With a start he realised that the sun was low in the sky, giving the
city a difficult brightness. It would not set for a few hours yet, but
he could hardly contain it: the anticipation. As always, it was not
alone; he was also restless. They usually started to build, one on top
of the other, in the middle of the week. By Friday, he no longer
understood what anyone said to him, although it appeared that he still
managed to hold conversations, just as he was now turned towards his
friends, who laughed and met his eyes.
Det, who was closest to him, had a problem he kept bringing up.
‘I know it’s all about the big picture.’
‘I read this thing about accumulation. Things accumulate. And we need to
be in control of the accumulation. It’s just my problem is patience, I
get fed up, you know? And I can’t save money, but maybe a little...’
‘I started doing early mornings in the warehouse, it pays a little extra
because they don’t do the insurance.’
‘Right—and you never know, if they know you, and a position opens
‘At least more hours—if they like you. There’s this manager I talk to,
and we get on. He’s only a few years older than us and has just bought a
Det was impressed by this information, as were the others. They often
talked about how to improve their lives. It was compulsive to think of
schemes that would correct the lack of money and other things, and
sometimes it seemed very easy. But the small flat contained them neatly,
just as the one across the road did with the people who lived there. He
leaned forward on the sofa, looking first at the window as if he might
want to jump out of it, and then back at his friends. He felt in his
body again the small breaths that stay at the top of your lungs. It was
important not to waste time, and if a good feeling could be set up
quickly, there would be less hovering and less agitation.
‘Let’s go to Frank’s.’
‘What...? Have you got anything else to drink?’
‘Who cares? Listen, things always get out of hand at Frank’s.’
‘We don’t have to fucking talk to him, do we?’
‘You don’t have to work with him every day of the week though... He’s
not, he’s not right.’
‘It’s true, and where does he get all that money from?’
They argued for a while.
As they walked the five blocks, the sun was so low in the sky it hit
only the highest part of the buildings, four or five stories high,
melting into sharp points on windows and gutters. When they walked they
spread out over the pavement and half the street, and people moved out
of their way.
There was a lot of noise coming from where Frank lived. Walking through
the gate, they saw that people filled the courtyard; looking up,
speakers were fitted in the lower windows which released their sounds to
bounce between the interior walls of the block. He decided to stop
thinking for a while. He concentrated on drinking at the correct pace;
too quickly was dangerous, but too slowly brought its own disadvantages;
headaches, and a nagging panic that the next week was looming.
They stayed only for long enough to gather a small following. Sar, a
girl he knew from other nights like this, took the lead; she knew of a
new place which she called the Paradise.
‘They are not particular about who they let in,’ she said.
He had never heard of it and found the idea risky. There were places
only around the corner which they knew well—where they often lost a
sense of time until the very early morning, and after which he could
sleep for a whole day. But looking at Sar something else came to mind
which made him temporarily pathetic, although he remembered too little
of when it had happened. He looked around and gave some
instructions—above them, a young girl twitched her curtains. ‘Fuck
Frank,’ he thought.
Beginning their journey, the group was boisterous. Sar moved them
skilfully in the direction of the high street, where all the usual
places were filling up. This narrow band of street was rarely not
crowded: it tied together a place which had outgrown it but which from
every direction channelled into it.
Over there was the path leading to the bus station—he followed its
curve and took pleasure in not having to walk that way. He does not know
that later in life he will think of it often, close his eyes and walk it
in his mind, unlike the journey now, which he will forget. A car passes
very closely on his right and in the tinted windows he sees the old
buildings of the high street, many with scaffolding. He has the
sensation of a great tiredness, brought on not only by the strain of the
week, but by the knowledge of boredom that can surprise you at the
beginning of something new and that, perhaps mercifully, keeps you in
check. But, just like that, it was too late. And, then, the sun dropped
out of sight.
Turning the corner from what was familiar, it did not take long before
insecurities and obstacles began to present themselves. Someone was
hungry, another ran into people they knew, exchanged looks turned into a
heated argument. He needed the cashpoint, and walked away. The thought
occurred to him that he could still walk back. After his errand was
done, he froze to the ground, looking this way and that at other groups
very much like his own. But the money in his pocket urged him not to
falter: if he turned around now, he might as well be at home, watching a
An orange rolled past him on the ground and distracted him. Wanting to
help, he moved slowly towards the elderly woman whose groceries were
littering the pavement, trying to alert her to his presence while
looking gentle and open. To his surprise, she was unbothered, and
stopped to lean back against a wall as he picked up her items and
off-loaded them into her well-worn shopping trolley. Stooping for eye
contact, he asked in clear, quiet tones if she needed help getting home. She
took hold of his wrist, reached deep into her dress pocket and brought
out an egg which she placed in his hand. He held it carefully until he
caught up with his friends, the sight of who brought a roar back in his
Back together, the pace of all involved seemed to quicken. It was now
truly dark, and they began crossing a carpark without any lamps; the
gravel ground underfoot like bones in the mouth of a giant. He almost
crumbles, then; the anticipation slips, and he knows nothing good can
come of such expectation. Then they emerge: a small doorway radiates its
light for those near enough to see. People conspicuously line the
pavement; they slip in after a few well-chosen words from Sar to the
‘Dark Paradise’ radiates in pink over a stage of sorts; around this
people move and move, laugh and whisper. They also move, deeper into the
basement and fan out; the bar is to the left, down a narrow alcove. He
needs a drink. His mouth and throat are dry, as if he has travelled for
hours in hot sunlight. It shocks him for a moment to see Det already at
the bar—had they not left him at Frank’s? Det’s face unfolds in front
of him, but he turns, instead, towards the young woman next to him.
‘Strange space to find underneath some apartments.’
She looks at him blankly, makes up her mind and replies.
‘They were everywhere when this area was first built. But they decided
to lock them all up... The official reason being noise pollution.’
‘And the unofficial?’
‘People were enjoying themselves too much. You see, they didn’t build
the estates for people to feel at home... There is a conspiracy to
upend authentic ways of life.’
He does not know how to reply to this, so splutters for a while, which
does not matter as the music is loud enough. He glances to the side and
sees his shadow move in the mirror. It is a very strange place to find
in this part of the city, he thinks, again, and the room expands in size
and darkness. His companion’s face is bright in front of him.
The music rumbles his stomach, and the correct dimension of thought
kicks in: he does not believe in mystery. But he is disturbed by the
realisation that his image in the mirror did not look back at him,
instead carrying on its business as the Paradise shifted its dimensions.
It makes sense as an arrangement of oppositions: life out here, and
something else in there, receptive but closed, needing to shroud its
actions tenfold to make sure nothing can be anticipated, that even the
most benevolent action will find itself undermined. It does not need to
turn because he knows its look, he knows it with the same knowledge that
he knows cold, hard power, which he does not want to know.
Turning away from this annunciation, he goes to find the others to
regain a sense of equilibrium.
He finds them at a secluded end of the dancefloor, where the pink light
traces their skin and bodies as unreality. Sar and two other women move
rhythmically at the centre of the group, eyes closed and relaxed; the
others keep a slight distance, moving with unintentional clumsiness,
eyes focused on nothing in particular. He finally feels empty of desire,
relieved that no mirrors are there to reveal him to himself. Taking a
few steps, he sees infinity stumble across everyone’s extremities:
hands, knees, eyes, genitals; soon, from every pore. So incredibly
banal, this basement underneath the city, the impossibility of freedom.
He remembered many things in the scope of a few seconds: the hidden,
black sky. The difficulty of unpacking your own body, into the great
mass, the great labyrinth.