Screams awoke me. I looked out from my bedroom window to the scene below in the car park. Five men were beating the shit out of Tommy Green. The kid with the braces; the kid we picked on at school. He stopped screaming, but they didn’t. They kept kicking for another five minutes. Blue lights splashed off the garages. The police watched.
I watched the sunrise. I hadn’t done that before. Stilettos of light gilded the edge of storm clouds, brewing on the horizon. I felt the notion of fear rising in me. I think I always had the fear.
The frost beneath my feet crunched with each fresh step. The blood by the garages had darkened to a brown stain. Dark footprints marked where the thugs had run off. The chill this morning felt bitter, the wind numbing my face. I put my head down and hurried my pace when I saw the police looking in my direction. They were laughing, stood by their police car. I usually took this route every morning to work. I knew this boy; he had been in my Chemistry class. You’d hear about these things on television, but when you saw it: my stomach heaved.
At work I couldn’t hide the look on my face.
‘Mark? Bloody hell! Mark. You alright?’ Roger asked. ‘You want a coffee?’
‘I saw it.’ I could hardly breath. I held onto his desk, bile rising in my throat.
‘They killed Tommy Green.’
‘I heard, but what can you do about it?’ Roger asked.
‘I’m pissed off.’
‘I bet you are.’ He handed me an envelope.
‘The police were watching.’
‘They were watching the whole thing. I saw them murder him and the police didn’t do a fucking thing.’
‘You better have a look at that.’ He pointed to the envelope I held limply. ‘The powers that be,’ he glanced up to the ceiling, ‘are laying people off. Governmental cut backs.’
‘Yer fucking joking me.’
‘Nah I’m not, mate. Looks like they’re gonna axe the entire department.’ He got up and put the kettle on.
I read every word, as if they were going to suck me into the page. The words swam in my head: I knew what they meant, but I couldn’t fathom it. I dropped the redundancy note and left Roger with his back turned; still talking, still making me a coffee. I walked out of the building.
In those early days I felt dislocated from anything to do with organisation – the post services, the bus services, the fucking police, the army, the ambulance, the NHS – anything to do with the government. They were part of the failing network. I joined a group called the New Horizon. The leader was an ex-banker called Demetrius. He’d lost his job due to the cuts and decided enough was enough – time for action. We’d meet every Friday. I remember my first meeting.
There were seven of us at the start. What were we thinking? I guess we were angry. Usually you’d see or read something in the paper and it would touch you for a second or two, but when I searched the faces in the room I realised that everyone had been touched on a personal level. They’d seen their neighbourhoods deteriorate.
‘It’s an insidious process, people. You were in it, but you didn’t see it happening until you remembered what it was like.’ Demetrius’ eyes gleamed. There was an uncanny charm to this man. He held you in that gaze, fixed you, then attacked. ‘You!’
He moved to a thin man, who was ready to crumble into his chair, under Demetrius’ intense gaze. ‘How were you affected?’
‘I…I saw my wife raped by my brother. I called the police, but they put me on hold.’ Demetrius placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and looked around at the six other group members.
‘This, my friends is what it’s come to.’ Demetrius lifted his shirt. ‘I was stabbed.’ A ladder of stitches worked their way up his rib cage. ‘I too, called the police. I was put through to an answering machine.’ He spoke quietly and I could sense there was no anger in his voice: it was calm and methodical.
The streets were becoming increasingly dangerous to walk, even during the daytime. I’d tell my girlfriend to stay indoors while I negotiated my way to the shops with what dole money we could muster. I saw queues outside the job centre and the post office lengthen.
Lee was a friend I had in the army. I tried to convince him to join the movement. He came home on leave a week after the murder and we met in the local pub. I think at the time he had other ideas on how to start a revolution.
‘You see, Mark. That’s where you an’ me differ. I’m a military man, yeah?’ I nodded. ‘You’ve got to look at it from our point of view. We’ve got fat fuckers in the Army who do nowt but stay in camp and get paid as much as us. What do we do? Go to hot places and get blown up. It’s all fuckin’ wrong man.
‘Those sponging bastards in parliament are no better, sending us off and claiming second housing benefits. Look at that useless twat.’ Lee pointed to a old man in a grey overcoat.
‘Lee. Keep it down, mate.’
‘I mean just look at him.’ The old man turned his head slightly. He’d heard. ‘I bet that fucker’s on benefits as well. My old fellah was working till he was fucking crippled.’
Lee’s mate sighed and blew out air, ‘I’ve got a friend right. Leg blown off in a land mine in Afghanistan. He’s a fuckin’ alchie now. No fucker’s gonna employ him. A one legged alchie?” He laughed. ‘We ain’t alone. Did you see in the newspapers? Soft fucking students writing ‘Revolution’ on the wall, haven’t got the balls, have they? Have you?’
