The Visual Novel
There was a strange muted sound outside. So he got up and went to the window. Even though he could not see anything particularly interesting, he could feel that that strange sound was there. So he opened the window. He could hear the streets, the cars passing by, conversations between people without being able to grasp a single word they were saying and the rain. Now he felt that he was included in the overall orchestra directed by the city. Not as a player but as a listener. So he found a pillow, brought it to the window and sat comfortably listening to the rain. And then the wind started blowing. It got stronger and stronger and it seemed that the other sounds did not exist anymore; its power was beyond everything. And then it calmed down. But with its greatness it brought a smell: strange and yet familiar- slightly sweet, with a touch of sand and very mild as if it was made of the morning dune. He started listening again and was drawn to one conversation in the street below. To his own astonishment he was able to understand it! There were two voices of two rather senior gentlemen. And even though the first gentleman was whispering, his articulation was impeccable. “She always leaves the key under her mat. You’ll see.”- he said. “But that’s rather typical, isn’t it?”- replied the second one. “The beauty of it is the simplicity. But don’t let that fool you. It wouldn’t be a secret if it was that simple”- whispered the first gentleman. “I hope you still have your golden watch? We’ll need it tonight”…
CITY STORIES. CONTINUED. CHARLOTTE STREET
That conversation greatly interested him. He checked his watch- still half an hour left of his lunch break. Then he listened again but the gentlemen must have moved as he was unable to hear them anymore. “Oh, well…” he thought. But, even though he was trying to deny it to himself, he badly wanted to know what those gentlemen were talking about. “You still have time”- his logic reminded him- “you can try and waste it and then get back to your boring job OR you can see what you can find out”. The decision could not have been simpler- of course he did not want to go back to his desk, where he would have to face the customers and be shouted at again. Because it is always the poor person facing them that is responsible for making all the rules that clearly do not apply to anyone. “If they’re gone- they’re gone, at least I’ll know I’ve tried”- he thought to himself jumping off the windowsill (yup, they’re really wide in his break room) and rushed down the stairs to the street. “See you very soon”- he just about managed to shout out to the door keeper before the doors smashed behind him. So, he ran outside, turned right, and in a few moments he was just off the main street under the break room window, where the two gentlemen must have stood. Obviously, no sign of them. He looked at the high street: person after person, everyone’s marching past in a speeded-up manner, too important and too busy to pay attention to the world around. He hesitated: this is the world he was trying to avoid at every possible situation; he’ll have to face it once his shift is over, so there was no point in doing this to himself now. But the curiosity is an interesting thing- he could not shake it away from him. So he breathed in deeply and stepped forward into the high-street. Soon the flow of the crowd caught him and he was taken forward without an ability to change the direction. Traffic lights, red- stop, green- walk, and he is being carried away together with the rest of the bodies. Tourists, business people, fellow lunch-breakers and him- all mixed up together, all being carried away the same direction without a clear purpose. Forward, march, do not slow down, do not stop OR you will make the crowd SEE you. Forward and only forward even if that is very inconvenient for you. It is too late now- the high-street has its rules. And that is it.
So, he was trying to keep up with the crowd as much as he could but the moment he saw the first off street to his right- he took it. “Nope, I guess I won’t find them”- he sighed and was just about to start walking back to his work -“Excusez-moi monsieur. Nous recherchons Charlotte Street” a foreign voice clearly directed at him stopped him. In front of him was standing a petite lady with a larger than life map, looking at him as he was her last hope. She was no higher than a typical thirteen year old but you could tell that she was way over twenty-six. She was wearing a vintage red hat with a dark green ribbon on it; an orange-white-yellow dress with foxes on it and a red spring coat. Everything about her screamed- VINTAGE!!! Next to her was her boyfriend. His rectangular sunglasses covered his eyes but you could tell even without looking at them that he was way somewhere else with his thoughts. He was chewing on a straw (no idea where he got one). He was also wearing a hat but you could see his greasy curls coming underneath it. If his girlfriend was all about red-orange-yellow shades, he was the dark blue-black-and-grey type. They all screamed vintage as well. “ne savez -vous où la rue Charlotte est ?”- She asked him again. He could not speak French (and he believed that that was French she spoke in) but sometimes some things are international. Charlotte Street. He definitely heard that one before.
He was just about to step forward and have a look at her map, when a cab suddenly stopped by. “Gimme that!” a black teenage girl, no older than fifteen was sitting behind the wheel. She quickly snapped the map from the French girl’s hands and started studying it. “How did she ..? Surely, she must be over eighteen”- he started questioning and then he noticed the car itself- it was no ordinary cab either: yes, it was still black but it was longer than usual, like a strange mix between a stretched Rolls-Royce and Bentley at the front and a classic cab at the back. “You see that street behind you?” -the driver asked the French girl- “ go straight and then turn left and left again and them…”
“Mais qui va nous ramener ici”-interrupted the French girl.
