The Other Side of Holland Park
By Marc Breyer
Christopher walked down Kensington High Street, turned right into Melbury Road and crossed over Holland Park; then he got to Holland Walk and finally arrived in Ladbroke Grove, along which he had walked many times. There was nothing new about that, as there was nothing new about his habit of walking around that area, near Olympia, up Kensington High Street towards Hyde Park, or down to the west, towards Hammersmith, Chelsea and the river.
The young man simply loved walking. That was his source of pleasure, his way to unwind, his form of contact with the world, his chance to place himself as an observer and exercise his contemplative nature. So, whenever Christopher was free from any work or any study commitment – he was a law student at The University of East London and had a part-time training job in a law firm – he would always dress in very casual clothes and take his time in long walks.
Some people say that the simple act of stepping out of home, where one more easily feels comfortable and protected, represents a form of peregrination, which means that it is not necessary to go on a lifetime journey to endure the difficulties, novelties and challenges of such an experience. The conflicts of the soul can come out of any change of environment, from any interaction with a completely unknown passer-by or citizen, and on some occasions even under well-known conditions and at places one has been to many times.
The young law student had never decided to walk further into Ladbroke Grove before; so, that was something that moved him to search for what it was like and to play his role as a watcher a bit more.
As he headed down the first block, he could see cars and people in the streets, an expected urban scene, but also houses with beautiful gardens, all very carefully arranged: roses and turnips, violets and hyacinths, among many other flowers whose names were unknown to him. Also the hedges, so well-trimmed and neatly kept, impressed him and presented him with a gracious feeling of peace and tranquillity. But curiously enough, it seemed that those houses had been left behind, uninhabited, in spite of their neatness and tidiness. The street itself soon got rather empty and only a few people were walking along it.
One more block ahead and the scenery started changing. The gardens disappeared, there were no more pedestrians on the pavement, and no cars were passing by. The houses weren’t houses anymore, but places. Each piece of land represented part of London – a square, a monument, a district or a construction: Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, The Planetarium, Regent’s Park, The British Museum, Paddington Station and many other places that Christopher knew very well.
The next block couldn’t be more amazing! The street turned into a sequence of flights of stairs and landings, leading him down and down, and displaying figures suspended on each landing: 2010, 2009, 2008, and so on, always decreasing. Those landmarks, buildings, parks and streets of London were then replaced by natural formations of forests, lakes, rivers and even deserts. Things didn’t resemble England anymore; they were places that Christopher had never seen in his life. He felt confused, afraid and started to sweat, but he couldn’t give up the idea of going on in that strange descending way.
Seven flights of stairs down and the views of nature were no longer there. What Christopher could see now were situations in his own life. Right in front of him, there he was at different ages, in different moments throughout his life. His first day at school, crying as he realised he was going to be left behind, having to stay there with the other kids; the time he got sick with a bad infection in his intestines and had to be put in hospital; the death of his uncle, who had always helped him and showed the boy many of the things a boy must learn with another man; the moment he started his college course, and all the expectations that that new period in his life could offer… were all there parading before his eyes. His mother, father and many other people of his acquaintance appeared around him, trying to talk to him, trying to touch him, but he could by no means communicate with them. They were at the same time so close to each other but also far apart, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was helpless and weak; he had to undergo that terrifying experience of being incommunicado, cast out from the world, without the possibility of any reaction.
The signs over the landings were showing lower figures now: 1996, 1995, 1994… and when those scenes were over and nobody else could be seen, Christopher went down some more flights of stairs, always going deeper in that long descending journey, so mutable and weird, so astonishing, harrowing, and revealing.
That plunge into the story of his life led the young man to a plateau, some sort of void, where there were no more stairs but a sign floating in front of him. It displayed 1987, and soon disappeared as if by a sleight of hand. He looked back, considering the possibility of climbing up the stairs and getting back to the ground level, to Ladbroke Grove, where that whole unbelievable descent had started, but it was too late and he could no longer go back.
‘And is there a way back? Can we solve the mysteries of our life by returning to our original condition, to our childhood, to the beginning? Or should we put an end into life, and then be free from all the problems we are forced to put up with? Why am I here on this purging walk? Why am I facing so much suffering? I didn’t want to come to this; I didn’t want to come to my own end. If this is a nightmare, I want to wake up,’ Christopher said to himself, his voice loud enough for anyone around to hear, if there were anyone there.