‘To shoot someone?’
That evening Sara snuggled close to me on the sofa.
‘Can you see that?’ She gazed down to the plump ripe belly.
‘What? Our baby?’
‘Precisely Marky.’ She always called me that when she made a point.
‘What about him?’
‘Can you see him move? Look. He’s kicking.’ She took my hand and gently placed it on her tummy. I felt a slight rise of movement there. For a moment I wanted to pull my hand away.
‘Just look at that crap on TV.’ Sara indicated to the television with a turn of her head. Students had overturned a minister’s car in London and were rioting in the streets. The police formed a cordon and the shaky camera whirled around to a worried looking reporter.
‘Is this live?’ I got up and moved closer.
‘Yeah. The news doesn’t start until another hour.’
I could see the word ‘flash’ at the bottom of the screen. Cracks could be heard on the TV and screams. ‘The police have opened fire on the crowd.’
Later I rang Lee. ‘Have you seen the news?’
‘Yeah. It’s fucking wonderful, man.’
‘They can’t do that.’
‘Well they have. The faggot police are going gun crazy on our arses. It’s time to get armed, Mark.’
‘Armed? You fucking nuts? Demetrius would never sanction violence.’
‘It’s time your hippy activist started living in the real world, Mark.’
Sara looked at me, ‘What is it?’
‘I think I’m gonna speak to Lee again, tomorrow. I need to talk him out of something.’
She smiled and looked away, ‘Lee and his crazy ideas.’
Lee’s friends joined me in the pub over a pint. It was the day after the outbreak of shooting in London. The effects of the cutbacks had been felt throughout the armed forces from the lowest Private to the senior of Officers. Two men had been rejected from the forces due to injury. Simon had been a Captain in the Armoured corps, he’d been injured in Afghanistan and suffered wounds to his legs, he had difficulty in walking.
‘This Doctor at our Med Centre had took it upon himself to write me off. I was a fucking Troop Commander of four Warrior Fighting vehicles! Four years left on my commission. Four fucking years. Looking at Staff College and,’ Simon quaffed his pint.
Lee cut in. ‘When the royal family are paying 58 million pounds for a fucking wedding and they’re cutting benefits and squaddies’ pensions. They’re starting at the wrong end. We need all your boys ready – a fucking mutiny is what we need here. The NHS needs to go on strike and bring the bricks tumbling down.’
‘There’s still hope,’ I said, but that didn’t help matters from the looks they gave me.
A week later Demetrius organised a rally and it took hold. I mean, it was originally a Facebook event, but we didn’t realise how many people would take interest. He seemed to take on this persona of a leader, like he had some personal responsibility, an obligation to the masses to deliver them what they needed. In his words, this was salvation.
‘We need to put our bodies upon the levers and the gears upon the wheels. It’s an odious system, a machine that doesn’t work for our benefit. We need to stop it right now!’ Demetrius’ shouts echoed down the hall. We no longer had seven in the group; within a week we numbered in our hundreds.
Demetrius stated that our will and presence should be the weapons and tools of our change. It swept me along, this tide of resentment. At its edges in the corners of the hall there were, I’m sure menacing, Anarchists lurking ready to tip the rally into the frenzy it could potentially become. Lee mentioned that the use of violence for the end wasn’t far from Demetrius’ thoughts.
We gathered at Paddington Train Station. Buses from all over the country dropped their passengers off. There were people in wheelchairs, with family members; I remember a patient being pushed in his bed down the road, it was the nurse pushing her that got me. The tide of resentment flowed its way through the cosmopolitan streets of London to the Thames like a flood of poverty. We halted by London Bridge and Demetrius stood on a pedestal and addressed the crowds. I looked back only to feel overwhelmed by the surge, banners hung from many of the buildings and I saw an overturned car set on fire.
The police barred the route across the Thames. Agitation, showed on the faces of many uniformed men. Demetrius vented an anger I hadn’t seen in any politician. He pointed to the House of Commons. Flecks of white froth flew from his mouth as he ranted. Demetrius ducked and I could see what must have been an egg fly by him.
Scuffles erupted in the crowd and I moved back to the entrance of a store. Today most of the shops had been closed; this day was well publicised. Chanting for the violence to end rose to a crescendo, arms were raised and people caught in headlocks by other protestors. I tried to help as many people to get them out of the way. I dragged an old man from the crowd and pointed back. He wiped blood from his jacket; it was an old union jacket. He walked on, toward the chaos. He didn’t say anything, just nodded to me. A Police gas canister bounced off an old woman’s head and tumbled into the crowd. She dropped and I never saw her again after that.
I turned back.
