I kneel on the cold cobbles inside the shaft of light that pierces the darkness of the room, and I begin to unroll the heavy map, knees pinning one end in place while my whole body pushes against it, releasing new space, smoothing it over with the palms of my hands street by street.
The city appears under my body, flattened and unreal, like a board game, or a ouija board, waiting for a signal- a knock, the roll of a die- to conjure its buried motion.
Reduced to the fibres of this roll of paper, I can almost grasp the entirety of its networks in one long gaze, fixed as they are, surrounded by darkness and caged within the boundaries of the sheet.
I walk over over the city, paying attention not to smudge the lines, not to erase even the smallest of backstreets or buildings with a careless step.
I reach the middle and I stop: from there I see it stretching towards all four cardinal points while I stand immobile as the demagnetised needle, unable to point due north, directionless.
Although this compass will not help with the navigation, still I try to put the fragments back together and remember.
The point of origin? The destination?
Both seem the same- redundant- now that they have been excised from the jumbled and fractured narrative.
Is it now or then? When will this moment fall in step and reach towards the next?
Time lies in a heap of shattered bones and pulverised brick, a fine dust on the surface of the paper, without intention nor direction.
I wade over the city casting my shadow over neighbourhoods and street corners like a strange weather, and at every step the dust rises in small gusts, a vapour that carries with it the ages and a multitude of voices.
I can hear a faint murmur of displacement, a lament that ceases as soon as the dust settles again, in new formations.
I am guided by a constant searching sound: the scanning of the airwaves for a signal, the thick static pierced by a probe, propelled through unfathomed distances by instinct, by a gesture of physical memory- a familiar journey once undertaken with uncertain outcomes. The sound is everywhere around and inside me, it is what binds me to this place of darkness and partial light, it is what streams out of my eyes in their incessant forward thrust.
I move as if moved, drawn to a centre of gravity distinct from the one my body is accustomed to, relinquishing both desire and control.
I sense the boundaries of the city growing further, invisibly, like roots underground, adding distance between my place in the middle and the darkness beyond.
The first time I see him, he is a heap on the ground, shapeless in the near complete darkness and yet familiar in his appearance, a faceless roadside totem hinting at loss and displacement. His face is turned to the wall, and all I can see of him is the sediment that has gathered over his body through exposure.
Along with many others, his presence breaches the streamlined order, interrupts the flow of the narrative just the time it takes for the arc to lose its meaning. And once seen, he cannot be unseen.
Like me, he is a strange weather formation, a gathering of clouds thickening and dispersing in the corner of many eyes seeking shelter from the imminent storm.
His stillness is the stillness of time emptied of memory, unable to stretch just a little further to the next point along the story.
He feels the dark water rising coolly, seeping into his layers, making his bones damp, but he remains still, because he knows that there is no safety in movement anymore.
He has traveled across unimaginable distances in search for shelter, and, finding only this patch of cold ground, he has settled on it and made it his own, but waited until his skin turned the colour and temperature of the cold brick before calling it a home.
I see him again.
This time he is standing in line, waiting for his turn to collect some food.
The long line stretches to the very edge of the road, where the bright lights of the passing traffic occasionally cast a spotlight on the multitude of dark shapes huddled together- and as the light move across, their combined shadows are lifted as one and cast as a vast, dark blanket over all that surrounds them- over the bright buildings and bright eyes of passers by- for just a moment erasing their unseeing.
Cup in hand, he moves to the steps of St Martins in the Field, and settles there awhile, the cold marble a brother to his cold bones. He shares his bread with the pigeons, and sees the city spinning around him, making him a shivering sun at its centre.
Back in his home on the street, he huddles and turns to brick once more, leaning on the wall that holds him benevolently, like a mother’s arm holds a baby in slumber. And before he falls asleep, he whispers his story to the street, to the night air and the white sky, to the lost and the broken, his words sliding through the cracks and under doors, all the way into the unhearing ears of the sleeping multitudes…