, I discovâ€? ered myself watching a big stone with an imperial inscription belonging to the Babylonian civilisation, dating from the sixth century B.C. I do not remember the content of the inscription, because the ancient item worked for me like a portal. Suddenly, I was teleported to the great hall of the palace where King Belsâ€? hazzar was feasting alongside his nobles, drinking from the holy vessels that were confiscated from the Temple of Jerusalem. A mysterious divine hand appeared from the air, and wrote on the wall a sentence describing the stance that God had taken
regarding the king: “Mane, tekel, fares!” The verdict that God gave was: “Numbered, weighted, divided!” The days of the king were numbered; he had been weighted and was found wanting; his kingdom was nearing its end. In the same era, the Bible tells us about the slavery of the Jewish people in Babylon. The Prophet Daniel continues speaking to us from the pit with lions. It is well-known, in biblical psychology, that everything is under the power of the Lord. Wealth, glory, and brightness are just illusions. Nobody can rely on his own strength and power alone; everything is in God’s hands. The single merit of a human being is the faith he puts in his Creator, even though sometimes it is not enough, and nothing can have a logical explanation. A group of Chinese tourists passed me by and snatched me from the reverie of the magical ancient world. Their guide spoke loudly and looked immersed in his mission. A few meters farther, he stopped next to a stone the size of a child, and simul‐ taneously the entire group stopped in front of him. The guide started to speak in a very passionate voice, so much so that not just his group were listening to him anymore, but also others as well—some not even Chinese. He explained in Chinese, of course, but people from everywhere stopped, hypnotised by his passion and his movements. We were in the Sumerian area. I don’t know how, but soon I discovered myself in the middle of his group. The guide was tall and skinny, around fifty years of age; his voice is thick, but sometimes high, passing from tenor to alto. Most of the time he held the stone in a hug, caressing the stone with real love, like touching the breast of a goddess. The mysterious stone answered him, because all the times he’d touched it with his palm, he received new details, and his voice sounded again, thick, and sometimes high. When I finally became aware of this, I realised that the stone was without meaning in this special circumstance, because the true star of the moment was the tour guide, and suddenly in my mind there
appeared the title of a bestseller: The Rhetorical Power of a Chinese Guide. I was again walking without a precise aim. Time passed without making me feel its presence. It was already midday. The scent of coffee and croissants led me to a cafe. I decided to stay a while and restore myself with an espresso and some food from the bakery. It was a good decision, because after half an hour, I was ready for my next exploration. Although I didn’t feel that I needed to see everything, or to learn about every single item held in the museum, because I was prepared for a greater surprise. Something had to be outstanding for me to really be focused on it; it had to be special. Yes, indeed! I was feeling this presence. After finding many priceless treasures of art and history, something outstanding was going to happen in order to unify everything, and to give it meaning. I was sure of it. Over time, I thought that I was moving in a circle, because for a while I had the impression of coming repeatedly to the same rooms. Thus, I decided to take notes on the places where I had been. This is how I then proceeded. I wasn’t tired; I just felt that the next room was the special one. I was inside, and a strong stream of energy was pushing me towards a precise spot. As I gazed at it, I realised what I was going to meet - the slab with irregular shapes, carved from a bigger block of rock. It was now in front of me. The Rosetta Stone - one of the most important archaeo‐ logical discoveries in history. The holy of holies had come from the past like a messenger, a herald of history. Jesus had said: "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." But they didn’t keep quiet; they spoke too much, and it was far from the truth. Discovered by the soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte during his military campaign at the end of the eighteenth century, the Rosetta Stone has been in the possession of the British Army after their victory against France on Egyptian territory. The slab has three inscriptions and thus reveals its huge value - the same imperial decree from Ancient Egypt appears in three
languages: in Hieroglyphic, in Demotic, and in Ancient Greek. At the time of its finding, the hieroglyphs had not yet been deci‐ phered, and most of ancient history lay covered by the clouds of ignorance and supposition. Scholars were immediately conscious of the importance of this discovery, and this began the gradual deciphering of the hieroglyphs. The item again became the big prize in the rivalry between England and France. Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. Afterwards, the French scholar Jean-François Champollion, a young visionary who had been passionate about Egyptology since his childhood, announced his own discovery associated with the Rosetta Stone. Millennia of history were suddenly brought to light. The apparently humble stone revealed itself to be a herald of the heroic past. A wild wind burst into a roar from the very heart of the stone. After a few seconds, this sharp rumble became soft and kind. The walls vanished, the floor, the voices, and time itself disappeared. Everything around me moved and trembled: the grass in the field, the withered leaves from the trees, and the shiny clouds. The huge and rusty gate of time was opened, and a dusty roar came from remote space. Pharaohs sitting on their golden thrones were waving; their glory remaining intact. Somewhere in the desert the pyramids were being built, those beacons for the spaceships. The Titans were building the eternal pyramids for the glory of the first humans; the first of our kind were bright and eternal. They’ve been watching us from the beginning with a kind and gentle smile.
A DRIAN R ADU IS A WRITER in Philosophy of Religion.
WITH A DEEP AND CONSTANT INTEREST
APPROACH BY JP SANDERS
I F UCK ME . I mean, I know the traffic can be bad sometimesâ€”but this? We had the radio on with occasional updates, to tell us what we knew, which was that there were tailbacks for miles and fucking miles following an accident in the tunnel. Gridlock. Total. And to cap it, who should we be stuck in the car with but Ruthâ€™s parents, Rob and Jackie? We were taking them back home from a hospital appointment.
II “Matthew. Matthew,” said Jackie. I grunted. “If you move now, you can get into that other lane—the one that’s moving. You see?” I squinted and looked. “Which lane?” “There—no, it’s gone,” said Jackie, sitting back. “It’s gone." “Oh. Right.” “I mean, if you’d have been just that bit quicker, we could have gone with them.” “Are you backseat driving?” asked Rob. Jackie turned round crossly and said to him, “how can I be backseat driving—in the front seat?” “It’s just an expression,” said Rob. “Oh, Matthew doesn’t mind—do you?” she said to me. I felt Ruth kick the back of my seat. I said, “no—of course not.” “There you are, Rob,” said Jackie. “You see—he knows which side his bread is buttered.” “He may not need you telling him every five seconds though,” said Rob. Jackie said, “I’m only trying to help.” “Very trying,” said Rob. Ruth said, “at least we have nowhere else to be.” III Rob winced. I saw him in the rearview mirror—he put a hand to his belly and looked like he was in pain. “All right?” I said. He nodded. “Just a bit of indigestion mate.” Jackie said, “I keep telling him, he’s only to have bland food,
but he won’t listen to me—will you?” Rob said—muttered, actually, would be more like it—“I do too much listening sometimes.” IV “You’re joking!” “I’m not,” said Rob. “I heard it off the milkman.” “What milkman?” “Our one. He used to deliver to the end house as well, and that’s where—well.” Jackie turned to Ruth. “Can you believe this?” Ruth said, “Well, it does happen.” “A terrible thing like that though.” She shuddered. “How long had he been there?” “They reckon at least a year. Maybe longer. But because his benefits kept going into his bank account, they paid all his direct debits, his rent, his gas, his leccy. You know—the lot.” “Mary, Mother of Jesus—and there we were, going past every day. We didn’t know anything.” “They’re planning a big funeral for him.” “Are they? How come? I mean, not disrespecting the dead, but if no one was interested when he was alive, what’s the difference now?” “I guess people are feeling guilty. You know—want to make amends.” “Well then,” said Jackie, fanning herself with a flyer she’d found in the glove compartment for a pizza restaurant, “they won’t need me.” V There was a car we kept edging past, then falling behind again, with a driver in it who didn’t have his hands on the steering
wheel. He was wearing a headset and talking and laughing. Jackie said she wanted to report it to the police. She said a woman who went to her reading group at the library had been knocked out of her mobility scooter by a man who’d been driving his car—she swore—while steering it with his feet. She folded her arms, crossly saying, “Something wanted doing about things like that,” because they were on the rise. She seemed to suggest it was my fault. “They want to throw the book at them,” she said. I thought—but did not say—perhaps the one from the reading group at the library? "She ended up on the same ward Rob was on after his last op.” VI “I’m so sorry about this, love,” said Rob. Ruth said, “no problem.” “But—oh—sorry, Matt.” I said, “it doesn’t matter, Rob. Really—just get comfortable.” There was a sudden and almost overwhelming smell of shit. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw that Ruth was helping her father to change his colostomy bag. I’m not the squeamish type, but I was glad to have to look back at the road. Poor old Rob. “I thought we’d be back home by now.” Ruth said to Jackie, “Mum—can you pass me the wet wipes from the glove compartment?” Rob gasped. “Dad?” “It’s just a little bit sore sometimes.” Ruth said, “there are some plastic bags in there as well.” “Oh—oh!” said Rob. “It’s not bleeding again, is it?” “Shh. Shh,” said Ruth. I now kept my eyes firmly on the road. I was glad the car windows were already wound down.
VII “That’s not fair, mum!” said Ruth. “We do see you!” “I’m not saying you don’t, Ruth.” “Then what?” “I’m not complaining, love. Honestly. I’m really not.” “Well, you’re saying something,” said Ruth. “It’s just—no, no,” said Jackie. “Forget I said anything. I was wrong to say anything.” “We see you as often as we can!” “I’m not saying you don’t, love.” “Then what? You’re clearly saying something.” “It’s just… ” “Jackie,” Rob said softly. “Leave it.” “I will leave it,” said Jackie—adding—“when I’ve just said one thing.” “Oh—here we go,” said Ruth. “Come on then—out with it.” “It’s just—it’d be nice to see you just a little bit more often, is all. While there’s still time.” Ruth said, “and what d’you mean by that?” Rob said, “Jackie, please.” VIII I wondered if the pizza restaurant whose leaflet we had did deliveries—perhaps to traffic jams? We were still stuck at least a mile or so before the entrance to the tunnel, although there was at least some movement now, meaning that we could no longer see the man who wasn’t holding his steering wheel. I reckoned I could order something and have it delivered to us here, no problem. I mean, if they sent someone on a bike, they could weave in and out of the traffic. This was a thought.
IX “I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ARE ACTUALLY TELLING ME LIKE THIS . When were you going to tell me then?” “Well, we’re telling you now, aren’t we, Little Miss Clever Clogs.” I looked nervously in my rearview mirror. I also started biting my thumbnail. This was not good. Ruth turned to Rob. She reached for his right hand, which she squeezed, saying, “Dad?” Rob shook his head. I noticed he squeezed her hand back though. He said, “sorry, love.” Ruth was shaking her head now. She started to cry. She said “when did they tell you, Dad?” “The last time we went to the hospital before today.” “Well, when was that?” “A week or two ago now. I wanted… ” he began. “He wanted to tell you in person, Ruth,” Jackie interrupted. “You waited all this time though?” “It’s not so long,” said Rob. “You could have called!” “Could we?” interjected Jackie. “We can never get hold of you Ruth.” “We both work shifts!” countered Ruth. “Why does everything I say have to be a criticism?” “You could have said!” said Ruth—her voice suddenly small. “I would have come.” “I know you would,” said Rob. I glanced at Jackie and saw she was sitting with her arms folded, and that she was looking out of the window with a look on her face of cynicism and perhaps even contempt, it seemed for everyone. “How long are they saying?” said Ruth, again in that suddenly small voice.
“It’s palliative from here,” said Rob. “It could be a year. Perhaps less.” “Oh Dad!” said Ruth. She unbuttoned her seatbelt and shifted over to sit next to him. She then put an arm around his shoulder and squeezed. “What can I do?” Jackie said—with ever an unerring sense of how to kill the moment—“Put your seatbelt on.” X Well, the traffic cleared, as these things do. We saw a pickup truck parked on the slip road by the entrance to the tunnel with a car on the back of it, which must have been the car that’d been the cause of all the trouble in the first place—the front was badly smashed up, and it looked like the driver must have had a lucky escape—assuming of course they had escaped. I wondered if they’d been driving with their feet? We then drove through the tunnel, it has to be said, with nothing to say to each other. Although, what was heavy in the air was that sense of things being unsaid, which we would have to address sooner or later. Although would you fucking believe it, there was another traffic jam on the other side of the tunnel? We were slowed to another standstill. I tried to see what the cause of it was this time—but nada. Well at least for the moment we had time. If we wanted it. And nowhere else to be. My thoughts turned again to that fucking pizza.
