Thursday, 5 February 2009 - 4:43 pm

Sounds in the silence

Today was not a happy journey for us, but we were close to our target by the time it was over. Sax was antsy when we started to look for a place to stop for the night, even though he’s still limping badly. The first dot on the map is his daughter – she has an apartment near here with her husband and baby son. But the rain was coming, the clouds scuttling up thickly in the sky overhead, turning backlit orange to dark ochre. We had to stop.

No-one’s really talking to anyone else at the moment. With less talking between us, we had more time to notice other things as we walked. Like the emptiness of the stone pots in the streets, ones that used to be home to bushes and flowers. They’re stained earth now, not even a leaf or a fallen petal left by the rain to tell us what used to be there. And the way the buildings in this area are cluttered together, hunched up almost close enough to rub shoulders, as if they’d grown fatter than their builders had intended.

Graffiti tags everything around here. It seems that the rain doesn’t wash away paint very well. And, oddly, some of it is fresh.

The silence isn’t complete, either. We kept hearing people moving around, just beyond our sight. It’s both a good sign – it certainly makes it more likely that Sax’s daughter will be found – and unnerving. We didn’t actually see anyone, though; our previous encounters have hardly been encouraging, so that was a mixed blessing too.


We had broken into another apartment building for shelter when we heard shouts close by. By then, most of us were on the second floor raiding kitchens in the abandoned apartments, and the noise drew us to the windows. It took us almost a minute to realise what we were watching, and then I told Dillon to take Nugget downstairs to Sax and to keep her away from the windows.

There were about half a dozen of them, all young men, all with fluorescent strips flashing down their jeans. They were chasing someone down – it was their shouts that we had heard, hot in pursuit. The quarry didn’t quite make it to the street before us – the next building blocked some of it, but we could tell from the lift and fall of limbs and weapons that there was a beating going on. I flinched, but I couldn’t look away.

I said that we should go and help, even though I knew it would be pointless. We were already too late to prevent it, and I think I’ve lost all my leverage with the group anyway. There’s still a part of me that can’t just do nothing, though, even if all I can do is say that I want to help.

Then a whistle went off and the beaters peeled off the victim. They sprinted off up the street and I thought, there’s our chance. It was Ben who put it into words, who suggested that we should go see how bad it was. He hadn’t spoken to me all day and I was so relieved that he was still supporting me, even if it’s just because we happen to agree on something.

There was a noise that stopped us, one that made my stomach clench up in horror. The hissing washed over us and dribbled down the windows, chasing up the street towards the attack site. We knew then what that whistle meant. I wasn’t the only one to flinch at the sound of that cut-off scream and to turn my face away from the window as the rain passed over.