The descent

The Shard is a strange name, but it is not, I suppose, so inappropriate. It cuts through the night, the clear yet ragged edge of many floors of lights, all slightly misaligned, growing ever more perilously up til their point. I am the point’s peer: it is us on top, all else below. I dwarf whole buildings, let alone lorries. I command kilometres: this is freedom.

32 storeys is a long way down. Vertigo does more than make me dizzy; it detaches me. Like a mirage, what they say is the real world shimmers far away.

I want to come closer by degrees. But it doesn’t work like that. It is abrupt. A discontinuous phase transition from ants to people under the harsh light of the elevator. It’s doors open smoothly. We are here. The people are life-sized again and I am among them. Cautiously I take steps. Traversing the lobby to another set of sliding doors, leading straight out.

Noise smacks me. Cars, taxis, buses, sirens, shouting and honking. The ants were quieter, too. And these full-sized men and women, oh what shapes and colours they are in the lamplit dark.

No longer indestructible, in this plane I am fragile too. A handbag brushes my thigh, a shoulder catches mine so I glance behind to dissolve any danger of a fight. A pair of bright red needle-heeled shoes pass me by clipping neatly as they go. They are followed by feet worn down and cracking, held off the ground by string tied to what is left of some piece of canvas or card. Led by yellowy brown nails, they too shuffle by. There is a figure is a black dress wearing pretty shoes whose hand, when it swings into view, gives away (with chunky knuckles) its owner’s not-so hidden gender. Hollers and cries and squeals come to me in bursts. On top of them a band plays a folky waltz in a doorway, bearded men on instruments with a hooded woman’s voice. Soho is in Friday night mode, and it is having fun.

Through an opening lit by red and blue, the descent continued. The conversation, amplified by fluorescent walls, filled up the air and overflowed back out the tunnel. I beeped my way through the turnstile and onto an escalator. From below me a gravelled voice cracked into life.

we gotta hold on to what we got
it doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not

It spread fast, to one group and then a second. I felt the song in the air: it is not one to be hummed, rather hollered. It drove strangers’ faces up off the ground and into each others’ eyes. No one was in tune. No one cared.

woooaah we’re half way there
woooaaoh livin’ on a prayer

Rather than sinking down, I was lifted down into these depths. Buoyed by Bon Jovi; swallowed by the earth.


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