Suddenly, the young man was startled by a big change in the scenery. A green field began to spread around him. It had no trees, no pond, no animals or people as far as his eyes could see. Only that green, that endless green and the blue of the sky that was above him now, in its cloudless brightness.
Some steps ahead on that green carpet and Christopher heard a low, very low serious voice.
‘Stay where you are! You cannot go back or any further, your life is over,’ it said.
‘Am I dead?’ the young man replied astonished. ‘That’s absurd… I just walked down the street. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t either keep on my walk or… or go back up those stairs!’
‘Yes, sir, there is’, the cold, contrived voice stated. ‘You came down to the last block, exactly to the one pointing to your year of birth. You shouldn’t have walked so far if you wanted to keep alive. Why didn’t you return before? Now, there’s nothing to be done. Stay where you are and wait for your trial to commence.’
‘Trial! This is not possible. I didn’t do anything evil. Besides, I’m too young to die, how come you try me? Which court is in here? I didn’t say goodbye to anybody – my parents, friends and relatives, they’ll think I fled, I … ’
‘Halt! Quiet!’ the voice commanded more aggressively this time. ‘Your trial is now to commence. Sit on the chair placed behind you. ’
And the defendant found a wooden chair, with neither armrests nor cushions, right behind him. He did as he was told.
‘Well, your honour,’ another voice, harsher and even more unnatural than the previous one started, ‘the present case is a combination of cowardice and hidden homosexuality. The defendant simply couldn’t control his feelings while he was alive. His strong desire for being a girl made of him a complete failure not only as a student, but also as a friend, a son and a citizen! He lived a whole life of fantasy, which led him to cowardice. In all of the situations he was supposed to make a serious decision, he simply failed to do so! Despite his well-rounded upbringing and his parents’ efforts to make a man out of this boy, nothing could tame his desire to deceive himself. But his desire was also not strong enough to help him reveal the lady inside him.’
‘Yes, in fact, your honour,’ a third voice, rather high and loud, maybe that of a lawyer who would have to defend him cut in, ‘the defendant in question definitely failed to “cross his gender” as well. He preferred hiding his deep and strong desire, never giving it a try. The creature had no moment of intimacy with another man. He was nothing but a lunatic, a queer figure, queer!’
At that moment Christopher got furious; he couldn’t take that jest, that farce, that outrageous and groundless accusation any longer. He jumped off his chair.
‘This is crazy! What you are saying doesn’t make any sense. It’s absurd! In spite of my friendship with many people who think there’s no such a thing as being different for their sexual choices but being a person above all, this absurd thing makes no sense at all, I’ve always been a sensitive person and admired the beauty of things, but this is…’, and he was cut in, very abruptly.
‘Shut up, sir! You haven’t been asked to speak! Actually, in your case there’s nothing else to be said. Both lawyers have made it clear that you are a lost case. After all of what has been stated in this court, I am compelled to convict you of the worst crime possible: WASTE OF LIFE! Christopher Stevenson,’ the voice, which was now very strong and powerful, decreed: ‘You are sentenced to live a new life. You are going to be born again and suffer all sorts of pain. You’ll be destitute and shall never achieve anything in your life, nothing at all. And you’ll not be born a girl, even though that may be your desire, for you are a queer figure, queer, queer … ’
It was then that Christopher’s terrified eyes could see the faces of that judge, as well as the lawyers, who resembled people he had known some time in his life, but he couldn’t remember when he’d seen them or who those people were. A jury, composed of twelve members, including his relatives, friends and even his parents also came out on that blue screen-sky. Christopher was then petrified and uttered no sound, until all of those people started to chorus:
‘Queer, queer, queer, queer …’
He put his hands on his ears, trying to cover them, and shouted out loud, his voice echoing in his head. He jumped from his bed and walked towards the bathroom, which was attached to his bedroom. He was hot and sweating. He looked in the mirror. The figure in the mirror smiled a sly smile to him.
‘It was just a dream, lad. Just a dream,’ it said. And it faded away.
This story is an original work of fiction in English by Marc Breyer. He is a German-Brazilian writer, translator and teacher of English in Curitiba. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org