JP S ANDERS LIVES AND WORKS IN L ONDON AND HAS WORK forthcoming in 2020 in “Clover and White” and “La Piccioletta Barca.”
THE RESILIENCE BY SUZANNE CROMBAG
“H URRY UP ,” M ICHAEL SAYS TO J OHN . “W E DON ' T WANT TO GET caught.” John looks at Michael and rolls his eyes. “There’s no one around, relax.” But Michael is not happy. He is nervous and keeps looking around, making sure no one has followed them. He’s still surprised they are even doing this—being in the rebel‐ lion. Why did I say yes, I am not cut out for this, Michael thinks, while they try and find the entrance. Pop Express sent such an encrypted message that it took him and John two days to figure out where they had to be. “In a freaking forest!” Michael had screamed when he saw the loca‐ tion. “At night? Who do they think we are? Owls?” John had to
calm him down and say it was all going to be fine. Of course, he understood that it had to be somewhere secluded and that it was not going to be easy to find, but he couldn’t deal with the fact that they could get caught and that it was in the middle of Richmond Park. Pop Express is an important paper. When the intruders find out who is dealing with this paper, it is going to be bad. Not only for the city but also for the people who work on the paper. “I found it,” John says. “Sshht,” Michael hisses, looking around to make sure no one is there. “Jesus relax, there is no one there, like I said before!” He isn't happy with John. He is loud, careless, and he knows he stole something before coming here. The door is hidden under the roots of a tree and is locked. John knocks quickly three times, then twice slowly, then twice again quickly. The peephole opens and the woman behind it looks at them. “Password,” she says with a firm voice. “The woman of music,” John replies. The door flies open. A flashlight shines at their faces; Michael can't see anything. “Come in, quickly,” the woman says. Michael walks inside and John follows. A bang behind him lets him know the door is shut and that there is no going back now. He sighs. “Follow me,” The woman says. While John engages in conversation with her, all Michael can do is think, how did they make this? Looking around him, eyes wide, he follows John and the woman deeper and deeper into the ground. He is still not sure if this is the right decision. The space is massive. The room is filled with people running around and machines are everywhere. In the right corner, there are four tables with eight typewriters. The people behind them seem to be in deep concentration. Next to it is a small office, where three people are reading an article for the next magazine —or so Michael assumes. On the left side, you have the printing
machines. Then in the middle, there are tables to put the papers together. In the right front, you see piles upon piles of the magazine, ready to be sent out. Michael thinks it is amazing that this is in the middle of Richmond Park. He keeps glancing around. The room is lit up by old oil lanterns. This gives the space a nice intimate atmosphere. “This is the room where the paper is being made,” the woman says, transfixed on Michael as she says it. “By the way, my name is Isabel.” Michael reaches out a hand to shake Isabel’s in greeting. “Michael.” Suddenly, John barges in between Michael and Isabel. “This is amazing, how did you guys do this?” Michael is annoyed again but just stares at Isabel. He’s just noticed she has nice skin and long eyelashes. She is talking to John, but Michael catches her eye. Her eyes are light brown, almost gold. He starts blushing and looks back to the room. A man walks into the room and approaches the group. He stops in front of Michael and John. The man is just staring at them for a couple of seconds, making Michael uncomfortable. “Are you John?” he says. John nods and then he looks at Michael. “And who are you?” “I’m Michael.” The man looks at Michael with doubting eyes and then at Isabel. “They’ll do, I guess,” he says to her, and stares at Michael and John again. He explains to them that they have to report to Isabel and that this is where they need to come to give the infor‐ mation. Of course, only with their discretion. If they had any questions, they had to ask Isabel. It was so short Michael thought, but I guess they don’t have time for chit-chat. This is all busi‐ ness for them. “So, who was that?” Michael asks. “That is our leader,” says Isabel. “What is his name?”
“None of your business. The less you know, the better.” Michael looks at her and they stare at each other for a short second. She starts explaining what they need to do, and what kind of information is top priority. Then it is time to leave. They need to go before sunset. When they leave, Michael looks back at Isabel and smiles. She laughs back and closes the door. On the way back, Michael can’t stop thinking about Isabel. He’s completely sunk in his thoughts. John is talking to him, but Michael isn’t listening. They are on their way back to the entrance of the park when suddenly, they hear roaring in the distance. Michael glances at John, who’s gaping at Michael. ’Quick! Hide!” John whispers as they both jump behind the bushes in the park. “What was that?” Michael asks. “I don’t know. It sounds like a car.” They listen carefully as they hear the sound come closer and closer. John looks toward Michael, terrified when he realises that the sound wasn’t just a car, but also footsteps. “Shh, just stay quiet and don’t move,” Michael says. John doesn’t say anything and is starting to panic. When he finally speaks, he says, “we have to go; they will find us here!” But Michael shakes his head no. “We have to, dude. They will find us. We are going to die!” John tries to get up, but Michael grabs him to keep him down. “They don’t know we are here. If you go now, they will see you. Just keep quiet and keep it together!” John isn’t even listening anymore. He is trying to get loose from Michael’s grasp. Michael is trying to hold on to John, but John is much stronger. Michael can’t hold onto John anymore and John starts running. Michael watches him run into the woods. When John is a little further and almost out of sight, he hears a gunshot. He watches John fall to the ground. He listens to people run towards John and watches them shoot two more
bullets into him. All Michael can do is try not to scream as he watches his friend die. The people are looking around to see if John was alone, but because the sun has set, there isn’t enough light to find Michael. They continue walking and Michael just lies there, looking at John. He doesn’t know how long he’s been lying there, but when he finally comes to his own mind again, he crawls to him. He looks at him; eyes filled up with tears. “Why did we have to do this?” He starts hitting John on his back. “I told you this wasn’t a good idea. You are a dick, you know that? Leaving me here.” He falls over John’s body and cries.
A FTER A COUPLE OF MINUTES , THERE ’ S AN EXPLOSION . T HEN gunshots in the far distance. He looks up, but he cannot see anything. He looks at John and he knows it is time to leave him. Leave him forever. He gets up, wipes away his tears and looks around. Just to make sure no one is there. Then he walks towards the road and starts to investigate. He sees smoke coming out of the forest in the distance and he still hears gunshots. It starts to dawn on him that that is the direction they came from when they walked back. A flash of Isabel goes through his mind and he starts running towards the smoke through the forest. After a couple of minutes, the gunshots are over and Michael slows down and stops. Do I even want to know what I am doing? I cannot do anything, he thinks. He looks back and then forward again and back anew. Then, he turns around to walk towards the exit. After a couple of steps, he turns around and decides to walk to the resilience. Maybe there are survivors, he thinks. Slowly, he approaches the spot, careful nobody sees him. He looks around him and he sees some bodies on the ground. None of them are female. He sighs. He moves closer and closer to the
hiding place. He hides behind the bushes and starts looking through them. He sees a nightmare as he stares at the battlefield. There is a hole in the ground and a lot of bodies around it. He looks around for Isabel. But he cannot see her from this posi‐ tion. He turns around as his stomach starts to twist. He takes a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down. He then proceeds to walk through the bushes to look around. Then he sees her. A couple of meters to his right—Isabel. He walks to her to see if she is still alive. He is nervous and feels his heart pulsing through his veins, as he graces his fingers atop of her neck. He holds his breath and then gasps. A pulse. He can feel a pulse. How is that possible? He stares at her. This is not possi‐ ble, how is it possible you are still alive? Then he takes his jacket off and pulls it over her, picks her up, and hopes that he will make it to the hospital in time. He starts running, not wanting to be seen with her in broad daylight. He reaches the hospital and carries her inside. “Help, I need help,” he yells. People start running towards him to take her away. They place her onto a bed and immediately tend to her. For Michael, everything happens in slow-motion. He asks one of the men if she is going to be fine. He says he doesn’t know but they are going to do their best. Michael nods. Then he turns around and walks out of the hospital. Once outside, he lifts his head up towards the sun, closing his eyes. He doesn’t know what to think and he is exhausted. He starts walking home. He opens the front door and walks inside. His mum is in the kitchen, making breakfast, and looks at him. She sees the blood on his clothes. “What happened, Michael?” He stares at her for a moment and says “Nothing.” He sits down at the table and helps himself to a piece of bread. His brothers and sisters start walking in and join him at the table. They’re all engaged in conversation. His mum is watching him talk and laugh with his brothers and
sisters, dirty clothes still on but acting as if nothing had happened. Michael notices her glance. “I’m fine, Mum, nothing happened. I got a nosebleed; that is all.” He smiles at her and continues his conversation.
S UZANNE C ROMBAG IS A CONTEMPORARY MEDIA STUDENT , originally from The Netherlands, currently pursuing her film career in London. She has traveled to a lot of places and learned about several different cultures, which help her develop narra‐ tives and films.
OUTBREAK BY KAIXIN HUANG
D AY 1 The train arrives at Wuhan. Nana looks back, in the near distance each rail looks straight and independent. The further they go, the curlier they become, until they intertwine with each other thoroughly. Then the rails become several dots at the horizon. How cunning they are, Nana thinks. Far from people's surveillance, they go the way they want. Her phone is ringing again. She lets it ring for a long time, until the light of the screen dims again. â€œMiss, your phone is ringing.â€?
A little girl wearing a face mask pats her hand gently. "Thank you. That's my alarm clock." Nana stands in front of the gate of Wuhan Station and confronts the cold wind alone. She flinches. Someone hugs her from behind. A stream of warmth blows in her ear, she trembles a bit. “Why don’t you answer the phone. It’s so cold here!” Tong speaks like a child who is asking his mother for candy. “What? Did you call me? Why didn’t I hear it?” Nana turns around with a suspicious and peevish look, like a mother irri‐ tated by her child’s silly demands. “But I did call you. It’s so cold here!” Tong leaves Nana and walks away. He just wants to go back to his warm car. “Hey.” Tong turns around. Nana hands him a delicate bag. “I didn’t respond to you, because I was busy picking gifts for you.” “We are an ‘old couple’ now, you don’t need to bother buying me anything. It’s so cold here!” Tong takes the gift and continues his escape. She follows him quietly and slowly, with two giant suitcases in both of her hands. On the way home, Nana is considering how to make a perfect lie. She wants to leave Wuhan early. “Surprise!” Tong turns on the light, and the whole table is full of food. Spicy hot pot, Sichuan boiled fish, braised ribs. “No! No! No! Wash your hands first.” Nana ignores his instruction and shoves a rib into her mouth. Tong washes his hands and pours two glasses of juice for them. Tong is very pleased; he knows these are all Nana’s favorite foods. “Have you ever heard… ” “I know.” "So, stay with me... "
"I am.” “My mum asked me when we were going to get married. She wants a grandson.” At that moment, she feels the room become stagnant for a second. She hears the hot pot bubbling. She sees the gas gener‐ ated by soda escaping the glass. “It’s not the right time.” Clearly this is not what Tong wants to hear. The way he uses his chopsticks like he is playing chess, he sticks Queen here, and moves Knight there. The soup in the pot sprinkles everywhere, as does the rice. Nana pretends not to notice it, unlocks her mobile, then realises there are no messages waiting for her. It was her impetus that caused this corollary. Then she loses her appetite and walks away. Nana stands at the balcony and ignores the sound of the man projecting his anger. Tong’s parents bought this apartment for him to prepare for their upcoming marriage. As for Nana herself, she could never afford to buy a house like this. Tong’s apartment is on the 26th floor. From this height, everything is small and fragile. Far away, a blue dot moves very slowly. An ambulance. Can it run faster than Death? “Look, another ambulance.” Tong comes up from behind her as they stare out the window together. It’s true. Another ambulance appears. Appearing and disappearing. “We are trapped here,” he says gently beside her ear. There is nowhere to escape.
