These were the last days.
I wasn’t sure whether it was the war and if we were dead or just that the city had entered a different, final phase. In some ways it seemed to be going about its business as usual, in others it seemed more like a ghetto in Warsaw in the 40s. Law and order were breaking down, bartering and black markets had sprung up, privation and confusion had taken hold. A door had opened and something had changed. Perhaps the strength of the explosions had ripped something apart, disrupted the fabric or the collective psyche, the complex interaction between matter and conciousness.
I myself seemed relatively unharmed, free from pain and able to wander at will without suffering hunger or thirst. Occasionally I ate or drank when the opportunity arose but more out of a sense of duty and habit – or even just out of curiosity. My body seemed, like the city, to have become transparent in some way – not that you could see through it, more that it was made of energy or just the idea of solidity, opacity, colour, size, weight and form – like a collection of properties stored in some digital file.
Suddenly normality would take hold again, reassert itself as if the city had shaken its head free of some confusion. Taxis pulled up to the pavement, families on day-outs nonchalantly shopped. An effiminate, Italianate young man stepped from a cafe to smoke a cigarette and good naturedly eye a passerby. An old man sat nodding at a table by another cafe. A young mother pushed a pram whilst another child ran alongside tugging at her arm. Lovers touched, Shopkeepers chatted. In the distance I could see a funeral procession of mourners headed by a priest. I was filled simultaneously with sadness and admiration at this normality. The very ordinariness of existence – something I had always feared – seemed beautiful after the strangeness I had witnessed.
The old man suddenly woke and looked up. My heart skipped a beat. He looked exactly like my grandfather, dead these ten years. Then the skipping child stopped and gazed at me too – it was my neice lost to us two winters back! How could this be? What was this place? I looked around – more and more faces seemed familiar. The old man held out his arms. It was my grandfather! I rushed toward him laughing with my own arms outstretched to meet his embrace.
I obeyed the command but spun to see the speaker. There was no one moving near me. In fact, there was no one moving whatsoever. The street was frozen. A bird hung in the air, forever about to swoop on some scrap of food. The traffic lights were stuck between amber and red. The ordinary street folk I had admired were stiff – caught between postures – my grandfather awkwardly so with eyes partly closed, a foot raised. The smoke from the waiter’s cigarette was fixed in a plume of exhalation as if caught in the freeze frame of a film. There was complete silence.
The voice, though quieter now, was increasingly familiar. But still I could see no one speaking.
“This is not yet the time!”
Suddenly, I DID recognise the voice. Amongst all this confusion of images and experiences, this was perhaps the strangest of all – for in fact, l knew the speaker well
In the stillness, it was my own lips that were moving…