“Go straight, turn left and left again and then before…”- started the young cab driver,
“Mais cela nous ramène à l’endroit où nous étions”-replied the French girl firmly.
“Will you let me finish?”- The cab driver got angry. “I’m just tryin’ to help!”
“j? Ai compris! On se verra là bas. je vais tenir une place. Je t’aime!”- Suddenly the French boyfriend spoke and disappeared that very moment.
So, at that very moment he stood there with a teenage cab driver, still studying the map and a French girl, still looking lost.
“What I was trying to say, was that when you take left and left again, before you come back here, there is a tiny street there that starts with WH. You need to go there”- the cabbie finally got to say what she wanted for a long time.
“Allons-y”- the French girl looked at him, quickly grabbed his hand and went to the direction pointed by the cab driver. Curious, he followed her. The cab driver was driving right behind them, still studying the map. The street was really narrow; the backs of the buildings could be seen on either side. However, it provided a strangely comforting feeling: as if they were protected but not watched by anyone at the same time.
Having walked for a while, they reached an area where once a building stood. It was demolished now and probably a new one was to take its place at some point. But at the moment it was turned into an unofficial parking space. The cab drove in and stopped.
“I hate being useless”- the driver sighed. “I can’t find a way to that Charlotte Street”.
“You’re not useless”- he replied. “You just can’t find it on the map. Just keep looking”.
“You ain’t gettin’ it- I AM if I'm a cab driver! It’s my job and I can’t do it! You go- I’ll stay here and study it for a bit”- she said and turned off the engine.
So there were only two of them now- him and the French girl. She took his hand again and started walking along the street. He has never seen this part of the city before. And it was strange; he knew the area very well- he was working here!- but this part- never seen before. The further they went it, the more unfamiliar it seemed: a building site after building site. It seemed that in this area someone decided to deconstruct and rebuilt the old buildings that were there before. And the most surprising thing was that it was all empty. Not a single soul. But you could tell that the process was in action. Just not at that very moment.
“oh regarde, c’est l’endroit ! “- screamed the French girl in an excitement pointing into a tiny single floor building in front of them. And even though the building was tiny, you could see that it was fully packed inside- it must have been a pub or a bar of some sort. In one of the windows on the massive bar stool the French boyfriend was sitting. He waved at his girlfriend pointing to the drinks waiting for her on the table.
“veulent se joindre à nous ? vous êtes plus que bienvenus” –she asked dragging him after herself. They were just about to enter, when he realized that his break must have ended long long ago. He checked his watch- still 3 minutes to go.
“I’d love to but, sorry, have to go”- he muttered to the French girl.
“c’est la vie”- she said and ran to her boyfriend waiting for her inside.
Now he was left on his own in a part of the city he could not recognise without a clear idea of how to get back to work in 3 minutes…
CITY STORIES. CONTINUED. THE PLAY
So he turned around to where he thought he came from and started walking. But he had a strange feeling that it's not right. The other street just in front of that tiny pub, where he left the French couple, felt a lot more right even though he knew that he definitely did not come from there. So, he turned around again and took it instead. "What the heck! I'm pretty much late anyway, so it doesn't matter if I see what's there" he reassured himself.
The street looked pretty much the same like the Charlotte Street- the one that led him and the French girl to the pub- slightly wider, but still without a single soul to be seen. However, the three-storey buildings were facing in, so he could see the empty windows and naked walls inside. Also, the road itself was not asphalt like in Charlotte Street, but had massive stones laid in random order. It slightly tickled to walk on them. He walked for a while following the shape of the street but nothing exciting happened. The sky was getting darker and darker; it was ready to rain, but it was still warm outside.
He noticed, that the gaps between the buildings started to get bigger and soon he walked out of that street into an area that used to be a field. Or so it seemed. As all you could see was covered in black dust. Like a dessert of black sand. There was a smell of fire in the air. The field must have burned down. Or was burned down. And right in the middle of that field stood a three-storey building. On its own. Abandoned. There were no glasses in the windows. It was empty inside as well.
Suddenly he heard the thunder right above him. The air consistency just got heavier and he knew that it was just about to start pouring down with rain. So he ran into that abandoned building without even thinking what might wait for him inside. And then it started raining. Heavily. With lightning, thunder and wind. The storm got so strong, that you could no longer distinguish the ground from the sky. "We're not in Kansas anymore" he thought to himself and moved away from the window. Just in case.
It seemed that he would have to spend quite some time in that building, so he decided to look around.