D AY 6 Nana is furious; slams the door and locks it. Just a moment earlier, Nana's mobile vibrated. "YOU RECEIVED A NEW MESSAGE."
She unlocked her mobile; heart pumping. The train to her hometown had been cancelled. Tong knocked on the door gently. “Hey, don’t worry babe, the city has been sealed, I’m here with you.” “Fuck off, you locked me here.”
F IVE DAYS HAD PASSED , AND DURING THESE FIVE DAYS , HER THREE neighbors, her uncle from another city, her ex-colleague and her best friend had been sent to hospital. Nana felt discon‐ certed, constantly checking the news, the websites, and the chat groups, purely out of the paranoia that if she neglected the situ‐ ation, someone she knew would be infected. This was what she had said to Tong, when she had to explain why she was staring so much at her phone screen and not at him. At the moment, the real cause of her morbidness is Yu. Nana still hasn’t received any messages from Yu. Yu is Nana’s other lover and colleague. His wife resides in Shanghai. According to Yu’s description, his wife is a real princess.
W HEN N ANA AND Y U LAST SAW EACH OTHER , N ANA CAME UP with an idea of how to avoid their partners learning of the affair. “One month, don’t contact each other.” Nana deleted Yu’s contact details. Then she took Yu's mobile and deleted hers. “Is this your little trick to dump me?” “C’mon, it’s a game to keep you thinking of me.” Yu held her hands firmly. She could sense the cocoon in his hand. He was nothing like Tong. Yu started his own business, was tough, confident, and he didn’t mind drinking excessively
with Nana. He knew how to take care of her. Nana thought Yu might’ve been the only reason she wished to stay in Beijing.
I N THESE FIVE DAYS , SHE TRIED TO RECONNECT WITH Y U , BUT failed. Nana sits at the bay window. There is a blue dot in a remote distance. It has been stuck there for a long time since the road is too narrow. Only the siren echoes. What about the patient and the family who are waiting for the ambulance? She feels suffocated. Nana opens the door. She walks out of the house, even as Tong begged her to stay. She says they must store some food to make it through this horrible time. The moment she steps out of the house, she experiences unexpected serenity. In this paused city, most people have returned to their natural roles. Men return to being fathers, husbands, boyfriends or sons. Women return to being mothers, wives, girlfriends, and daughters. Then they start to evaluate how they performed in these roles. What is my son’s favorite subject? When was the last time I ate a proper dinner with my husband? Why do my parents look so old? And there must be tons of husbands and wives gazing at their partners, considering why they chose this idiot. Repulsed, disgusted, astonished, regretful . “Go! Go! Go back to your own room! ” A man wearing a face mask is using a loudspeaker, broadcasting. People all rush back. Nana turns around immediately. There is an ambulance that stops at the opposite building. Doctors in protective suits come out. Several minutes later, Nana sees from the balcony that they take a man who has lost consciousness into the ambulance. As the ambulance leaves, a woman dashes out of the building and follows behind the ambulance, crying and screaming.
D AY 10 “If we can overcome this, will you marry me?” Something stings Nana. Before she met Yu, she had imag‐ ined this situation thousands of times. None of them were as casual as this. “Could you propose to me properly?” “We are already an ‘old couple’ now. It doesn’t matter.” Both of them are using their chopsticks to compete for a piece of rib. Nana wins the chopsticks battle. So, the future, Nana thinks. When couples discuss their future, it's a signal that they are so sick of the present. She thinks of Yu again. At first she thought they didn't have to think about the future and that they could be as greedy as they wanted to be to enjoy the pleasure, since they know one day they will become strangers again. Then, with the day of separation coming, her fear built up. They began to quarrel, doubt, promise and do memorable things, like other normal couples do. Nana said, “We met each other by god's will. If one day we receive another signal from above telling us not to continue, then we break up.” “So scrupulous.” “That’s how people from poor families survive.” Now, she cannot ignore a more obvious signal sent from above. Every course between them has been disrupted. “Do you agree?” “Not unless you propose to me properly.” “You don’t refuse me.” Tong smiles inscrutably, like a conspirator. But Nana is still tasting the braised rib, even though she had already swallowed the meat. Even the braised rib had already become a flavourless bone.
Nana has no more courage to face the fear alone, or the fear of losing anyone, including Tong. As for Yu, the moment he vanished from her mobile's screen, she knew her little trick was a success. She remembered why she wanted to start the game. Deep in her heart, she didn't believe the relationship could last long. So, before something scandalous broke out, she asked for the end to this relationship. The more Nana thinks back, the more she can decipher this disgraceful relationship. Nana grasps the reason she believes her love with Yu is so pure. The pure is distilled from pain, from excitement, from fear, from these genuine emotions, not from the love itself. She closes her eyes, like a little girl preparing to blow out the candles of her birthday cake. Nana then fetches a bottle from the kitchen. It’s a highranking rice wine given to her by Yu. “Let’s drink.” No, she is not celebrating, she is using wine to encourage herself. “But I don’t like to drink.” “Isn’t it a good day?” “But I don’t like rice wine.”
A BOUT AN HOUR LATER . N ANA IS PASSED OUT AND IS NOW LYING on the table. Tong goes back to his computer; he’s streaming an important football game. Someone knocks on the door. A man in a protective suit is standing outside. Tong can only see his eyes. This man has a pair of bright eyes. “Hello, sorry to bother you this late. I’m from Community Healthcare Service to measure every residents’ temperature.” “Please.” Tong invites the man into his house.
“Sorry about my girlfriend. She’s had too much to drink .” "I can help you move her to the bed.” “Don’t bother, she will wake up sooner or later.” “Nonsense, don’t you know it’s very dangerous to catch a cold now?” Tong agrees, he knows nothing about being drunk. When he and the man take Nana to the bed, he can’t understand why Nana’s face looks like she has been crying. “You’ve drunk a lot.” Tong uses his chin to point at the wine bottle. “She drank because she was happy. We are going to marry after this shit situation is over.”
W HEN THE MAN IS TESTING N ANA ’ S TEMPERATURE , T ONG GOES back to his football game. The man stands in front of Nana, listens to the cheering and football commentary getting louder and louder from behind. He feels the warmth of Nana’s face; wipes her tears. He leaves a letter under Nana’s pillow. "My mobile had been stolen the moment I left the airport. At first, I thought it was nothing big. I viewed it as a good opportu‐ nity to continue the game.” The man mumbles in front of Nana, like he is explaining everything to himself.
D AY 11 The next morning, the pure white light stings Nana’s eyes and wakes her. The curtains are wide open. The snow covers the city and reflects the sunlight. Wuhan has become a white city. She remembers everything she had said, including her agreement with the absurd proposal. She betrayed herself. She realises she doesn’t have the courage to spend a life with this tedious person.
Nana opens the wardrobe and starts packing.
H ALF AN HOUR LATER , SHE OPENS first footprints in this white city.
THE DOOR AND LEAVES THE
K AIXIN H UANG IS A PERSON WHO IS ALWAYS GOOD AT BEING THE chameleon; writing is the only way to split herself and attach some part of her to the world.
A MOMENTARY LAPSE BY SOPHIE KEEL
And I know full well what I summon When I play the song that reminds me of you, As nostalgia envelops me My heart is both broken and kindled; Your ghost still haunts me Although now you belong to someone else,
And even though it hurts me To think of you is a comfort And a curse; So late at night when sleep evades me, I listen to our music, With words too accurate, you becomes real again Then the song ends And you are gone once more. Afterwards The low hum of the city outside is restored, Voices and laughter echo from the street; I am surrounded by people Yet I feel more alone than ever.
S OPHIE K EEL IS A HERBAL MEDICINE STUDENT , A RELENTLESS daydreamer, and writes poetry, usually at night, when she canâ€™t sleep and her mind is restless. She often wishes she could have lived in the 40s or 50s, and she loves the glamour and romantiâ€? cism of a good monochromatic heartbreak, and of course the grand gestured reunion.
A TEARFUL SKY BY BAGESHREE MEHTA
I T WAS 5 A . M . ON A S UNDAY IN THE CITY OF M UMBAI , AND THE car honks, muezzins’ call to prayer, and Asian koels’ rhythmic humming were beginning to pack action into the day. The dawn was a few minutes from colouring the city’s landscape, which was pronounced with the heaviness of smoke and grime. The relatively silent hour before the milkmen would begin to compulsively strike the rusty bell mounted on the handlebar of their bicycles, to signal their arrival to their daily customers, and after the stray dogs had retreated to their neighbourhoods following a night of quarreling with other strays, was the only time the city truly ever breathed. As chaos was beginning to spread across the length and breadth of the city, the Sharma
household was comfortably tucked into the slumber of the dark, ignorant of the telephone that finally fell silent after buzzing intermittently through the night without any luck, and the disruption that a new day, amidst the growing chaos of the city, was to bring in their lives. The master bedroom was a landscape bearing a series of steady movements. The large family portrait, which hung on the wall behind the bed, gently oscillated every time the vent of the air conditioner moved up the frame of the bed. The baby, who had rolled over to the edge of the bed, tugged at his mother’s blanket looking for the comfort of her touch. The ticking of the antiquated wall clock steadily matched the pace of Sheena’s snoring, which alternated with light wheezing, before the door‐ bell went off in successive chimes. As the echo of the unex‐ pected doorbell lingered through the house, Sheena sat up with a jerk, wide awake, before pulling her baby in an embrace. The momentariness of silence following the echo was replaced with loud cries of the baby, as Sheena flung the blanket on the other side of the bed and paced out of the room, banging the door shut, as the family portrait that hung on the wall started making more rapid movements.
T HE DOORS OF THE HOUSE OPENED TO A BOUT OF HOT AIR AND AN old man lurking at the entrance. On a regular day, Sheena would have been rocking her infant to sleep after nursing him, to soothe his nocturnal hunger cries, while narrating stories about his father’s bravery in the war zone. The expression of the man waiting at the doorstep was anything but what Sheena would have expected from the man. After anticipating the purpose of his presence, Sheena’s eyes, reflecting fear, tried to avoid him, and instead looked at the sky, as if they were condi‐ tioned to look for the unpleasantness that came with the dark‐ ness of the hour.
The door remained partially open, as Sheena put her foot back into the house in as unhurried a manner as possible. After walking a few steps in the hallway, her body succumbed to the floor, when her feet could no longer hold her. Sheena’s face remained expressionless, as the words she had just heard rever‐ berated in her ears. Your husband has become a martyr. He was killed last night at the LoC. It bore the same stillness that the house was in before the tolling of the bells. The words Sheena had just heard swept the ground off her feet and all she did was fix her eyes to the ground. The news that she had been dread‐ ing, from the time she decided to marry a soldier, had finally arrived. It was a piece of information that was soon going to alter the reality of her life, as the widow of a martyr. Her infant would grow up without ever having seen his father. The picture that his mind would paint of his father would only depict him as a proud son of his land, a soldier who put his nation above everything else, a martyr who laid down his life to protect the dignity of his country’s soil, and a proud husband who let his loyalty and commitment to his duties precede him.
