I was at university in London when the first attack took place, although I have not ever studied at university in London. It wasn’t a terrorist attack, but something even worse. It was October 10th. 10/10, when the war commenced.
I go between London and New York. I don’t mean travelling, as if I am between offices in those two cities, but rather I can walk around a corner in White City or Shepherd’s Bush and find myself in Manhattan or Lenox Hill.
The first attack hits New York but it blacks out London at the same time. We are in a university building, a small crowd of bewildered students, lights go out and the mobile network goes down. There is confusion but also some resolve which is both innocent and youthful but also borne from already being world-weary.
I find myself in a white van with black innards, sat with a few of my peers, a handful of us, being driven in the dark through London streets stripped of any sense of their usual hums and buzz. I recalled we went to see a lake, earlier in the day, before this all happened – a large escarpment on the west side – and on the lake itself there were pedalos and, bizarrely, three of four hovercraft. I remember thinking who would want to go on the pedalos when the surface is being so disturbed by the much larger, aggressively-driven vehicles. Perhaps this was a sign I did not see.
We turned a corner, and now I am in New York. I live with you on a residential street, a town house with three or four storeys, on a street where all the other houses have been converted in the past into apartments. White furniture, wooden floors. People in positions of some authority are knocking on doors, asking if there is room to take in people made homeless by the attacks. I look around and there are about twelve adults already in our house, but I say that I can take another ten, no more. So that’s what happens. People are sleeping on floors, and I am talking with several of the more resilient types. There is nobody who is really old, most people seem to be in their thirties, I’d say, and of various ethnicities. I seem to have a role, a pull, a centre of gravity, though I do not know why or what it is. I look out of the window again. There are people carrying guns for protection. One of the men who was in my house is now riding on the back of a blue bin lorry, with a radio and mic and words of protest as the lorry moves off down the street.
It felt important to ensure that the front door was locked. I wasn’t sure about the back entrance – I recollect there was a gate and a small garden or yard, and then the back door. Standing in the kitchen, I thought to myself that my children would have liked this house.
We have to go upstairs but the stairs are broken. An older man with tattoos on both hands points to a contraption from which two series of steps emerge. He holds these ladders in place, which is how I notice his tattoos. For some reason there is now a bare bald razor in my hand, the type found in manual shaving razors but without the plastic grip and case. It is in three parts. It is important, that I have to carry this in my hand without dropping it and without cutting myself while I climb up the stairs. The steps are quite flimsy and it feels perilous, but I make it to where the original house stairs return in a usable condition, and I am relieved. Other people on that staircase had encouraged me.
I cannot smell or taste in my dreams, I can only touch, see, and hear. I now know this is also reflected in how I write.
I am outside on a wide boulevard on the edge of the city, somewhere near the river. There are a number of men taking the opportunity to peddle drugs. I thought to myself that their ink will run out soon, because of shortages, but I did not know what this meant. The men engendered a feeling of some fear in me, and we stuck together in a group. Later, I called my mother, who was on her own back in the UK, though she is not on her own. I remembered pressing the point that the connection was poor and that the call might come to an abrupt end. My mother was worried and did not understand what was happening. I also called my wife, although I am not married. Unsurprisingly, she scolded me for various reasons. I reassured her about the key in the door, and that also we should both be OK for money because of the government’s furlough scheme for public service employees. I could tell that her parents were with her in New York, too, although I never set eyes on them again.
From my lounge, filled with people I did not know, some of whom slept, all of whom worried about food and meals and supplies, I tried to text a contact who did have some answers, we thought, but the last three numbers were wrong, and the message was not sent. A meal is made from a group of foods, sometimes using a list called a recipe, and sometimes not.
On a street between offices and shops, police cars are responding urgently to nothing in particular, at least nothing the police can solve.
An angry, haptic, naphtha sky is over the upper city, and there are buildings burning in the distance.
You had to go to Swansea by train. I often dream of stations and tickets. You had kissed me on a dark misty golf course. Your hair is longer. Your mother had set your name in your phone to Scooch.
I woke in a sweat. I wondered what the ancients, the Greeks and the Romans and the Europeans and Chinese and Indians along the Silk Road would have made of it all, knowing what we now know, and having contributed to the source, the beginnings of it all, without a care in the world for the ending.