I was walking. Walking along an average English capital street. A street that, over the years of business trips and overnight stays in boutique, then budget hotels had become surprising familiar to me. Me, a Northern boy, born and bred, familiar with the capital’s zones. Who’d have thought.
It was late. Late-ish, but not that late. I’d had some decent wine. Hungarian, I think the waiter had said. I’d parted, with a heart-felt hug and a kiss, from my friend and supper companion. I was on my way back to my budget hotel.
I made an automated turn from the main vein, with its new red buses, its gliding Bentleys turning into side streets and its myriad of minimalist fixers, shabby commuter and wobbling Boris bikes navigating zoned-out office workers and post-shopping hipsters.
I crossed to a quieter street running parallel to the main vein. Quieter. Nicer. A couple sat on a pedestrianised, architect conceived marble feature bench. Actually, maybe they were late night workers, office cleaners, taking a break. I passed them, and then a frantic office worker brushed past me, late for the tube or a last train or a date.
Quieter now, quieter and still. A barrier divided the corporate sponsored paving stones from the old and now resurfaced, rediscovered cobbles of an ancient East End side street, once, no doubt a major thoroughfare.
Then I stopped and I stood still. And I looked at my feet.
And the cobbles softened, and I felt an unease, a loss of balance, as the cobbles started to melt like hot butter, leaving me standing but sinking into something soft and unstable. I felt noticeable layers through my trainers, like tree-rings denoting centuries of time, as my feet sank, lower, inch by inch, melting into the night-lit street.
There was no heat or smell, like molten iron being worked in a fire, no perceptible change in temperature in the late evening air. No physiological hint that the world was melting right under my feet.
I stood and swayed gently, trying to balance myself, now ankle deep in the cobble stones.
I didn’t think to try to escape, to shift one foot and put my weight on the other, to pull that foot up and out, to plant it on firmer ground and to pull the other foot out.
No. There was something in my head and in the cool evening London air that said, no, let go. This is my fate. I’m sinking. Let me sink. I want to sink.
So I stood, my weight balanced evenly over both feet, as I slid lower, at an steady pace and with a steady heartbeat, into the layers of historical earth that lay under the cobblestones.
I closed my eyes.