Sam Thompson, author of the Communion Town has kindly allowed us to publish a short story much in the vein of his brilliant debut novel.
Where did I get the idea? All I know is that my suspicions began as soon as I arrived in the city. I had come here like everyone else, in search of the usual things: a room, a life, a district whose alleys and gardens I would call mine. I wanted to ride the trams, haunt the cafés and dine on the street food. I wanted to be changed beyond recognition. I wasn’t asking for more than that, and I certainly didn’t intend to write any of this down. Even then I knew that to do so would be a mistake.
But good intentions aren’t enough, and one sunny evening I stood on the pavement transfixed by the sight of an ornamental tree beside a set of iron railings. It was nothing, just a fragment of the city, but standing there in the smell of exhaust and magnolia I found myself unable to make sense of it. I couldn’t move on. Commuters were brushing past. Then a hand tugged at my sleeve and I turned to find a shabby figure looking up at me, grey-faced, half-starved but smiling as if he understood my predicament. He opened his mouth to speak.
Appalled, I fled, but the damage had been done. In the weeks that followed I fell out with my friends, caught a persistent cold and failed to keep my appointments. I grew weary and aggrieved. Running late for work I saw that face in the crowd. The flesh was patterned with bruises as if it had undergone surgery. Everyone knows what you’re after, I wanted to say as I pushed past: you can only tell one story at a time and I have my own to get on with. But did I still believe that? The idea was with me and I couldn’t shake it.
Indications mounted. At a tram stop I thought I heard a voice say ‘the ant will never know the anthill’, and that same night I dreamed that cities were built not from iron and brick but from memories. When I woke up I was on the point of recalling where I had seen this place before. Later, browsing bookstalls at the market, I opened an old paperback at the words remember how you came to this city… I left quickly but not before I had noticed the grey figure watching at a distance. It trailed me through the streets as if to demand credit where it was due.
I’m nervous, of course, but I won’t be leaving the city. That wouldn’t help. The figure is always with me, now, its hand always on my sleeve, and it is no longer willing to be ignored. Although I pretend otherwise I hear its voice all the time. We both know there is nothing I can do. In spite of myself, I have begun to listen.