Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chapter VII


William did not notice this. He had been working in the factory all morning. He had received his punishment for being late. He would work the rest of the day for no money and there was nothing he could do about it. As he worked he drifted off into his favourite fantasy. He was in a mob, a crowd of thousands of people all marching along a London street. The mob was packed tightly so that William pushed into the person in front of him, was pushed by the person behind him, and jostled and was jostled by those to either side. Seen from above the crowd had the shape of a mooncalf – surging, coming together, then drifting apart, diluting, then coming together again. It never quite had a set shape, but it never disintegrated.

William was not sure why the crowd was marching. He did not know why he marched with them. He could not see their faces so he did not know if they were angry or hateful or euphoric. He was sure they were all strangers. None of them seemed to be the herds and gangs from his neighbourhood or from the factory. There was an orderliness and a dispassion to the crowd which made William uneasy. Sometimes he looked to his right or to his left and saw, through the mass of people, a policeman. The policeman was always looking at him, wherever he was, always looking at William, smiling stupidly, flashing all his teeth at him. It was not a friendly or a nasty smile, and the policeman did not seem to have any control over it. There was a panic in the policeman’s eye which seemed like a cry for help – “please! take this smile off my face! take these teeth from my mouth!” But still the policeman stood, a vile white smile frozen on his face, always looking at William.

And sometimes unruly sections of the crowd would peel away from the rest and smash the windows of a shop, or shout at the shop’s staff, calling them slaves and smashing their skulls in with their banners or with their own skulls. Such breaks from the crowd were dealt with swiftly by sensible and orderly stewards.

A speaker would get up and the crowd would stop. The speaker would say a few words to focus the minds of the crowd. He would call out familiar slogans to which the crowd would clap in an orderly fashion. The speaker would bawl out another slogan and the crowd would clap again. A heckler would heckle or boo or hiss the speaker, and he would be dealt with by the sensible and orderly stewards. Then the crowd would move forward a little further. And the desperate smiling policeman would keep his gaze on William. Sometimes a tear would run down his face.

Then a pocket of violence would erupt in the mass of the crowd and would explode outwards like a big bang or a cancer or a nuclear explosion. This was the most exciting bit of the fantasy. This was the bit where William felt a clamp against his heart which squeezed a scream up through his chest and out of his body, a scream that went “AAAAAAAAAA” and blocked out everything else and never stopped. This was when William heard the violence begin and stood still, rolled his eyes back in his head, lifted both feet off the ground and waited for the stream of violence to hit him and sweep him up and carry him off. When it came it felt like flying. Bodies surging towards him; he went from upright to prone, only a few feet off the ground. Some of the bodies were clothed, but some had their clothes ripped off. William wanted to be pushed and shoved by the ones whose clothes had been ripped off and he wanted to push and shove them back. Some of the bodies were children. Sometimes William pushed and shoved the children. Sometimes he kicked and punched the children and tore their limbs apart. Sometimes they were William’s own children. He would close his eyes and smile and feel the heavy boots kick his face and the teeth of desperate women sink into his ears, and hungry hands grab his hair to pull him along in another direction. His neighbour’s blood would drip onto his face and William would count the drops and lick them greedily from his cheeks and under his chin. When he had this fantasy, he would feel nothing but liberation. It took him away from the factory for a while.



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