I’m answering an ad for a char in Shadwell. Bounding up the wrought iron stairs of a Peabody block of flats, I’m slammed hard into the clammy wall and pinned there. My chest poked rigid against my diaphragm like a sergeant-major’s baton. There is no breath there to release my imprisoned knot. Behind the retinas of my eyes I feel a thousand stabbing pricks, as if each one is a cajoling spur, towards what I know not. My legs feel like anchors, tugging on me as if to suck me back down towards the sweep of the stairwell. And yet I instinctively perceive they will not bear the weight of my trunk. I manage to sink to my knees, the instantaneous remonstration of abrading skin, being overriden by the inundation of all my mass centripetally flying into my stomach. I haul myself down the stairs as if on a sledge, only my frame is of flesh instead of wood and the surface I’m moving across is concrete, rather than compacted snow. I didn’t pursue the job that day.
I did return to the site however. The scene of my humbling. The locus of my felling. I had to find out what all that had been about. I was somewhat more circumspect this time, but the stairs still exuded threat. Bent over, I took them as a blind person, or a dog on the scent might, utilising my hands as buttress, arse the highest point of my skeleton thrust up in the air. My head was swimming in the sensation that I was being dragged down head-first, rather than ascending the stairs. I appear drawn to number 17, not the flat of the job interview, but one on the floor below. I convince the war-widowed mother who answers my knock, to let me look inside. Spun her some guff about how I used to live here when I was young … Perhaps it’s not guff, only, nothing seems right about the place. How the hell would I know that then ? I thank her for her forebearance and leave her to her screeching bairn and milk boiling over. I feed my hands down on to the stair ahead of me and kedge the rest of my body over. Slow but sure progress as I steer into safe haven.
At the foot of the stairs, I am in a stance of having my nose pressed to the floor at the doorway and notice an outline of the original building imprinted on the pavement. Goddamnit ! This wasn’t the original edifice. Probably rebuilt after the Blitz. Now I just couldn’t help myself. The woman refuses to let me back into number 17, until I’m almost battering her door down. She’s screaming for me to get out and leave her alone as she hides the kid behind her legs. I smash her in the stomach and she crumples. God in Heaven ! Why did I do that ? Why have I done any of this ? Why am I here ?
The rozzers find me sitting on the stairs quietly weeping. I was only twenty-four months old for christsakes ! How the horrible man from the Council had punched me in the stomach to make me release my grip from around my mother’s legs. I think that gently squeezing the copper’s hand as I related this, pricked his sympathy (either that or he fancied me) and he let me off with a caution. It was then that I knew I had to hightail it out of lowend Britain.