The fall always comes
A response to True Romans All
by Emilie Collyer
Their problem was in underestimating me.
This has been the case since I was a child. It used to pull at me, like hooks under skin. Not even worth a mention. Not even: ‘Keep an eye on that one.’ Nothing. The glazed flick with the eye, dismissing me. Not built for fighting. Not pretty enough for fucking.
In a city where you rise to the top with boots and knives or sink under the weight of others’ ambitions, I found a way.
Living between the cracks.
I am not a loner by nature. Give me a group of drunks carousing around a measly fire I’m there. Others who have also been invisible all their lives recognise me as their own. Hot breath and hearty laughter. Nights snug, warm for once, pressed up against some old woollen coat and the skinny, urgent body inside it. The smell of morning. Cold ash and someone’s found a tin of coffee. Bitter and scalding. Like we’re all on camp. All in this together.
But we’re not.
Don’t mistake being for belonging. These circles are ephemeral. Dissolve in daylight. Any hint of trouble it’s every skinny body for themselves.
No-one owes no-one nothing.
They say times were good before. Hell they say times are good now. I guess they are. For some.
You see them. On the TV. Sometimes on the streets. Not like us on the streets. In organised events. Marches. Parades. Their sharp suits and clean skin. Blue coats and red hats. High heels and big sunglasses.
I know some who loathe them. Would have them all rounded up. Not to kill but to slowly destroy. Degrade them. Take their pegs out one by one until they’re left, human and frail and alone. Who would they be then?
I find them funny. Like clowns. All puffed up with their own importance. It’s a life. Sure it’s a good life. They eat better than me. They can choose. Follow the latest fad (no meat all meat no greens only raw all cooked nothing cold all liquid no grains only fruit only pills nothing fried everything sealed). They move like murmurations of birds (golden sand summer white snow winter jungle sweat adventure shimmering party nights). Always a new thing.
But you get up close, surprise one, you’ll see. It’s not power in their eyes. It’s terror. The fall will come. The fall always comes. If not now, then soon. If not them, their children.
Still, I didn’t expect the rise when it happened.
I was in the city square. The Krishnas were out. Now and then the government cracks down. Breaks them up. All that singing. Jingling bells and dancing feet. Joy. Crazy right? We all know they’re crazy. But tonight is a celebration. Power will shine from the city steps. Words of violent benevolence from the mouth of our ruler. What he says will be of no import to people like me. But it means there is crazy joy permitted. For one night.
So we came up from the river, from under the bridge. I know I’m filthy. I stink. Keep my distance from the families and couples ice creams and beers the first warm night of nearly spring. I only plan to watch for a few minutes. Get my fill of crazy joy then descend again.
But the man starts talking.
Not the ruler.
Another man. Daring to make his words heard.
White shirt. Long body. Passion in his voice.
The hooks under my skin. They pull.
He is speaking anger. He is speaking action. He is speaking hope. None of these words are words I use. I’m a low and quiet head down survivor.
But the hooks pull.
He is speaking loud. He is speaking shout. He is speaking make them see you and make them hear you. The time for silence is over. Our time is now.
I am hooked.
I have no choice.
On dusty ground, the warm wind swirling city grit on our skin and in our mouths we follow.
Ten, I’d say, or fifteen.
The city has been sleeping and we will shake it to wake. These are men with voices. These are men with clear eyes. These are women who march. These are women who speak.
They see me. Not for fighting or fucking. For who I am and what I can bring. We will drag the gap between river and shining city steps. Shout the voices of those who have so long believed they have no voice. Rail with words against the tight, white violence of control. We will change. We can change. Things can change.
Their mistake was in underestimating me.
It has been this way since I was a child.
It happened sooner than I thought. The voices of freedom changed their words. It was allegiance. It was secret. It was join or leave.
But don’t you see! I spoke. This is what is already done! Those who belong and those who are discarded.
Power of the group. Change must come by force. Tonight, on the shining steps, the force will come.
Bluestone alley. Smell of piss. People like me curled in corners. The shadows. Pressed against walls. Happy to stay unseen. Wait until this noise passes.
I can disappear too. Back into darkness.
Or join this force. Give up my self.
Air is still warm and the group has faces raised. They sniff for blood.
We hover. Them and me. Join or leave. Belong or disappear.
My voice, now found, will not be silenced.
I will not join! I will not leave!
I will walk for change and belong to no group.
The tall man sees me. But his eyes blinker now. With a shrug he lets me go. One with a black suit and nervous walk escorts me away.
I see the knife flash in hand. Orders to kill?
I have become no-one again. They will leave me be.
Their error was in underestimating me.
It has always been this way.
I merge with the crowd. The swell rising. Action calls to the city tonight. My blood is warm. My body ready. I ride the wave. I let the current take me.
The group passes. Mutterings and shouts. Already they are splitting. Those who would kill. Those who would speak.
I am alone.
But there is one. Warm eyes and full beard. He sees me. He bears the mark of allegiance, that which I would not take. But he sees something in me. Not for fighting or fucking, speaking or marching. For being.
We walk together.
Moment of kin.
From here the story races to its end. The rush of crowds. Chanting dogma. Calling out. Violence of guards. Empty speeches. The group is quashed. No coup tonight. The white shirt man slips past me and into my hand slips a knife.
Small and warm.
Use it as you will. He has seen me. Not forgotten. The blur. The ruler speaking. His white foam words. The blind sleep to which the city will fall back into. Begins again on the shining steps.
To wake! To wake! To wake!
I run. Knife extended.
The ruler sees me. His face. His eyes. The terror. I lunge.
Too slow. The guards are upon me. My hand slashed. Pushed to the ground. I stumble away. In the dark, the noise, he is there. My bearded friend. Slips the knife from me and slips away.
I can be invisible again. He takes the weapon that would denounce me.
I fear I will not see him again.
White shirt man and the group are banished. All those that wear the mark. Pushed from the city. Down to the river and further. Back to where nobody belongs.
I slip into the night. Away from the shining steps. Across the cold grass. Not back to the river for me. Just here. To the trees. Closer now to the city. To myself. To life. I can wait. The chance will come again.
Blood runs warm on my skin.
Their come down will be in underestimating me.
This will be the case now.
Until the end.