T HE ARRIVAL OF THE S UNDAY NEWSPAPERS IN THE HOUSE , through the gap between the door and the floor, marked the onset of dawn. Cars, scooters and buses were back, bringing liveliness and noise and back to the streets, almost hiding an ambulance in broad daylight. A martyr had united with his family one last time, before returning to the soil of his mother‐ land. As the sunlight became more prominent, the number of people at Sheena’s house kept increasing. Men and women, dressed in white, bore expressions of surprise and grief upon entering the premises of her residence, while practicing the customary namaste. Sheena’s face continued to bear stillness, as she remained oblivious to the growing crowd in the hallway and sat motionless next to her husband’s body, as if she was
showing her undying commitment to her role as his better half, even after his soul had transcended the worldly barriers. The man who had borne the responsibility of telling Sheena that she had been widowed, was growing increasingly worried looking at Sheena, who hadn’t given any reaction to the news of her husband’s death until this time. I beg you daughter, please say something. Cry as loud as you want, but please react. The martyr was laid on the funeral pyre for his final proces‐ sion, after his body was rinsed with warm water and a new pair of white clothes was slipped on. The face of the dead soldier looked every bit tranquil, suggesting the sense of pride that came with his sacrifice. The visitors stood up to pay their final respects to the departed soul by standing in silence, while garlands of white and orange marigolds, festooned with tulsi leaves, adorned the hands of the martyr’s kin. The sound of loud chants soon filled the air, as everyone in the crowd sought eternal peace for the dead. Sheena continued to remain grounded and unfazed by the crowd’s repeated attempts to talk her out of the situation, and distract her from her aimless star‐ ing, to get her to express her grief. Cotton plugs were pulled out of the nose and ears of the dead body, and the men around waited to shoulder the martyr and take him to his final place of rest. The women of the family tried to shake Sheena up, until one of them stood up to give one last shot at getting her to react, before her husband was sent off. The infant, who was fast asleep, was placed between Sheena and her husband. The baby’s face gave a glimpse of dried tears that had left marks all over his face, as he tried to move about helplessly soon after he was laid on the bare marble flooring. For once, Sheena’s eyes moved from the ground to her baby; a baby that was desperately looking for the comfort of his moth‐ er’s warmth, as he was exposed to the cold and harsh surface of the floor. No longer able to see her child’s pain, Sheena scooped him up in her embrace, thus interrupting her long phase of still‐
ness. Just as the baby clutched his mother’s arm, the air was filled with the sound of heavy gasps. Sheena’s cries reverberated through the house. The visitors expressed their relief in a huge sigh, as tears rolled down Sheena’s eyes. As her husband set off on the final procession, the afternoon sun hid under a blanket of grey skies. The entire city saluted their nation’s hero.
B AGESHREE M EHTA DONS THE HAT OF A WRITER AT MOST TIMES , seamlessly manoeuvring her fingers across the keyboard, to meet her blog’s deadline. Everything else that gets done in between only serves as an inspiration for her words, including her furry companion’s licks.
SUBTERRANEAN LUST BY IAIN PINN
W ITH A GRINDING JUDDER , THE TUBE SLOWED AND THEN HALTED midway through the tunnel. Inside, the carriage lights stuttered as the air thickened around a dissonant surge of irritated tics, rustles, and sighs. Sitting cramped among the passengers, nestled quietly at the front of the train, Harris Clod could feel every drop of blood as it surged across his body. Time dragged as the train remained rooted, lingering dormant in the sootblack tunnel. Those sitting around Harris were becoming increasingly distracted by the lengthening delay. In front of him, an old man angrily tutted, and his loud disdain sent a stream of other, equally simmering, tuts rippling through the carriage. Emboldened by the growing commotion, Harris knew
that this was his chance. He peeled his eyes from the phone in his palm and glanced swiftly upward. In an instant, he was transfixed, as his eyes were drawn inex‐ orably toward the single most wondrous woman he had ever seen. He rubbed his eyes with the backs of his clammy hands, then pinched himself, but it wasn't a dream—she was as real as he was. Harris's wild eyes began traversing every inch of her burly frame until finally, his gaze fleetingly met hers. Harris began to smile, but promptly thought better of it, after recalling the terrified wails following an attempted grin in Greggs Bakery the week before. Instead, Harris hastily averted his gaze, letting it settle instead on the relative safety of a poster advertising incontinence pads for men. Then, with a snapping downward jerk of his head, he hastily returned his eyes to the sanctuary of his phone screen. Suddenly, a glistening sheen of sweat began to cover Harris's already crimson face. As he mopped his sodden brow, he knew with absolute certainty that he was in love. The object of Harris's burning desire was the stout, middleaged building control officer who sat directly across from him. To Harris, she exuded pure provocativeness, from the way in which her Wandsworth Borough Council lanyard was draped nonchalantly around her thick, muscular neck, to her angelicsounding name—Naomi Fishwater. Harris risked another brief look, and this time his eyes fell upon Naomi's beautifully manicured hands. He felt a roaring flutter in his stomach as he looked at her stubby fingers, each of them tipped liberally with gaudy red nail varnish, reminding him at once of ketchup-covered frankfurters—his favourite delicacy. All of a sudden, with a heavy wrench, the train began moving forward, and as it did, it caused Harris's heart rate to double. He could feel it now, pounding against the insides of his ribcage, like a maniac playing the xylophone with a club hammer. Pulling up to the platform, the train then halted. To
Harris's dismay, the romantic tension was then severed completely when Naomi hastily got off. Harris strained to catch one final, fleeting glimpse as she scuttled sweetly toward the station exit before dissolving into the commuting throng. Harris let out a love-laden sigh, sank back into his seat, and closed his eyes in a lusty daze.
O VER THE COURSE OF THE FOLLOWING THREE MONTHS , H ARRIS made sure that he sat opposite Naomi every morning, even if that meant having to regularly sit in the lap of someone else. With each increasingly heated journey, the deep admiration he felt for Naomi grew, until finally it blossomed into a fervent, passionate obsession. And so, on a particularly sweltering Tuesday morning in mid-August, whilst wearing his mother's lace wedding dress, Harris finally boiled over. Not for a single second longer could he keep his love buried. In a joyous outburst, he dashed his full coffee cup into the lap of the busiâ€? nessman sitting on his right-hand side. Then, in an exuberant display of wild romantic enthusiasm, he rolled up his sleeves, and, with one swipe, offered Naomi his hand in marriage.
H AVING NEVER ACTUALLY SPOKEN TO H ARRIS BEFORE , N AOMI WAS understandably quite taken aback by his grand public display of affection. She sat there frozen, rooted in her seat, and unsure of how to react. However, she forced herself to open her eyes, wiped her face and tried to compose herself. Then, to Harris's surprise, Naomi slowly reached out and warily accepted his offer, softly taking his hand in hers. Harris was truly elated, but he was also growing quite pale. As he slumped back down into his dusty tube seat, he felt lightâ€?
headed from the shock and giddy with raw emotion. Naomi peered at him in unbroken astonishment, trying to force a contorted smile onto her greying face. She quivered as she continued to hold Harris's pale blue hand. Then, to her great relief, the cleaver dropped with a clatter to the floor, having fallen from Harris's right hand as he slipped out of consciousâ€? ness from loss of blood. At the next stop, Naomi decided it might be best to get off with the other screaming passengers. As she hurried along the platform, she delicately wrapped Harris's hand in a plastic carrier bag, and popped the severed appendage into a recycling bin. Then, after a brief period of vomiting, she caught the next train to Tooting Bec, where she met her old friend Clara Hen outside of Argos. Harris now gets the bus to work.
I AIN P INN IS A SHORT STORY WRITER OF LIMITED REPUTE AND ALSO an enthusiastic poet. His stories have never been published, but his poetry has been laughed at by a handful of peopleâ€”often at the wrong times. He lives in South East London with his despairing wife.
FRIENDSHIP IS A LOVE AFFAIR AND OTHER POEMS BY VALERIA RYRAK
Friendship is a Love Affair Friendship is a love affair Or so they say, or so they say, I doubted them, I really did, I always said, fine then, let Life prove it. A short while ago, the fields were blight, Neâ€™er a robin in the sky, The soil was scorched, the seas ran dry, I was the only person left alive
And then Life did, it hit bull’s eye Checkmated my doubt, twice played the ace; I suppose it easiest to say I met the ones who wouldn’t turn away. Now I keep them all inside my head— Their voices are good company; The wellspring of this great, symphonic choir Is now the seat of my desire, is where ideas gather Is where I’ll leave my youth, but not before I say They were my friends, I fell in love this way. You, people, every single dearest one I see the me reflected in your eyes As I am not, as I would like to be But then I also see a better, future, me. All my false floors and secret attics, My underground vaults and caverns By virtue of your liking me Are now made discernible, so suddenly. And I say, such good is no illusion, You’ve proved it, Life, you’ve proved it.
Job Loss This does not surprise me, The fuse had been lit for a while now, And we—held hostage by this sickening feeling Of soon being bombed out Can do nothing but panic.
Ah, yes, the terror—freezing Icy tingling of insects as they invade your skin. No, this is not a job for pest control Just a side effect of being always on your own, Of questioning your sanity. Cast off into the wild unknown, Flotsam and jetsam of the coming tide, In the great economic tuning of all time Don’t search for a north star, nor a moral compass, You’re now Crusoe, the situation—hopeless. To think, how we are all corrupted. The grime and slime of it, and your survival instincts Are dog-eat-dog, and one plus one Will always equal zero-sum. This city doesn’t need us, It’s got people more evolved, Purer souls to compensate for our measly offerings, Real human characters, talented, rare finds. We are just two out of seven billion The Earth can afford to do without. So let the bomb explode Let the explosion hold, I know a poem doesn’t save the world But let it nonetheless record How in this cold and heartless city Blood runs warm and cries are piercing.
McQueen Leaves stain the sad concrete sidewalk— A lithographic collage, Just like pain splattered your own fabric creations Striding forth with its contention, bearing arms. Satin, silk, damask and filigree Your life’s heart-strung embroidery Resounded with what’s talked of in the streets. You showed us how macabre women are When dressed in armour; The feminine mystique was your work’s main relief, Uncanny was the vision you received. Red-cape taffeta billowing like blood pumping Armadillo shoes that are human hooves; Waywardly you made the fabric speak to me, A composite of dissonance and harmony. Through the sibilance of critics To the music of your disco Your bespoke suits spoke of the fact That the sartorial is more than what’s put on our backs To cover shame, protect us from the elements. Through this you yielded a reply To the political arena, to history’s big jaded sigh; Not the beautiful, but the sublime is the material you found To swaddle us in fearlessness, Vulnerability to confound.
You showed us this, before you went Spurred by the cold draft of loneliness, contempt, Death was a knot you could not undo You had your art, but it could not hold you As she had done, that stately lady Who ministered to your mind, and held it up to light When creepers would come calling in the night. She’d clean it up, she’d clean it up When you had no wedding band to hug your finger tight. She was the first to go, muse of the world, Isabella Blow Then your mother, too, until it seemed there was No one left for you to hold on to. Pleasure radiated only from the noose That’s always in collusion with a mind unkempt, unironed. So did the snake defeat the king: Now London rains for its McQueen.
My Diana Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge— I see them on TV—poised, impeccable, Two cherubic kids—a happy family. They do good work around the world, I hear: Cutting ribbons, shaking hands, setting fashion trends; Glory be to these Joneses of our age.
Their main job, apart from being Future heads of state Is to epitomise the nuclear family— Joseph, Mary, Raphael-painted kids; Whatever tarnishes there be are airbrushed out, perfectly. Such forbearance, and such clean, The kind of clean that sends me Scrubbing to the sink again, Yet taint I still see—this antiseptic’s not for me, My waters get roiled easily; I say what I think And what I think is rarely what anyone else thinks, I do what I want—and rarely does anyone else want this. Seeing this irreproachable charade I start missing Diana—the blacker swan, The nonconformist duckling. She must’ve been a handful, That one. She had the whole House of Windsor Up in arms. And yet she was the People’s Princess, She played with spades, yet was the Queen of Hearts, She was so many women all at once. Her imperfect perfection was fallible, temperamental, golden; In the public eye she suddenly turned liberated— A dove who’d flown off from the circus, a misbegotten bride, She saw pathology where we see only royalty, She opened up our eyes when she chose to cradle life.
Few before or since her have come so near the rub By hugging lepers, feeding beggars She took upon herself their plight. We loved her so much, we killed her The intoxicated driver is an after-fact, Now weâ€™re left with Will and Kateâ€” But who can live up to that?
