THIRD PRIZE: PULLING ON THE ROPE by Sian Williams
By fromewriterscollective, Jul 20 2020 08:46PM
I left my old Ford Fiesta on the front drive of Mum and Dad’s suburban villa on the leafy fringes of Stockwood. There’d be nowhere to park anywhere near the centre. Everything was shut. I was sure they wouldn’t mind. Well, actually, thinking about it, they probably would, so I left before there was any chance of discussing it. They were shielding anyway, shutting themselves off from the world because Dad’s got type 2 diabetes and a blood clot in his leg. Shielding, I reflected, as I turned out of the lane into the Wells road to begin the endless trudge to the centre, had been their way of life, since long before the present emergency. They drove everywhere, never went near public transport and led their personal lives behind high wooden fences. There are still council houses in Stockwood; best to be safe!
This was probably the longest walk I had ever undertaken in my life. I’d only ever driven this way before. I’d told My husband ,Mike, and the kids that I was going up to Beacon Hill for an early morning run( my daily exercise) going to Waitrose and then,(inspiration!)driving into Bristol to drop off some toilet rolls and white flour (if I could get any) at my Mum and Dad’s. My alibi was absolutely watertight. But my heart was thumping and I felt a bit sick. I’d never done anything like this before, ever. In my handbag there were two masks – just in case one got damaged or stolen or….well you know…….?
The Wells Road was quiet, denuded of traffic, almost. The occasional delivery van rattled by, even on a Sunday morning, as, I suppose, they always have, invisible troops of zombies keeping us all going. I passed by walls, forecourts, front gardens, houses and a shabby looking café fronted by a carpark. I’d never noticed it before when stopping and starting, grinding my teeth and cussing at the sclerotic traffic and deliberately obstructive lights and crossings. All boarded up now like the shops and petrol stations. City of ghosts.
We’re all right. We’ve got the farm. Well we’re as all right as farmers ever have been. We reap and sow, milk the cows, feed the hens. People still need food. When I first went out with Mike my best friend said “Don’t marry a farmer. You’ll be marrying the bloody farm.” True. It’s the paperwork that really gets you down.
As I walked up and down the endless hills I thought of Mike. If he could see me now he’d think I’ve gone mad. But I had to go.
I’d never been what you might call active. I joined the Labour Party when I was at college, mostly to annoy my Mum and Dad and I’ve done some leafleting for them, which gave me the opportunity to meet every savage dog on the Mendips; but I’d never been on a demo. Never had time really. I’ve always known, though, that something is wrong.
Someone in the Party re-tweeted it, a film of a man being murdered. I couldn’t bear to watch it but I had to. If it had been a movie on then telly I‘d have switched it off. I don’t like that sort of thing. But it was real: a black man slowly suffocating, a white man with his knee on his neck. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Something had to be done.
I was already knackered by the time I got to the Centre. There was a crowd, socially distancing, mostly and somebody talking on a megaphone. I didn’t know anybody. I was alone. I put on my mask and looked around feeling silly. Everyone else seemed to know people, to know what they were doing. And, embarrassment of embarrassments, I needed the loo.
A young black woman dodged past me, tall and imposing, hair arranged elegantly in corn rows.
“Sorry .” I faltered. Then, “is there a loo open anywhere?”
She looked at me and smiled. I think there’s portaloos somewhere, but I can’t stand those smelly things. Come with me.”
She led me round the corner of Baldwin street and into the back entrance of a block of offices. “I work here.”
“For God’s sake”, the Social Embarassment Councillor in my head advised me, “Don’t ask her if she’s the cleaner.”
“How er convenient.” I ventured.
“Working from home now mind.” She winked at me.
“What, on a Sunday?”
“I do the accounts” She informed me as we sat in adjacent loos enjoying the most luxurious pee I’ve ever had in central Bristol.
As we left the building a tense looking WPC came over to us and barked:
“What were you doing in there?”
I could have told her that it was fairly obvious we hadn’t made off with any of the office furniture.
“This lady”, I said as politely and calmly as I could without actually grovelling, “Works here. We were using the loo.”
She seemed to believe me. White privilege?
The police officer walked past us and into the building. Just checking, her body language seemed to say.
The black woman and I almost shook hands, but we remembered ourselves in time and bumped elbows.
“Diana.” Said the black woman.
The police officer emerged from the building, pulled the door shut behind her and went to join her colleagues. She looked a lot less tense.
A crowd was gathering around the statue of Edward Colston, his bland, beneficent features staring sightlessly over their heads. As we walked towards it I tried to think of something to say.
“Where are you from Diana?”Oh no! As soon as the words left my mouth I realised I had revealed my inner racist. Truthfully, though, I was curious. She wasn’t from Bristol. I couldn’t quite place her accent. She could see my discomfort and I’m sure it amused her.
“Gabalfa.” She said
“My island in the sun/”
“It’s in Cardiff actually.”
We looked at each other. She seemed to be laughing. I laughed too
“Pick up the rope!”
A length of thick rope lay at our feet. One end of it was looped round the feet of Edward Colston. Diana picked it up. I hesitated,. No! This was just too radical. Then I took a deep breath and picked it up too.
Diana seemed totally unfazed.
“Have you done this sort of thing before?” I asked.
“I was in the tug of war team at school.” She said. “The trick is to get a rhythm going, all pull together. Used to beat all the big fat bully boys doing that.”
The crowd began to chant: Take him down! Take him down!
He fell suddenly, jerked, teetered and then keeled over, landing on the paving at the foot of his plinth with a hollow clang.
With the amazed and delighted crowd I followed the fallen people trafficker as they rolled him over and over, paint spattered and humbled, towards the harbour. I cheered with all the others as he slid into the dock and disappeared beneath the dark waters, his last moments recorded by a hundred mobile phones.
Half way between Knowle and Stockwood, Diana’s business card tucked safely into my wallet, propelling my aching calves by will-power alone up what must surely be the last hill, elation gave way to a moment of anxiety. They’d been filming it. We’d be on Points West, and the national news, probably, and then I would be in the dock, the court of Mum and Dad, guilty as charged. No bog paper or white flour for the elderly parents. The thought made me laugh. Perhaps I was becoming unhinged by exhaustion. Mike and the kids would forgive me, I persuaded myself, once I had explained that, on some deeper level that I couldn’t quite rationalise, it was about them, about the future, their future. We can’t go on as we have been.
Something had to be done.
Copright :Sian Williams 2020