It’s been nineteen days since I last wrote and published a story. Yikes. In blogging terms that’s bad news, borderline suicidal even (and my view count agrees with me…) So here is the beginning of a piece of dystopia that is based on our current dystopian existence. Actually, this is a good argument to put to you. The libraries of the world harbour a myriad of novels based on dystopian societies, but what about the dysfunction we see in our current status quo of existence? Could we argue we are living in a dystopia all of our own? What do you think?
To set the scene, this particular piece was inspired by New Zealand’s social landscape much more than the world I now absorb in London, so for my UK readers perhaps it will be an insight to housing estate life in another country? For my rest-of-world and kiwi readers, Katherine Mansfield was definitely one of my muses when I started working on this piece (not for her writing style, but for the way she addressed the sickness in society). I hope you enjoy it.
World between the walls. J R Manawa.
The boy lived down a dirty street in a residential suburb of government funded houses that all looked the same. A street that existed somewhere in forgettable suburbia. The houses all had the same filthy beige paint, the same chicken wire fencing, and the same camellia bush out front with pink flowers that turned brown in the rain. The pathetic patch of grass belonging to the house was clipped once every month, by a council mower that left the clumps of cut grass behind to rot in the sun. The beige houses all had the same three concrete steps to the front door, the same wood-clad and brick facade, and the same thirty centimetres of space between the tall walls that separated this house from the next. All in all it was safe for the boy to say every square inch of these houses were exactly the same.
But now back to the boy, who just happened to live in one such house with a dead garden of dirt along the front fence, and a long ignored climber rose which ran rampant over one entire side of the front, covering most of the living room window. But the window had only ever looked out onto the house across the street like it was staring into a mirror anyway, so it was not missed.
But the boy! The boy!
He sat in the front yard upon the cracked concrete footpath, watching a line of ants march away the last crumbs from his lunch box to an underground haven. He was a school boy. But school was out and he was home alone without the key. Mum wouldn’t be home till six, and Dad only started work at two-thirty. He wouldn’t be home till the boy who watched the ants was long tucked up in bed.
So the boy was alone.
There were some children up the road who played hop-scotch with a big chunk of pink chalk. But the boy didn’t know them, and he didn’t want to play hop-scotch. Nor would he play basketball at the end of the cul-de-sac with the older kids, because they wouldn’t let him join in even if he did pluck up the courage to ask.
So he sat in his front yard and watched the ants. After the ants had finished his lunch he moved to the steps in the shade of the giant climber because the sun was too hot, and he began to pluck petals from the bush. Being of primary age, he was not accustomed to sitting in one place for any reasonable period of time, let alone with nothing to do. He kicked his feet backward and forward against the concrete just like he did everyday, while he picked petals and considered what he would do next.
He guessed that soon he would go and sit in the dirt that was once supposed to be a flower garden and build mud castles with the help of his drink bottle. He also considered building a small pond and racing petal boats across it, maybe even employing the ants as sailors. But these were all things he had done before. Tried and true methods of entertainment that had long ago lost their excitement. He began to pace around the perimeter of his little front yard. He was sick of having to wait outside the house, sick of waiting on this pathetic plot of land, and sick of waiting for three hours before his mum got home.
He came to a stop in front of the gap between the walls of his house and the house next door. Squinting at the gap, he rubbed the slick of the sun from his face with his fists and observed the darkness beyond.
A shadow land.
A cool thirty centimetres of narrow gap between the walls.
A gateway to a new adventure.
Something he had not done before. The boy knew the space was thirty centimetres wide, because his school ruler fitted neatly into the gap. But could he pass through the gap?
He wasn’t a large boy, and after pondering over it for a few very short moments he decided to give it a go. Sucking in his breath, he flattened his small tummy as much as he could and then side-stepped carefully into the opening. He had to turn his head toward his shoulder, but he found that it was entirely possible to fit into the space between the walls. He stepped wide over several broken beer bottles and a plank with rusty nails poking out, and then pushed his face nose-first through a thick, sticky, spider web. He was now a few feet into the gap between his house and the next, but the biggest challenges were yet to come. He collided with a dirty old drain pipe another few feet in, and to squeeze around it he had to suck in his breath so hard he thought he might pass out. He steadied himself with a hand against the wall, his fingers digging into the gooey green slime that grew there. Then all of a sudden there was a loud crunch beneath his foot, the shards of a beer bottle splintering under pressure. He was thankful his black leather school shoes had thick rubber soles. He would ask his mum to pull the pieces of glass out later though he knew she would not be impressed.
All this time, he guessed how filthy he was becoming, and how thoroughly unimpressed his mother would be when she came home. But he brushed the thought away. He was much more excited about the prospect of reaching the far side of the gap than he was fearful of the possibility he would receive a hiding. When he looked up again he realised his goal was within sight. He could clearly see the sunlight filtering through the discarded collection of chicken wire, plastic bags and multicoloured bottles at the end of the gap. It was only a few feet away. With a last push and a wriggle, there was a ‘pop’ and a ‘thump’ as the boy made it out of the gap and dropped to the ground. He lay where he fell feeling rather dizzy for a few minutes, taking in the fresh air with large, hungry gulps. Then he stretched the cramp from his neck, rolled over, and stood up. He rubbed his dirty face with even dirtier hands before he opened his eyes and looked around.
‘Oh…!’ He let a soft exclamation escape his lips.
Part two of the World between the Walls, will be published Thursday evening! See you then xxx
With love and darkness, J R Manawa.