What do you get when you mix a Ukrainian with a Canadian? You get all the cold, hard, vodka-infused truths of a Ukrainian with the saccharine maple syrup of a Canadian; in other words, you get Valeria Ryrak.
WHERE SOUTHWARK MEETS THE CITY BY CLAUDETTE BENJAMIN
51°30’29”N O ° O 5’16”W - London Bridge, Today. And over there, it stood: the gateway to London, the nexus between the North and South, pilgrim and odyssey, moral and immoral. And to this day, there has never been another quite like it…
I USED TO THINK OF L ONDON B RIDGE AS MERELY A PLACE OF convenience. It was perfectly centred between the two ends of
London, meaning Southwark could easily meet the city by allowing pedestrians and traffic alike to cross over the river to get from A to B. It was also a good place to meet Elina, my best friend from the North of the capital, as I’d come up from the South and we’d cross paths in the middle. In short, I used to think of London Bridge as a halfway point. It was “Central London” to me. Nothing more, nothing less. On the day that saw the United Kingdom leave the European Union, however, I never thought of London Bridge in the same way again. That afternoon, I sat by a cast iron statue on the south side of the bridge, as I often did, waiting for a ridiculously late Elina. I called her up begrudgingly, unamused as I was left to my own devices on a chaotic weekend which brought out both protestors and so-called patriots in equilibrium. “Sorry, just passing Monument,” Elina texted me as I watched both “we demand a second referendum” and “we’ve got our country back” signs float past me, the owners of such bearing only passion for cause as a common trait. As the Ancients stood against the Moderns, where Becket stood against King Henry II, as Naipaul stood against Theroux, and as Harry stood against Voldemort, the Remainers stood against the Brexiteers. Four years prior, I likely would have joined the Remainers in their counter-chants of “Stop Brexit,” against the “Bye-Bye, EU’s,” but I had since lost my passion for politics. The quadren‐ nial period had burnt out almost an entire nation. So much so, it was gratefulness rather than vexation I’d felt when a tour guide stood before me, blocking my view of the people’s charade. He was among a small group of sightseers, carefully admiring the statue attached to the stone plinth I was resting on. He carried his voice over the activists, forcing me to eavesdrop on their conversation. Upon doing so, I noticed for the first time that the statue was not there simply for decoration. It was actually a
boundary mark, representing one’s odyssey from Southwark to the city, and vice versa. As one of the sightseers stepped back and forth next to me in fascination, I felt tempted to get up and join him. I was further intrigued to do so when I found out my home in the South was once a criminal hotspot in the medieval times, and stepping past this invisible boundary mark would’ve been like jumping from a moral to an immoral London. The tour guide said this was because the North and South were once two separate entities, with the South free from the city’s hegemony until it was made part of the County of London in 1889. He added that the South had a large Flemish population, which I found paradoxical given contemporary London’s less than genteel ambiance. A sightseer pointed this out, too. The tour guide nodded his head impar‐ tially, but I could tell he wanted to agree. A combination of having social anxiety and an inquisitive ear made me decide against getting up to criss-cross the boundary mark, but carry on listening to the tour. I then learnt that the statue was actually of a dragon. It stood in a rampant stance, reminding me of a defiant horse in battle. Apparently, this was the heraldic attitude of the supporters on the City of London’s arms, and thus, was how all the dragons of London stood. The tour guide said there were many more throughout the city, so I took a mental note to find them one day. Embarrassingly, however, this was all news to me. It seemed that, like almost every other Londoner, I had always been too concerned with my own goings-on to look up and be mindful. The practice of colliding the psychological with the geographi‐ cal, or psychogeography, as Guy Debord and the Situationists came to call it—a fact I’d soon learn whilst browsing through Bishopsgate’s plentiful archives—was here a foreign concept. I was a victim of a solipsistic world, trained only to care about tweets, selfies and celebrity gossip. But I was glad to be making changes. After all, it must’ve been the first time I had looked up
at a statue not as a focal point for my daydreams, but out of curiosity for its meaning. I’d later learn I had become the flâneuse, when I read feminist scholar Lauren Elkin’s book on the term in the British Library. It was coined to represent the female flâneur, or “dawdling observer”—a woman about town who floats around aimlessly on a psychogeographical venture. However, in truth, I would not have called myself a conscious observer; at least not until I overheard the following tale: And over there, it stood… today, it is known as the Old London Bridge…
The tour guide introduced the story like a student explaining what course they studied to new acquaintances. I could feel that his words had been rehearsed, repeated so many times it felt as if someone had spun him around, pressed a button on his back and forced him to speak them. Over and over again, he must’ve told this story, yet, somehow, like a doll, he managed to maintain the same enthusiasm of someone telling it a first time. It was with such enthusiasm that he capti‐ vated his audience, with myself as the unspoken member of the party. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. King Henry II. A dispute. Murder in 1176. Regret. The canonisation of Becket in 1173. A brand new, stone London Bridge in place of the old. A chapel in its centre; Becket as martyr. Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Nineteen arches to hold up an array of houses and shops. Gatehouses at both ends. People and livestock on the streets. Thirty-three years to complete. Henry II dies before it’s finished. King John’s reign.
As I heard about how the shrine of Becket became the offi‐ cial start of the pilgrimage to Kent in Chaucer’s The Canterbury
Tales, I decided I would pick it up at the library tomorrow and finally read it. I also grimaced as I learnt that Chaucer’s family were once wine merchants who traded with continental producers. Yet more incongruity born out of avant-garde protest. As I heard about the finalisation of the new, but old London Bridge, I decided I was beginning to feel quite bad for old Henry. Not only did he kill the Archbishop and live to regret it, but he also never got to see the result of his own life’s work. In fact, even with all the history books and the installation of 5G, not even the bridge’s twenty-first century wanderers bothered to remember it. Of course, this excused a few great minds, such as the tour guide and the attentive few that surrounded him. However, the remaining inhabitants of the bridge were either similarly victims to tweets, selfies and celebrity gossip, or, axiomatically, to Brexit, which I could hardly blame them for. I couldn’t help but think to myself: was his work all for nothing, then? Nothing seemed a bit dramatic at first—Old London Bridge was around for six-hundred years, after all. But as a member of the group took a photo of himself against the Tower Bridge backdrop while the tour guide spoke, an answer formed to my aforementioned question. I thought, if only he had created an app, or a website, or a mobile phone—or even a Snapchat filter —then perhaps things would have been different for poor old Henry. 1305. Heads on Spikes for 355 years. A fire hazard. A fire in 1212. Burnt in 1381. Tudor Period. Burnt in 1450. Fires again in 1633, Monument and the Great Fire of London 1666, more fires 1725, 1758. Waterwheels. “Shoot the bridge.” Overcrowding. Drive on the left in 1722. The Great Arch. “London Bridge is Falling Down… ”
The gruesome heads of traitors like Guy Fawkes and
William Wallace on spikes did not surprise me. Nor did the poor construction of the arches, the inevitable fires, or even the foolhardy shrieks of men drowning as they attempted to steer boats through the bridge’s starlings in times of flood—what I learnt to be called “shooting the bridge.” After all, I knew from my GCSE History classes that England’s primitive days and bloodshed went hand in hand. However, what did surprise me was how Britain’s tradition of driving on the left began on the very bridge we were talking about. Apparently, when the bridge became so congested in 1722, the Lord Mayor decided to have everyone coming in from Southwark to the city keep to the west side, and those travelling from the city to Southwark to keep to the east. As a car zoomed past me skirting a puddle, I didn’t think about how it almost splashed me and ruined my outfit the way I would have before. Instead, I thought about how drivers travel much faster now than they once would have, all thanks to the Lord Mayor’s words. It was fascinating. So much so, I’d forgotten I was still waiting for Elina. St Magnus the Martyr’s Church. 0.2 miles away. Towards the city. Lower Thames Street. Old entrance, slightly further west, now. A piece of Old London Bridge. A plaque which reads:
THE CORPORATION OF THIS CHURCHYARD FORMED PART OF THE ROADWAY APPROACH TO OLD LONDON BRIDGE 1176-1831 THE CITY (COAT OF ARMS) OF LONDON I used to think of London Bridge as merely a place of conve‐
nience, that was until I longed to take the 0.2 mile walk over to St Magnus the Martyr’s Church to see pieces of the Old London Bridge that I wanted to go home and read about. Patricia Pierce’s nonfiction would be the second book I would read, right after Chaucer. When she finally arrived and disrupted the party I wasn’t invited to, Elina told me I was boring her. I said a silent, “goodbye,” to the tour guide, wishing to thank him for opening my eyes to the beauty of the bridge, but remaining in a chokehold of anxiety when I tried to do so. When I walked down Lower Thames Street with Elina later that day and she refused to let me have a look around the church because she needed Wi-Fi, I realised something irrefutable. Gone were the days of Debord and the psychogeo‐ graphical, and in were the days of Apple and the ignorant. And gone they were for good. That was until we drank soy lattes in a Pret a Manger and Elina told me I was probably right, and that the signs and the banners, the authority and the powerless, and the mentality of the “I’m right, you’re wrong,” were making her think more about history. She suddenly wanted to know everything I had discovered, so I took it upon myself to show her. We went back to the Southwark boundary mark and we drifted across the bridge as it stood today while I talked about the Old London Bridge. I taught her it was more than a place to walk by to see the view, to get from A to B, “Central London,” somewhere to meet, or a domicile of protest. I taught her it wasn’t just a halfway point where Southwark met the city. I taught her it was the city. With that in mind, she finally took me back to the days of Debord, and we started our journey back towards St Magnus the Martyr’s Church. I never did get her to read Chaucer, though.
Claudette Benjamin is a short story writer from Milton Keynes, but loves to write the city of London. She typically writes contemporary fiction, but has recently sparked an interest in psychogeography and non-fiction, which she hopes to practice more of in the future. She would say writing is her second love, right after animals.
THE MAN WHO CAN’T BE MOVED BY DIANE BENJAMIN
H E JUST APPEARED SUDDENLY ON A S UNDAY , THERE HE WAS JUST sitting there slap bang in the middle of Oxford Circus. Sitting crossed legged and swathed in a rather tatty non-descript gray blanket. His hair was growing over his ears with just a hint of what might once have been a smart business cut. It streaked across his forehead in a clump like it hadn’t been washed in a few days. People looked up in casual curiosity, at what they all thought—and I thought—was another sad London story of a broken soul acting out on some misguided drink induce delu‐ sion that would be swept away by the attrition of the city, eroded into just a daily foot note, a tale told later at dinner
tables, and do you remember the time when... lunch time chat‐ ting with friends. But no: he was the man who could not and would not be moved.
T HE FIRST TO TRY WERE OF COURSE THE W EST E NDS FINEST , FIVE Bobbies sent along in a van. At first two officers approach him and started to talk to him, but he never stirred a single muscle, not an eye flicker betrayed a response to their presence. There was a short lull and then two of them stood behind him one on either side of him, grabbing him under the arms, while a third stood in front holding on to his feet. It would be all over soon. There was a small stir in the crowd of passersby that had gath‐ ered, a collective movement as they prepared to move on— nothing more to see here. Knees were bent and backs were braced, as up the officers lifted, and then lowered and nothing happened. The man was still there just as before. The crowd rocked back into their former poses. An ambulance, paramedic car and paramedic motorcyclist arrive in quick succession. Monitorings were made, heads were nodded and shaken. The crowd gathered larger and now swarmed onto the Circus. Straining and craning. “No, he’s still there.” “Who is he?” “Why is he here?” “Why don’t they move him?” But he just kept on sitting.
N EXT CAME MORE POLICE BUT THE RESULT WAS THE SAME . H E SAT unmoved. They decided to build a little cordon around him. Orange cones and yellow tape at first. A man turned up, brown jacket, brown tie, brown trousers, carrying a brown leather bag.
He sat on a small stool inside the cordon talking endlessly on and on. The man did not move.
