Did a pigeon just fly through my bedroom? I narrow my eyes against the rain that is falling much harder now. I ask myself again:
“Did a pigeon really just swoop through the air where my flat used to be?”
I look down the hill, taking pleasure in the morning sun still shining under blue-grey rain clouds, where raindrops shimmer for a moment, in the places where all my memories hover for one last time. Down through bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms the rain chases the colours of uncounted yesterdays, running one into another: mixing blue into red, green into brown, black into blackness and blackness into nothing.
All the echoes are dying now; echoes of voices on the stairs and footsteps in hallways, the distant slam of a door and the rattle of a letterbox somewhere far beyond my own door, so firmly shut.
My thoughts drift back to the here and now. Just below where I am standing some workmen are already clearing the barriers that had blocked the road. A solitary policeman is sitting in his car but with the door still open, sheltering from the summer downpour. Wheelbarrows clatter as another five workmen with luminous jackets begin the task of picking up the thousand small stones that had bounced and rolled out of the rumbling dust cloud. Somewhere out of sight a mechanical digger snorts into life.
Was it just ten minutes ago that I had walked down the hill as far as the metal barrier to join three women huddling beneath two umbrellas? Just a little way along, four boys stood in animated expectation. In the far distance, much farther down the hill, I could see a much larger crowd standing at another barrier that offered a more spectacular view of the imminent event.
Between the two groups of spectators and filling the view like an unwanted wardrobe on a small landing, the tower block, still dominated the landscape, as it had done for half a century and for as long as I could remember.
But it looked different, so very different. The pride of dominance was gone; and indeed, had been gone these last six months. That pride had disappeared floor by floor as the web of scaffolding had crept and chinked until all fourteen floors were cocooned in steel and nylon mesh. Over the months I had even got used to seeing the tower like that: soft, green and fuzzy of outline, its sharp edges hidden.
Then, one day, the translucent wrapping had begun to disappear and then a grey, gaunt giant re-emerged like an out of season Halloween skeleton. Just empty eye sockets in place of windows, even the outer walls had been stripped of their facing blocks. That is how it looked today, as the group of women standing next to me talked quietly about the tower and the people they remembered.
It was time for me to remember, too. Good times and not so good times. Days of plenty and weeks of shortage, sometimes shared with close friends and with not so close friends. Lives shared in small rooms where curtains were kept drawn against the darkness outside. Then there were the partings and the regrets; the brief nod to a neighbour on a landing, the averting of eyes, lest anyone should know too much. My thoughts returned to stairways that smelled of disinfectant, late night lifts that whirred and smelled of urine; and onto the landings again where nice front doors vied with those others with battered locks and splintered architraves. Doors that said:
“On your way, you have no business with me.”
One last time, I now counted up the nine storeys to my own windows: as blind and as dead as all the rest, stripped of their frames and their little iron railings. From a window above, curtains hung limp with damp. Was that old Daphne`s flat? Were those the curtains she had called me in to see when they were brand new? That was so long ago.
It was one of those days or weeks when the lifts were broken, again; and I had carried Daphne's shopping up from the ground floor, and she had invited me in to have a cup of tea, to admire her new curtains and to talk about the things that people talk about when they don't really know each other.
I said I would drop in and see her again, but I never did. I just forgot, really. I remember feeling bad about her dying up there on her own. That was a year or two later. Apparently she lay dead in her flat for a month until someone noticed the smell. We all got questioned by the police and then the newspapers came round asking their questions. Everybody felt bad for a while, and I didn't even tell people where I lived. But you know how it is: today`s news paper is tomorrow`s chip paper. That`s the trouble really. People move on, they forget and get forgotten.
I'm still staring at the scrap of curtain hanging from that window ten floors up, when I am again brought back to the present by a siren blast like a cheap car horn. A couple of men walk quickly away from the tower and disappear behind a parked van. Then there comes a second siren blast, as tinny as the first.
“Fitting fanfare.” I mutter to myself. Everything falls silent as we wait: as the tower waits. I wonder if condemned men stood as silently on the scaffold in the moments before the trap door clattered open.
Then six un-impressive crumps proclaim six tiny puffs of smoke as they burst from the foundations of the tower. For a moment nothing happens except for a strange sound like a single note as though from a church organ. Then comes a creaking rumble mixed with light brown dust now spewing from the tower`s base. I can hear repeated banging as the floors begin to fall into each other. For a moment I am reminded of doors slamming on those cold dark landings. But by now the tower is taking it`s final curtsy, leaning just slightly as it sinks into the crinoline cloud that billows up and up.
The four boys give a collective squeal of delight and from down the hill, through the clattering dust cloud, a distant cheer rolls up the hill, like ghostly armies of old engaging in battle. Along the ground a thousand small stones dance their liberation and became still. Then, as the dust cloud begins to thin, scraps of paper and a single torn cloth drift slowly down, to be lost forever in the appalling heap of broken concrete and twisted steel that now marks the place where the tower had stood.
The silly siren blasts its silly call once more, just to let us all know the show is over. But the three women are already walking back up the hill, their heads hidden behind the two umbrellas. The four boys now consist of three boys watching a fourth boy demonstrating his Karate kicks.
I walk slowly behind the women until they stop to talk; as I walk past I slow down and say: “Well it`s gone, at last.” They stop their conversation and look at me, almost surprised.
“Good riddance,” one of them snaps. But I am already continuing my journey up hill, musing that as one gets older hills get steeper and longer. Finally, at the top, I turn and look back down the hill.
”It's gone.” I mutter, over and over again. I stare through the space where the tower once stood. In its place can see the whole city of wet slate grey roofs framed by an arching rainbow. In the centre of the scene: the abbey rides like a great ship on a stormy sea; its lacy tower crowned with gilded weather vanes; four fire-like emblems catching the morning sun that is still casts a golden light under the dark rain clouds.
“It's gone, its all gone.” I mumble once more, as I turn away.