I eventually got home that evening. Our two bedroom house looked empty in the evening darkness. The door was open, a gaping wound in my home. ‘When was the last time you went over the road for a cup of sugar?’ Demetrius had said, ‘When did you dig your neighbour’s garden? Do you remember leaving your door open?’ Do you remember leaving your door open? Our door was open and no, I didn’t remember that.
‘Sara?’ I could feel rather than hear the mush of white noise. The warmth of the kitchen wafted through. Sara had prepared dinner for my return. The lock had been broken. I entered the living room and felt like I’d been punched in the head. This no longer looked like our room. The living room had been smashed up and a huddled form in the corner whimpered. It was Sara.
‘Sara?’ She recoiled when I put my hand on her shoulder. ‘Sara!’ I held her, held onto her screams in an attempt to contain the pain.
I took her in my arms and felt the blood on the inside of her thighs. I knew what had happened. Between clenched teeth I whispered to her, ‘Wait here’. I left the house. They were outside the garages where Tommy Green’s blood marked the floor. Four youths, darkened by the backdrop of the garage stood huddled around a lit ember. I could hear their excited chatter; of rape.
I struck the first man, caught him off guard and felt the connection. Satisfied, I continued, their blows on me were numbed. I don’t remember returning home. The anaesthesia was still there. Morbidly running through me like jagged darts into my brain, infecting my thoughts. The rage ran red through my eyes and into my fists.
Sara was sat, knees drawn up on the staircase. I felt the throb in my hands. Pulses of pain shot up my forearms in rhythmic jolts, ‘Mark. What’s happening to us?’
The stains on my jeans were a shade of brown, I could taste the metallic steel of blood on my teeth. I licked a smudge from the veneer of my upper lip. I buckled and heaved as I let go a handful of hair.
I took her to the bathroom and bathed her. She screamed. ‘Where the fuck were you? I tried calling you. You never answered your phone. You never answer your phone. Look what you’ve done to me.’ I left her in the bath. I opened the phone book and located Lee’s number.
‘I’m with you,’ I said, and hung up.
It’s a question of time isn’t it? Like pushing coins into an amusement machine. Bit by bit, they mount up forcing the pile of coins to tip and eventually – it can take a while – they tip and your entire world is collapsing around you.
Screams woke me again. I went to the window, but the street was empty. The scream came again, it channelled through the walls of the house and into my skin. ‘Sara!’
She was sat on the bathroom floor. The floor was slick in dark blood. I checked her wrists and her neck, but the blood wasn’t coming from there. It was coming from somewhere else.
‘Sara. Oh, God. I’m sorry, Sara.’ I fell to my knees. I felt the pulse in my hands and their skin under my nails. I’d clawed at them for this. I made them scream. I should have killed them.
Lee was on London Bridge waiting for me, a week later. The rain came over us in veils of grey and white sleet. He seemed to shrink into the wall and motioned me toward him.
‘Gotta keep out of sight. Fuckin’ pigs have got snipers on the roof of that place,’ indicated the House of Commons. The walls of the ominous, corrupt regime were against a backdrop of dirty sky. I imagined there’d be marksmen on the rooftops looking for trouble or a crowd build up.
‘What do we do now?’
‘We wait for the next rally, then we start taking the police down.’
‘What about the Army?’
‘You fucking kidding me? Half of them want that piece of shit out of London.’
‘It’s not that twat in power we need to sort out,’ I said, ‘It’s the shite that’s not being policed that needs squaring away.’
‘Nah. That’s bollocks man. We need to replace the big man before we can sort that out.
That’s what Demetrius wants. Back to basics, back to the old regime.’ Lee ushered me closer as if we’d be overheard. I could smell the stale odour of beer, ‘the streets need cleaning – that’s true. Need to clear the fucking junk off the street. Demetrius is doing that already. He’s clearing the shite out of the movement. Come on, I’ve someone to show you.’
I remember looking into the eyes of that soldier and feeling that something wasn’t right. He stared at me, couldn’t take his eyes off me. He leant right over the table, looked behind himself and whispered to me, ‘You know who we should be getting rid of? As well as the government? Hm?’
‘The fucking pakis and the fucking wogs.’ He lit a cigarette and blew smoke into the air. I watched the silvery coil make its way up to the landlords nose and he twigged straight away.
‘Hey. Put that out. You can’t smoke in here.’ The landlord lifted up the bar hatch and made his way to our table.
‘Who says? Who says I can’t fucking smoke here?’
‘It’s the law, young man.’
‘Oh,’ the soldier stood, ‘and who makes the rules up?’
‘Why the government brought it in over ten years ago.’
‘The government is fucking shit. Now why don’t you go over there an’ sit down like a nice puppy, eh?’
The man seemed to shrink and walk off to the bar.
‘He won’t call the cops. Cos them cunts won’t budge.’ The soldier sat down and grinned at me.