T HERE WAS SOME JEERING AS THE DAY WORE ON TO NIGHT AND the curiosity of the day turned to wild desperate confusion of the night. More police arrived and a bigger cordon went up. This time metal bars. I went home thinking all the time of the man that just sat and never moved. TV and media turned up so that far and wide could share in the story of a man that sat and never moved. I tuned in eagerly.
M ONDAY Still there and the rerouting and commuting ssw a change of crowd, a change of mood. I began to recognise some faces in the crowd, of what I now thought of as the regulars. A few people decided to join him but were soon removed. Copy cat sitters popped up around the city, around the country, around the world. But they could not compete with the champion sitter of Oxford Street.
T UESDAY . Next, came the chanters and dancers falling at his feet. “He is the chosen one”, they repeated spreading petals on the floor and burning prayers. “He has come to save us.” But he did not move or speak. The media scooped up every word from the followers as a story about a man that sat and never spoke needed some explaining. Maybe the worshipers had the answer? But maybe not? Who did have the answer? Questions were asked in the Commons; should the army be sent in? •
W EDNESDAY . Next came Britain’s strongest man onto the scene “I will move this man for you” he proclaimed if they will let me have a go. After some conferring and theatrics for the camera, including the tying of a huge wide leather belt around his middle with grunts and stretching, down he squatted his face fixed with determination, which struck fear into the entire gathered crowd. Now it would be over. He pulled and strained turning from red to purple to white and yellow, as the blood pumped and drained from his face. Finally his feet went skyward and he sat on the hard unyielding surface of the road, shaking his head and rubbing the sweat from his brow. The man was still there, unmoved.
T HURSDAY . As the week moved on the man was still sitting. But the crowd was smaller and the passersby just pass by. No longer of interest. All except the regulars. We were there every day, a smallish group which formed between the tube steeps and the corner barriers. Safe we thought from being moved on or being much noticed. We didn’t know why we came or why he sat, but we were all locked in this time and space drawn by some deep primal urge.
F RIDAY . I noticed one or two of the regulars were missing. It felt strange. Should I still have come to watched? Should I still have cared? But he was still there and so was I and most of the regu‐ lars were there too. I looked at them closely for the first time, not as a collection of physical characteristics and attire—the man with the brown two tone woolly bobble hat, that he pulled down firmly over his ears, but still bouncy black and grey curls
escaped from under it, the lady in the bright pink all weather jacket sploshed with yellow flowers, hiding a slightly plump figure, an elderly man tall and slim like an upright garden cane —and thought of what was going on beyond in their lives that brought them here day after day. It was then that just for an instance I thought he opened his eyes and looked at me. Right at me, seeing only me. I blinked and he was in the same position again. I felt a connection I could not explain an exchange that broke the barrier of speech and infused a thousand ideas in an instance.
S ATURDAY . Almost a week of watching and waiting. An old canvas tent —like one from my Girl Guides days—had gone up around him, so we saw nothing. But the regulars were all there even those that were missing yesterday. Was something going to happen? With less to see we speculated on theories formed in the proceeding silent watching. “Mental health,” offered pink jacket lady, “maybe ex-army.” “No—a broken heart, surely,” muttered bobble hat guy.
T HE LAST DAY . S UNDAY . Gone. He just disappeared suddenly on a Sunday. No one is sure what happened, when the regulars gathered in the usually place the tent was coming down and the man was gone. “Oh,” exclaimed the upright elderly man. He turned and left too. There was some shuffling and then moving on. I noticed some of the regulars broke off into twos or threes, bonded by the watching and waiting. Others like myself left as they had arrived. Alone.
A T HOME I TUNED INTO THE RADIO AND SCANNED THE TV channels, but there was no mention of what happened to the man. Just the story on a woman who gave birth to triplets in the back of a taxi during a snow storm in Canada; a man finding long lost treasure in his back garden while digging foundations for a new shed and Chef Khan making the world’s bigger onion bhaji in East London. I suppose a story about a man that could and had been moved just didn’t make such a good headline as one that could not be moved.
A FEW DAYS LATER I WAS DRAWN BACK TO THE PLACE THAT HAD been the subject of my close scrutiny for seven days. Crowds bubbled up from under the ground bubbling along Oxford Street and Regent Street, pouring along like an effervescent form, constantly moving and changing in form and colour. Iconic red buses swished through Oxford Circus making a wide arc across the place the man had sat. No one stopped to look any more, only me. I looked out across the flat bare surface of the Circus; no sign of the drama that had unfolded there was left. Only I could see a faint outline on the road where the newly laid tarmac didn’t quite match the older used surface. “He changed my life,” wafted a hushed voice from behind me. Without turning, I replied, “Yes, me too.”
I STOOD FOR A MOMENT LOST IN THOUGHT AND WHEN I DID eventually look round I saw the pink coated lady walking away into the distance. But she wasn’t wearing a pink coat anymore she had on a smart tailored camel coat and was carrying a smart
business type bag. She looked as if she was off to somewhere important. I turned towards the tube and descended down into the station below, pulling along my small compact suitcase packed with the contents of my life. Donâ€™t worry Oxford Circus I will return again, one day.
D IANE B ENJAMIN LIVES IN M ILTON K EYNES , WORKING LOCALLY AT a large Secondary Comprehensive as a Teaching Assistant embedded in the English department. She enjoys spending time with her family, having four grown up children. She also enjoys reading and long walks.
PROTEST BY NELS CHALLINOR
I T WAS A BRIGHT COLD DAY IN J UNE AND THE CLOCKS WERE striking thirteen. We were two hours in, standing in front of Downing Street when the skies opened up. The rain came first as a sprinkle, then a shower, then receded, cycling through these stages with maddening regularity. Umbrellas sprouted up from the crowd, bristling like legionnaire’s shields into a loose phalanx. Above the bustle, the shouts, and the patter of the rain, an MP was speaking. “These are our streets,” she said with confidence, standing atop a stage covered by a simple tent. Raindrops rolled off the black canvas and fell to the concrete below. Police officers
ambled around the crowd, puffing their chests out and making furtive small talk. These are our streets. But are they? The MP was referring to the abstract, not the concrete. The path that the narrative will take, not the road that serves as its setting. Her claim was akin to that of protestors worldwide, though my mind leapt to Ferguson, to Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s documentary Whose Streets?. The filmmakers interviewed people on the ground, reclaiming the narrative of the protest from a media that had demonised it, had turned it upside-down and ugly. The man whose narrative we were fighting outside Downing Street is a master of the upside-down and the ugly. His disre‐ gard for facts goes well beyond simple spin doctoring and into the realm of the pathological liar. From the stage, Richard Burgin quotes James Baldwin, saying, “ignorance, allied with power is the most ferocious enemy to justice”. But this absolves our enemy of too many of his sins. He is not merely ignorant and powerful. His hatred is pointed, maniacal, and intentional. In the rain, we were waiting for his version of the narrative, which came in the form of a tweet, as per usual. A spurious claim that we were there to support him. I will reply with the only language he seems to understand, a retweet, as selective as the memory and imagination of the man himself: “It was quite the opposite.” Walking among the crowds that had gathered beneath Nelson’s Pillar, the evidence of opposition was everywhere, and not just against him. Signs and placards, pamphlets, chants, and costumes, all advertising our discontent. We were against the Tories, against Boris, against privatisation of the NHS. We were against Brexit and the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestine. We were anti-antisemitism, anti-misogyny, antipollution. We were against Islamophobia, homophobia, xeno‐ phobia. We were against it all. Especially the hair. That ubiquitous hair. Somewhere between orange and gold
and recognisable as Mr. Peanut’s monocle. Put the hair on a baby, a dog, a chicken, a toilet, and the analogy holds. We hated that hair. But I wondered, is it enough to hate? Can a group of people be united in such disparate and multitudinous antagonisms? Where was the agenda? What was the solution? The solution remains to be seen, but the effort is all we have. The standing-in-the-rain, shouting, screaming, kicking, danc‐ ing, loving struggle is our only weapon against a mounting danger. It is a danger that goes by many names, as many names as there were signs above the crowd. But the danger is real. It is poisoning our rivers, our mouths, our minds. It is stealing from the poor and filling the vaults of the rich. It is in every bullet fired from a police officer’s gun and in the hands of every man who grabs at a woman. And it is in the narratives that protect those bullets, those hands. Across the barrier, past the reporters and photographers, I saw a sign: “Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard—Harvey Milk.” A chant of “Stand up fight back!” tore through the crowd and I joined in. I do not know what will fix the problems of the world. But in order to own the narrative we must sing. We must sing, and sing together, for nothing will be won with a solo. It is going to take a chorus.
N ELS C HALLINOR IS A WRITER AND MUSICIAN FROM THE P ACIFIC Northwest of the United States. He has had stories appear in Wordsmith H_Q's The Purple Breakfast Review, Visual Verse, and previous issues of the Wells Street Journal. Nels is also the coeditor of a literary magazine for absurdist humour, Great Ape.
PSYCHOSKELETALGEOGRAPHY@SOUTHWARK BY PAULINE DAVENPORT
D EDICATED TO THE MAN one worn by Tom Baker).