The first thing that stroke him was that the building was very spacious. Yes, it was empty, which only added an extra layer of space to it, but it was clear that space was never an issue here. He was wondering what could have been here before it all got moved away: it seem too big and too spacious to accommodate flats or offices, but it was too small to be a factory. Also, it didn't seem to have had any doors: one space to another was joined with a massive cut in the wall. "It must have been a gallery or a museum of some sort. The height of the ceiling seems perfect for that" he thought to himself. However, he could not remember hearing anything about a gallery or a museum in the middle of a field. Or recollect any of them burning down. "I've been living in this city for a long time and I pretty much know it by heart by now but this area- I have never been here before. How is this possible?" he was thinking to himself while wondering around the building.
The evening did not take long to come. It was still raining outside but the storm had passed now. He found himself on the third floor investigating different shades of grey paint that was used inside the building. When he entered the biggest space (that would be the most appropriate way to call it as room does not pay it justice) on that floor, he found a dirty duvet in the very far left corner. And then he realised how tired he actually was. He did not care that the duvet was dirty or that he would have to lay down on the floor or about anything else. The only thing he could think of was the sweetness of sleep. So he took the duvet, wrapped it around himself and laid down on the grey floor right where he found it.
He woke up when it was dark outside awakened by a strange sound inside: he could hear people talking, even though he could not understand a word. Not because he did not understand the language, no, because it was too far away, and the clarity of the words got lost between the walls. Also, he could sense the movement. It is a very peculiar feeling this one, but everyone that has been in any kind of an empty space on their own, would recognise that moment, when you know that you're not alone anymore. Even if you can't see anyone just yet. So did he.
He got up because he was very interested and started following the sound, which took him down to the ground floor. But that still wasn't the place as it was as empty as it was before. And then he noticed a tiny ray of light at the very back coming from the corner of the wall. He moved closer to it and noticed that there was a cut in that wall. A very narrow but still a cut all the way from the ceiling down to the floor. He looked down. There was a set of stairs leading down. He found staircases, that did not show where they lead, very mysterious. And intriguing. He liked not knowing where they take you. This one interested him greatly, so he stepped down. Very carefully, very quietly so he would not make a sound. Just in case.
He found that staircase to be extremely tight and narrow. Like the staircases the castles have in their very tall towers. Just this one was taking you down under the ground instead of leading you up.
He kept going down for a while. When he finally reached the ground and could see no more steps, he felt relieved- being in an extremely tight space for a long time would make everyone uncomfortable. There was a cut in the wall right in front of him. The light was coming from there and the sound was clearer. He stepped through the cut and was astonished by the side of the space that opened up right in front of him. The closest thing to what he saw could be described as an indoor Greek theatre: he was standing on the top of the seating area that went round the arena at the bottom. There were a few people walking around, but the majority were already sitting in their seats. It seemed that something was about to start.
He looked around, found the nearest seat and sat down. Soon everyone stopped talking and three actors walked on to the arena. They were dressed in grey linen clothes and stood there for a while staring at the audience.
"This is the world we live in. The world as it is now. Stripped down to its essence. Without the politics, without the promises, without the future" said the first actor after a while.
The other two started circling him around while juggling the black balls they had in their pockets. He looked closer and noticed, that those were not balls, but bombs. Then there appeared a grey tree without leaves right in the middle of the stage, then there was a family, a storm, lots and lots of booms and bangs all around the stage, flashing lights, darkness and the same bare tree again in the middle of the stage. It was a very very bizarre performance. He could not make any sense out of it. He understood, that what he was seeing was not good, but at the same time he did not have the slightest idea what that actually was.
When the play ended a woman walked on the stage. "So, what do you think? Is it clearer now? Were your comments taken into account? Is there anything we need to clarify? Change?" she asked the audience and the discussion started.
"You look lost?" a woman sitting next to him turned to him, "First time?".
"It's ok, everyone gets very confused the first time they see the play"-, she explained, "and then it starts making sense. In the most general way, it is a political play. We gather here every night and try to perfect it. So people understand it. And then"- she leaned towards him and whispered, "our plan is to break into the parliament and show it there."
He looked at her. He must have had a very worrying expression on his face because she started calming him down straight away: "Don't worry! Nobody is going to get hurt or anything! We're creating a play for the world ABOUT the world! If we continue living like we are now, we will destroy ourselves. What we are trying to do is to make people think. Not to change their minds, but help them start making their own decisions."
He sat there for a while re-thinking what he had just seen and what that meant. He could not understand, how did he end up in this strange world that he did not know existed a few hours ago. Was it real? Or was he just dreaming?
"Wanna come with us to check on the parliament? We need to find the best way to access it."
To be continued