The sky is boiling, broiling in its own coil. I can see parallels now, between the sleeping people and the edge of awakening. Beneath that intangible existence of self belief and contentment was the core of resentment and the urge for change. It’s on the tips of every young child and aged persons’ tongue, every word, every conversation spoken. Can you hear it?
Sara sat in the kitchen, She looked up from her cup of tea. She seemed lost; faded; aloof. ‘Mark,’ she whispered, ‘Don’t go. They’re shooting people in the streets. Don’t go.’ She rocked quietly to herself; she did that a lot since the attack.
I tried to warm her hands in mine. ‘We need to sort this out, Sara. I’ve got to go.’
She held onto my arm and I could see where this would go. ‘Sara. We’ve got to do this.’
‘I can’t stay here anymore,’ she dropped her cup onto the floor. ‘I can’t go in there.’ She pointed to the living room.
I took her by the hand we drove to my mother’s house. My I-phone illuminated as I walked out of the house. It was an e-mail from Lee. He and his unit had joined the New Horizon’s group.
Lee would join me on the march.
We marched on London Bridge numbering in our thousands. I stayed with Lee’s group of men who had joined the march. There were more than I could count. Some had brought vehicles and larger guns. The patter of my heart stuttered and jolted up in my throat as the helicopters flew overhead. There were soldiers pulling out rifles and I could see one smile. He grinned to a colleague. I looked to the bridge and saw the police cordons. The barriers sealed us from taking the parliament buildings. Police and Army alike manned vehicles, weapons pointed in our direction.
People were pushing prams, zimmer frames, shopping trolleys and I remember seeing a hospital bed wheeled along with us. What were we thinking? What had we started?
‘There’s no going back,’ Lee had to shout over the chanting of the crowd.
‘This should be a peaceful demonstration,’ I remember saying, but he ignored me and handed out the rifles from the back of the truck.
‘Too late for that; hail the revolution! Armed struggle.’ His eyes held mine for a moment, before sprinting off to his squad. He’d invited his soldiers to join the student and civilian rally. He thought he was Che Guevera.
I tried. God I tried. I waved them back, turned people around, screamed at them. This only increased the pitch and they surged forward. This wave of power pushed forward and began to cross London Bridge. What became known as Liberty Point was where I stood and I shouted for them to stop. They couldn’t hear me.
I stood as the cracks opened up the grey sky. The screams of bleeding people split the air.
Who fired the first shots? I don’t know. I think it came from the line of black shields – they had an armed response team. I saw Lee bleeding from the neck – he held his neck and mouthed silent words to me. His men opened fire and I remember the bounce of casings around him.
I saw fear in their eyes, but behind that fear I could see their desperation and that gave me the strength to stand up and march with them. We moved en-masse toward the police picket line with our banners and flags. A woman with a child in her arms moved toward the shooting oblivious to the dying. The firing stopped and I could see the police lower their guns. Their barricade began to break and dissolve as we moved through them; some dropped their weapons and removed their helmets.
They were on the bridge, beneath the lovely, white sky. Lying like irregular shapes. Friends and workers alike, a light frost sparkled on them. Their crystalline eyes accused the sky like statuettes paralyzed in that last agonizing, blaze of death. The roll of thunder beckoned me onwards.
The government toppled within a day, the leader ventured out from the House of Commons to meet the people and Demetrius. The people were there in thousands and I can hear the exultant cries as the Prime Minister was grabbed on the balcony. A rope was thrown over a hook on a wall and I remember the look on the leader’s face. A look I will never forget. I was close enough for him to look at me and smile before the armed thugs threw him off. He jerked the rope tight and twitched. The tap of his shoes against the glass pane of the lower floor’s window brought a churn to my gut. It wasn’t the grin on the deadening face, but the look of triumph from the soldiers on the balcony that sickened me.
We waited for a month before the new leader greeted us. There must have been thousands of people here, waiting. Their messiah would appear any minute. He appeared like some deity or the son of one. He wore a robe and a crown of leaves on his head, so that he looked more like Ceasar. He still had that look about him, the people gasped and some cried in the crowd. I laughed. He raised his arms and the crowd hushed to hear his voice. I kept a hand over my mouth. They’d lynch me, crucify me probably.
‘It’s time. To put our plan into place and begin the new order. A time to start again and eliminate the undesirables that plague society. ‘They’ are the root cause of the problem. Who am I talking about? Look amongst yourselves.’ Demetrius pointed to the crowd and I could feel the air vibrate. A tension arose, a curdling tension. I looked around and could see a flutter in the crowd a kilometer away. People were being led away and I couldn’t hide the horror I felt when I saw they were asian. A few people I saw had already turned away and I watched with a deepening shame at the way Demetrius delivered his speech. His fists turned upwards into columns of might, yelling like an infamous 20th century dictator. I could hear the crack of thunder and gradual patter of rain as the storm consumed us.