IN THE SKINNY
D R . W HO
BURGLARS. YOU ARE LONDON. CAVALRY. IMAX. Sheets of plastic stuck in branches like trapped Dementors. Hither Green. UNMISSABLE An exhibitâ€”fox! 1970s free police housing. Ugly, relentless, mind-numbing graffiti. The sun shining on the stacked pyramids of the Gherkin. A train spotter. A yellow danger sign: Do not touch the live rail. WAY OUT. STAFF ONLY. Sights and instructions for the London
commuter. Metal bridges, broken bricks, rust, and rubbish. Commuters on their mobiles, suited and booted, armchair travelling. I alight at London Bridge, and head in the direction of Southwark Cathedral. It feels like - it’s over there somewhere, in a straight line, but of course, it never is. The intention is never the same as the reality of pavements, and the pedestrian’s green lights. It would be nice to levitate in the air, and traverse in a straight line like a Richard Long map. Although it’s my intention to wander, I also need to get to where I want to be, and then I can start the drift of the primeval slacker. It is always windy at London Bridge. I wonder if it is the movement of traffic that creates this impression, after sitting on a train for a while, or if it is the rush of people winding off in different directions. I feel myself shiver; like a tightrope walker between ghosts and the light breeze. I am lost in a mystical William Blake poem where men wear their beards long, like AlQaeda mujahideen in Doc Martens. The problem with me, is that I see death in everything. Surely, I need to change my trajectory, flip a switch somewhere, or maybe just cheer the fuck up? Can it be that easy, to start seeing the cycle of life in autumn leaves, the beauty in endings, or to relish the dregs in the last gulp of tea? Tricky. The history of this place engulfs me. I am always drawn to shadows, and most of all, to graveyards. Naturally, I am pulled to Southwark Cathedral, and to the skeletons in the earth around it; to chewing gum on tombstones. The only question is, do I surf the crowds at Borough Market, or go straight to the Gothic edifice. As I cross the road at the traffic lights, I wonder where the London Bridge attacks happened; I think about a vehicle ramming (hear it slamming), and then of stabbing. I ignore the chatter in my head, and walk toward the steps that drop down to the market, which, I am convinced had a name at
one point, and a sign. Could I be in the grip of the Mandela Effect? I stop on the pavement, and in everyone’s way. It’s just like the time I had shin-splints in my twenties from too much raving, until one day I found I couldn’t take another step. My flat was behind me, the corner shop twenty paces in front, but neither were an option because of the pain searing up the front of my shins. I had to stand there motionless, in my heavy boots and dyed red hair, like someone on a bad trip, while the people of Edinburgh went about their daily business of doctor’s appointments, shopping, and getting to university. I feel the suggestion of the ethereal like a buzzing whisper, the beat of enormous fantastical wings. Suddenly, I feel strangely elevated, as though I am injected with air conditioning. People look at me. What made me stop? Stopping in London is an oxymoron. Maybe I felt the ley-line on the pavement, reinstating its vibe in the twenty-first century. My thoughts wander from the sacred to the profane, the ‘stews’ and brothels, fields and orchards; to police offi‐ cers and psychic investigators, spooks and secrets. Wandering down the steps to Green Dragon Court, I wonder when this name usurped the original name of Angel Court. I think of the relevance of dragons crushing angels. I peer at the site of the original Lady Chapel: Shakespearian plants, with biblical resonance, ovaries (or is that over-the-river?), immaculate conceptions and IVF. There’s a connection here, somewhere, to goddesses, sacred wells and springs, but I am too bamboozled by people to think. There is so much plastic everywhere. Why do people drop it in the first place, and why doesn't the council pick it up? Ruck‐ sacks, food wrappers, wooden forks and spoons, scraps of food, rat poison. Here our carbon footprints merge with roly-poly plastic bottles under foot. I see huge piles of food. I think about buying a doughnut, but I really want a chai. There is bound to be a traveler type, music festival-goer selling spicy tea here. I
thought it would be nice to wander the stalls of Borough Market, but I just can’t do it. I will need to seek the resolve. Unfortunately, I find that resolve in the words of a woman in the Southwark Cathedral Office when I ask about doing a little research, “I’ve worked here for ten years,” she says, “and I can tell you what the answer will be!” Get lost? “Noooo… ” But still, she is determined to be ghastly. Get lost. Why not? Sounds like a plan. I’m drifting. I wander to the right, and to the front of the cathedral. A polite notice tells visitors that food and drink is not allowed. As the heavy glass doors close behind me, the hubbub and smells of Borough Market disperse, and with them the atmosphere of dissolving boundaries goes too. A new awareness settles. At the cathedral’s entrance, contemporary urbanism is replaced with a different synthesis of old stone, new pine doors, and, an altogether different purpose. The fact that I am standing in an extension of the Cathedral is pronounced. I don’t like it. It’s not what I want. I turn right again, and walk—straight into a service. Morti‐ fied. I tip toe, and sit on the side, against a wall, like a modern, clueless appendage. The congregation stands for prayer, and I stand too because what else am I to do? I have to pretend that my mistake was intentional. When the service is over, I exit swiftly to the front of the church, as far away from the nave as is physically possible. The noise of the visitors, slowly fades into a comfortable background noise. Some churches and cathedrals are particularly scary places, where shadows of dark creatures supersede creatures of light. But, that’s not the case with Southwark. There is something nice here. It doesn’t look like anything in particular, but it is here. And, it is not in the stone pillars, arches, metal, nor is it in the Formica chairs. It isn’t in the light that blends with the stained glass, where there are too many straight lines. How artists can get it wrong. Something catches my eye, and I look up to see a cat silently prowling towards me. Its shadow makes a
huge yogic angry cat, its ears flick, and register the workmen outside. As I reach to touch the animal, it slinks beneath my chair, and wanders off. I listen to the chant-like murmur of visi‐ tors’ voices merge with the larger rumble of traffic. Here in front of me, is a man with a welcoming smile. He explains that he’s a day chaplain, not ordained. He has a kind, strange face, with sparkly eyes, a bulbous nose, and he’s wearing a blue business-like shirt under his clergy clothes. We talk about daemons, deliverance, and Angel Court. This is me, right? Standing in a church whose history predates the thirteenth century, making it London’s oldest, discussing angels and daemons with a clergyman. It is a Gothic Cathedral, but just don’t ask anyone about what lies beneath it - you’ll get your marching orders. Now, I am determined to find chai in Borough Market, but I am not familiar with the stalls. I hear a man shouting, REAL TEA! A couple are giggling at the absurdity of his statement, but don’t decline the offer of a free sip. I ask for my dream tea. Hallelujah! Leave the tea bag in. He knows I’m keen. Now, my outlook has somewhat changed. Everyone else can get in my way with their bags and purchases, because I have extra ginger and pepper in my cardboard cup of chai.
P AULINE D AVENPORT IS AN ARTIST WHO LIKES TO WRITE ABOUT the invisible: Ghost and gouls. She won The Dark Tales compe‐ tition in 2015. Her favourite city is Edinburgh.
ADVENTURES IN LEWISHAM BY ZOË MAKIN
T HE 136 BUS STOPS RIGHT OUTSIDE A UNTIE S ARAH ’ S FRONT door. She could use her doorway as a bus shelter when it rains, if she wants. “I’ve got very long legs. If you wake up really early tomor‐ row, you’ll see me take one huge step out the door, across the garden, and straight onto the bus. All in one go,” she tells me, then looks at me in that way grown-ups do when they’re lying. She leans slightly back on the sofa and smiles a clever smile. I wonder if it hurts where her lip is pierced. “I don’t believe you,” I say. Mum says that I am obstinate. Auntie Sarah tuts. “That’s a real shame, Chlo.” She gets up and walks across the
room to stir the dinner. “I practiced hard at that! All that stretching!” I look at her legs. They are long. Longer than Mum’s. I run to the window and look down. If I get on my tiptoes, I can see a patch of brown grass at the front of her block of flats, about the same size as the driveway is back home. Fried chicken boxes and cigarette ends fly around in the wind. I notice chicken bones at the feet of an old woman sitting in the shelter with her back to me. I wonder which bones came from which boxes. Then I wonder if she ate the chicken. As a bus appears in a sea of headlights, the woman puts a huge Primark bag down on the wet pavement and pulls her Oyster card from her purse. She is shaking. “What do you think?” Auntie Sarah makes me jump. “I would have to measure it.” She laughs. “I don’t have a measuring tape, I’m afraid. You could borrow one from school.” She is looking out the window even though there’s nothing interesting to see. Her flat is opposite Home‐ base, with the massive pond that freezes over in winter, but there are only eleven days until Christmas and it has not frozen yet. Last year, geese waddled around on the ice. My brother Matt wanted to take them home to keep in the bath, but Dad said no. There is a community centre next to the pond. Sometimes when we stay with Auntie Sarah, Mum goes to the shop inside it. She leaves without her purse but comes out with loo roll and milk. I asked her once to let me go with her. She said no. Auntie Sarah tuts like she’s just remembered something. “Sorry, sweet. I forgot Mum’s taken you out of school.” There is something in her voice that makes me feel sad. “For Adventures in Lewisham!” I say in my assertive voice. She laughs again and puts her hand up to her mouth. “Oh yes, Adventures in Lewisham! How could I forget?”
Auntie Sarah turns away from me and heads back over to the cooker. “Escapades in Eltham!” I watch the sky getting dark and think about the Adventures to come. Adventure One is sleeping on the sofa. I could never do that at home. Auntie Sarah’s sofa is black and leathery, but she has loads of blankets so we can stay warm. I have to share mine with my stupid brother, though. He is only in Year 1 and today he won’t stop singing Last Christmas. If he sings it tonight when I’m trying to sleep, I will smack him. He doesn’t even know the words. Adventure Two is Coco Pops for breakfast. The Aldi version, because Mum says they are better. Auntie Sarah normally only has grown-up breakfasts like toast and coffee, but she buys Coco Pops especially for us when we stay. Last time we had Adventures in Lewisham, I was in Year 2. I never normally eat until first break at 10:15, so that day my tummy felt full of chocolate and milk. Adventure Three is just staying in Auntie Sarah’s flat. It is bijou, which means everything is all in one room. There is a sofa, a folding dining table with two chairs, a kitchen, and a bathroom with no bath. In the right-hand corner, as you come in, there is a white screen about as tall as Mum, and on the other side of it is Auntie Sarah’s bed. She let me sit on it and read my book earlier. Her covers are purple and silky, and she has a little lamp on a table next to it. I want a flat like hers, but in Central London. By Waterloo station. I want to be so high up that people on the London Eye will go past my window when I’m watching TV and I will be able to see them drink Prosecco. I imagine bijou flats are very expensive, but I should be able to afford it because I’m going to be the Prime Minister. “Capers in Croydon,” Auntie Sarah says, taking plates out of the cupboard. I don’t know what a caper is, but I think she’s making a joke. I like it when it’s just me and Auntie Sarah. She doesn’t treat me
like a child, because I am twelve in eighteen days. I was a New Year’s Day baby, which my best friend Emily thinks is cool, but it means I don’t get many presents. “Can you lay the table, Chlo? You and your brother can sit up there, and pretend to be civilised.” I collect four knives and four forks. Dinner is ready. Mum and Matt should be back by now. “I wonder where they’ve got to.” Auntie Sarah stands with her hand on her hip and checks her phone. Her shoulders are moving as she breathes in and out. “I said six o’clock. They’d get the bus to Grove Park, but then how do they get into Bromley?” She looks down at me with sharp eyes. “Chlo, is the doctor’s actually in Bromley or over Orpington way?” I try to think about roads and doctors. I know our doctor is Dr. Cooper. He is tall and skinny. He comes to collect us from the waiting room when we go for Matt’s appointments. The other doctors just push a button and there is a ping and the name comes up on the screen: Matthew Wight. We take the 61 bus to get there, from Widmore Road, going towards Chisle‐ hurst—or is it Sydenham? I know we don’t go past the Catford Cat. He sits on top of KFC with his big yellow eyes watching people walk by. He always looks like he’s about to pounce on the pigeons across the road, but he never does. Auntie Sarah is looking at me like I’m in trouble now, but I really don’t know where the doctor’s office is. “Does your dad know about the appointment?” There is a key in the door and Auntie Sarah’s shoulders drop. “Thank fuck for that,” she whispers. Mum is carrying Matt and a large pharmacy bag. Her hair is tied up like she’s been at work. “Sorry,” she says, and tries to put Matt down, but he keeps his hands clasped at the back of her neck. “Jesus, Matt! Come on, let Mummy have a cup of tea.” Matt lets go when I tell him we’re allowed to watch CBBC.
While we eat, I try not to look at Mum, but out of the corner of my eye, I can see her shoulders shaking. She has a few mouth‐ fuls of rice and dabs her eyes with her sleeve.
I WAKE UP WHEN THE BUSES START GOING BY . I LISTEN TO THE churning engines and the wheelchair ramps going in and out. The streetlight throws gold through the curtains, and I watch Mum lying on her front on the floor. Her back goes up and down as she breathes. When Mum refused to take Auntie Sarah’s bed, Auntie Sarah said Mum was “too proud”. I don’t know how being proud can be a bad thing. I have to sleep top-to-toe with Matt and I’m tempted to tickle his feet, but I know that would be mean. I push them from my face and slip out of the covers, careful not to step on Mum. The cold makes my body rigid, so I grab Mum’s jumper from the back of the chair and wrap it around myself. Matt grunts. I pull the covers over his little white toes and wonder what he is dreaming about. It is a new day of Adventures. Mum has work today, so I am in charge. Auntie Sarah will leave her old phone with a list of numbers for emergencies, and Josie from Flat 3 will bring us lunch at 12 o’clock. Last time it was jollof rice and a packet of custard creams. Adventure One today will be Netflix. There are Christmas films Matt would like, and I can sit and read my book while he pretends to understand the plots. Adventure Two will be answering the door. I’m not allowed to do that at home. Auntie Sarah has a parcel coming so I’m going to sign for it and say thanks mate to the postman. I decided this yesterday. It’s getting harder to find Adventures. Riding the DLR used to be my favourite. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, with the brown Thames running alongside. You can see into people’s flats by Lewisham station, and there are always cranes swinging overhead and building sites to look at. We used to go to a farm
park in Mudchute and feed the sheep through the fence. Dad got bitten by the rooster once. We can’t ride the DLR anymore, though, because Mum says it’s not a priority. We might not be at Auntie Sarah’s for Christmas, but we might stay in a hostel. Mum says it’s like a hotel, so that must be why it’s only one letter different. That will be The Ultimate Adventure, maybe even better than when we stayed with Mum’s friends, Mark and Yvonne. We had to leave before it got light because they were shouting at each other. We got the first bus to the library and waited on the steps for it to open. I had a choice of all the books because we were the first ones there. Mum got a coffee and I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Matt. I wanted to borrow a book from the Teens section, but Mum said she didn’t know if we would be coming back. I have goosebumps standing by the window. I get between the curtains and the mantelpiece and pretend to be in a cocoon. The pond is still not frozen. I shield my eyes from the streetlight and try to look into the windows of Homebase. No lights are on yet. On the pavement by the community centre there is a sleeping bag in the shape of a person. The 136 bus pulls up with its proud orange sign shouting, Elephant and Castle. I get on my tiptoes and watch Auntie Sarah walk through piles of rubbish and step on.
Z OË M AKIN IS A POET AND SHORT STORY WRITER WHO CURRENTLY lives in Sheffield, UK, after moving from London. She is doing an MA in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, and takes her inspiration from people and places. This is her first published short story. Twitter @MakinZoe.
LEAFLETER’S LAMENT BY JOHN RICE-MURPHY
Postmodernism left a crack in the world and Sheeted it with sheen, here stands the scarecrow, I’m outside King’s Cross but I feel caked in mud handing Out documents of no practical use, you see The world has little time for my expressions: This scribbling. The shades, red and yellow are too aggressive. I speak with my arms but the words Hang like breadcrumbs off the bone as suits and SOAS students in equal measure Trickle around for fear I might hear their snickering, we all
Have to plant our stake well; the soil ain’t having this one. I want it to smash through but I haven’t the muscle Haven’t the bewitchery, instead the parch-ment Has me hounding, a thirst for life, it’s Pissing it down but fuck Poseidon, If I see him I’ll paper cut his face. Aren’t I daring? Aren’t I cinematic? Won’t this make someone’s eyes emphatic? No? Then fuck knows, but just know, Their embarrassed half-smiles that suggest polite discomfort Makes a boy wanna go a bit Clockwork Orange, A touch of eyeliner makes the darkness dramatic— But you’ll never see me wearing it—a man’s Spine is a scarecrow’s pole, lugging change Bags under my eyes, change bags that mean Jack shit to the wet clay children Nuanced through manicured, wanker hands, “Do well in school else you’ll end up like him.”
J OHN R ICE -M URPHY IS THE 22 YEAR OLD , WELL - SPOKEN , POET version of Sid the Sloth. He studies Poetry on an MA course at Roehampton, but also holds a strong interest in the study of culture and anthropology.
THIS IS US BY DAN VIEIRA
L ONDON , THE SPRAWLING METROPOLIS THAT WE HAVE GROWN UP seeing on our television screens, has always held a certain fasci‐ nation in our minds. From the elegant Big Ben to the majestic Buckingham Palace, the city’s skyline always seemed to repre‐ sent a world of endless possibilities. In hindsight, this idealisa‐ tion of London was somewhat misplaced; since arriving in the city, it seemed its inhabitants were even more miserable than the rest of us. A year after leaving our homes, we see that London is in fact an illusion: it represents a contrast to what‐ ever place we had previously lived in. Its personality and symbolism alternate and shift like a chameleon, according to the needs of the person envisioning it. London can be the glam‐
orous alternative to the dull monotony of a village, or the grey, polluted shithole that makes the said village look resplendent. In those rare moments when one seems to catch a moment of tranquil beauty, London really can be amazing. For example, during those evenings when I walk along Lambeth Bridge, flanked on both sides by some of the city’s most famed sights, this becomes a moment of jubilation in an otherwise dreary reality. We feel the city’s bleak reality the most when commuting. In the morning, it seems to descend upon us like a dark cloud that clings well into the afternoon. It attaches itself to us like a cloying perfume, and fights with the smell of takeaway coffee to pervert our nostrils. We do not acknowledge each other, prefer‐ ring to substitute words with sighs and grunts. We move swiftly, like ants transporting their food from one location to another. The irony lies in the fact that large, cosmopolitan cities such as London are envisioned as the apex of humanity, as lands of technological innovation. Yet the seemingly superior nature of us urban dwellers is not that far removed from the insects we think so little of. In fact, it can be argued that ants, who always appear to have an ardent determination when going about their labour, offer more positivity to the world than the solemn air we often exude. Perhaps the worst aspect of the morning commute is the boxed-in nature of travel: we are squeezed together, like chickens in a pen. Whatever perfume or cologne our fellow commuter is sporting, it soon becomes our own; whatever they had for lunch, it’s soon revealed by their breath at close proximity. We are pressed against each other, some‐ times so intimately it feels like a transgression. We look up, we look down, and we look around; anywhere and everywhere but in the eye of our fellow man. We are all strangers to each other, and yet we are all thinking the same thing: why is it taking so long? What will we have for dinner? I can’t wait to watch the latest episode of (insert name of one’s latest viewing pleasure).
We stand close, we think the same, and yet we do not see each other. Perhaps it’s for the best; after all, were we to strike up a conversation, we might risk giving birth to a friendship. And friendships do not last in big, sprawling cities; they rise up, like a bird learning to fly, and then crash. These big, sprawling cities are too transient; lands of temporary career advancement, of timed ambition. Herman Melville said it best: “There are two places in the world where men can most effectively disappear— the city of London and the South Seas.” We exit the tube station and some of us look up at the sky, which has now probably turned about three shades darker, although it can’t have been longer than fifteen minutes since we saw it last. We sigh, hoping London will spare us rain; we hate the rain—well, most of us do; some of us find it weirdly atmos‐ pheric, or romantic, and we’re only just recovering from a cold. The memory of being that commuter—you know, the one we all hate sitting next to—makes us shudder, and we quicken our pace. Some of us barge past each other, occasionally shooting a muffled “sorry” under our breath; we can’t completely destroy the British propensity for stoic politeness, after all. Apart from one or two people, who seem like they’ve either had an awful day or they’ve had one too many pints after work, the rest of us seem to be all right after all. Some of us call whoever we have waiting for us at home, telling them that we are on our way; some sound happy, some sound grumpy, others speak a language other than English. We are diverse, if nothing else; different wants, needs, faces, tongues. One of us sneezes—you saw it coming, let’s be real—and we hope the particles don’t attach themselves to us. But because this is London, the parti‐ cles will probably fly into the breaths we take and be an unin‐ vited guest for the next week. Jane Austen said it best: “The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.” We want to just walk straight home, as we’ve spent quite
enough as it is—you bleed money just existing in London, you know, but the smell of coffee from one of the chain stores lures us in. We try and resist, but we fail, succumbing to the joy of holding a warm portable coffee cup in our hands—or, for the environmentally conscious, a refilled reusable cup—as we walk home. Before you judge those of us with a plastic cup, just know that we actually have a reusable one at home; we just forgot it in the morning rush. Some of us hold a cappuccino or a latte— even though the barista gave us a slight look for ordering such a milky drink in the evening—while others opt for a hot choco‐ late or tea. Some of us are either vegan or going vegan, so we’ve opted for non-dairy milk—almond milk seems to be a favourite. Vegan options are excellent in London, which is another good thing about the city. For all its faults, it can sometimes be accommodating. And yes, that is a muffin poking out of some of our pockets; we saw it displayed on the coffee shop’s counter, and since it is Friday, we went for it. Some of us are going to regret it after we’ve eaten it, because of that one advert for a slimming tea we saw on Instagram earlier—don’t try it, by the way, it’s bullshit. Most of us do plan to hit the gym at some point this weekend… maybe; it depends on whether our friend is going too, as we sort of like the motivation. But chances are, they’ll be a fluke and we’ll forget all about it. Then again, this isn’t Los Angeles, where people do the whole “fitness” thing. We didn’t move to London for that, we moved for the whole “finan‐ cial centre” thing, although most of us don’t actually work in finance. Speaking of finance, most of us are sort of broke, or struggling—that woman with the Chanel bag that just walked past is decidedly not broke, though—but we roll with it. It’s not ideal, but everyone told us moving to London was expensive, and yet we moved anyway. William Shenstone said it best: “Nothing is certain in London but expense.” Most of us have dispersed by now, but we’ll focus on those who are now walking along Lambeth Bridge, the one we had
mentioned in the beginning. The air is cold and intrusive, and it feels like London has partnered with the elements to annoy us; already, it seems some of us are getting sick. Images of sunny cities like Madrid float into our minds, and we regret not moving there—not that we speak Spanish, but we’d find a way. As we begin envisioning the new life we’d lead if we did move elsewhere, we catch sight of those famed London monuments we mentioned earlier. Victoria Tower looms over us, looking like a Gothic wonder. The Palace of Westminster is nearby, its stand-out star the Big Ben looking subdued with its current construction work, yet still elegant. We find it inspiring, in a cheesy way; we are all works in progress, even old icons like the Big Ben. We’ve passed it so many times, it’s like a friend at this point; it doesn’t acknowledge us but we know it’s there, still and reliable. The London Eye, which we still haven’t gone on and might never go on, looks contrastingly modern in comparison to its friends. It reminds us that London has something for all of us, whether we are old souls or chasers of all that is new and shiny. For a moment, as we pause to admire the view, we are reminded of the idealism we held for the city; it’s a moment of quiet nostalgia. We suddenly don’t feel too irritated, we feel somewhat… attached, in that erratic love-hate way. We can’t quite decide whether we love or hate London, and we think we may never decide, and of course we don’t bother suggesting an in-between. These big, sprawling cities are a little too big and a little too sprawling to not provoke intense feelings in the extreme. To be from London is to be both hateful and loving towards it, to be as ever-changing and neurotic as the city itself; to feel both comforted and disrupted by it. Oscar Wilde said it best: “Oh, I love London Society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.” You see our dilemma, don’t you? The Big Smoke is a lot to take in. Sometimes, it’s too much. Too many people, too much
noise, too much commotion, a little too much of everything! But we remain. Some of us say it’s the city’s status as a “financial centre,” and we don’t blame them; we’ve always been told to go where the money is, haven’t we? Some of us say it’s the city’s diversity which gives us the ability to blend and weave ourselves into its fabric like an urban chameleon. Some of us say it’s the art, the Big Ben, the theatres of the West End. Occasionally, one of us will say it’s the weather—“the sun is ageing terribly, dear” —and we’re not entirely sure if they’re joking; the people of London drink their tea and coffee with sarcasm, after all. It doesn’t really matter, though. No, what matters is that we are never stagnant; we always have something to say about it, or something to do. Samuel Johnson said it best: “No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
D AN IS A WRITER WHO FOCUSES ON PROSE FICTION , AND HIS WORK often explores the underbelly of urban life. He likes caffeine... a lot.
Firstly, we’d like to thank Dr. Peter Bonfield, the Vice Chan‐ cellor of the University of Westminster, for kindly sponsoring our journal and allowing it to continue to thrive for years to come. Your generosity is much appreciated, and leaves a signifi‐ cant impact on the longevity of the Wells Street Journal. Secondly, we’d like to thank the University of Westminster’s Humanities department, particularly Alexandra Warwick and our Creative Writing MA course leader Dr. Monica Germana, for their ongoing sponsorship and support. We’d also like to thank the University of Westminster’s Students Union, for their continuous sponsorship and praise, and thank you to Sofia Mansfeld in particular for allowing us to set up a Wells Street Journal society in the past year, which has been extremely bene‐ ficial. Thank you also to Westminster News for always supporting us. To Dawn Ostlund, thank you for helping us immensely with design, we couldn’t have done this without you, and to Bageshree Mehta, thank you for your help and guidance. Thank you to Pauline Davenport for always supporting us. To our tutors, Travis Elborough and Tim Dooley, thank you for sharing
your feedback and expertise. To Nels Challinor, thank you for paving the way and teaching us everything we know. Lastly, to Yen Ooi, the heart and soul of the journal, for everything you have done for us, and for helping us out even with your busy schedule. Our journal is what it is because of you! â€” WSJ Issue 13 Team PS: Weâ€™d like to dedicate this journal to all those affected by COVID-19. May we refuse to let this disruption in the city disrupt our spirit.
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The Wells Street Journal, Issue 13, "Disruption in the City."