Peace Osei is young, beautiful – and addicted to heroin; the only thing that can keep painful past memories at bay. But when a face from the past re-enters her life demanding answers to questions she is not ready to face, it threatens to send Peace swimming deeper into self-destructive waters. Having spent so long drifting away from the real world, can Peace find the strength to face the past and banish her demons?
I quickened my steps to try and shake off the grinding pain in my stomach. But that only made it worse, forcing me to slow down and come to a stop by the side of the bridge whilst everyone else swept on past. It was rush hour so nobody noticed me, a small figure dressed in black trembling against the icy metal railing under dense grey clouds that threatened to unleash rain on the city below. Unable to move or think straight I let my eyes drift over the raging waters of the River Thames, which stretched out like a rippling black sheet for miles before me. And as I stared at the dark angry water, it seemed to come alive, taking on the appearance of an enormous creature stirring restlessly beneath me. The sound of the waves crashing against the bank now sounded like an unearthly heart beating slow and steady against the soft sigh of the January wind.
I wondered then what it would feel like to plunge into the midst of the creature beneath me. Would the seconds spent in the air before I hit the water feel like an eternity, or would they disappear in a flash? Would any of the people sweeping past me even notice or stop long enough to care? And once the dark, icy water closed over my head, how long would I spend struggling before I gave in to its eternal embrace?
Thankfully, the icy wind was all I felt against me, the biting cold eventually jolting me out of my morbid reverie and back to reality. Noticing a bus roll past and come to rest at the bus stop nearby, I released my death grip on the railing and ran toward it, only just managing to board it before it moved on.
Once aboard the packed bus I inched my way through the knot of people on the lower deck, up the stairs onto the top deck and chose a seat next to the window as the bus lurched forward. Leaning back in my seat, I delicately fingered three soft plastic packages in my right coat pocket and letting myself relax – ever so slightly – I watched the city streets dance by.
Dusk had crept up on us by this time and the glow of the streetlights beating back the invading darkness gave the bustling streets a festive air as office blocks emptied of their daytime inhabitants. I sat enchanted by the people that swept past, most of them in heavy winter coats walking briskly in either ones or twos toward tube stations or to join the larger groups that had gathered around bus stops in what was a mass exodus away from the city streets. Some people I saw walked with a grimace as the bitter cold whipped their faces. Their mouths were drawn into thin hard lines and their vacant eyes told me that the stresses of the day had followed them out of the office and would be with them long into the evening. Others strode energetically down the streets, jauntily ducking out of the way of their fellow pedestrians as they fled to the comforts of home. They even managed a smile as they waited for buses that were often too full to welcome them aboard. I also saw groups of young men and women around my age that appeared oblivious to the punishing cold as they meandered down the streets, laughing carelessly about something or other that had amused them. I kept my eyes on those groups of blissfully young untroubled types who were a representation of something that had long ago ceased to exist for me, and watched until they were either too far away to see or had disappeared into one of the many pubs and bars that dotted the city landscape.
The bus soon sped away from those people and the city streets, away from the London Eye which stood over the near-black river, holding up its glowing blue capsules like an offering of jewels to the twilight sky. Away from the grand office buildings with their lit windows looking like Christmas tree lights in the distance, and as the bus drew further and further away from the city streets and became emptier with each stop, we were slowly taken away from one world and into another.
No impressive-looking office buildings were to be seen providing the background for an opulent world in this new landscape. And whilst the world I had left behind had statues and monuments as a tribute to their heroes and significant events of their history, we saw no more of these as the bus left behind the wealthy city streets and wound into the urban jungle.
Neglect instead wove an ugly thread along the littered streets of this new world and the only thing that distinguished each unremarkable building from its neighbour was the graffiti that screamed at the passer-by from every exposed concrete surface. It seemed as though every time the bus turned a corner it was met by a sprawling estate or a high-rise block of flats that loomed menacingly on the horizon, dominating the landscape and casting an oppressive shadow over the world beneath. I was carried deep into this new world and got off the bus to the familiar sight of a small group of drunks that had congregated by that bus stop. They were always there, dishevelled, noisy and oblivious to the unease or open contempt that their presence evoked in those around them. In my eyes they were an example of people who had given up on life; kindred spirits that had taken enough of life’s knocks, had handed in the towel and surrendered. People who had made the conscious decision a long time ago to stop striving for the better things in life such as that better job or better relationship. They had instead chosen to find that something better at the end of a bottle – or in their case, the many empty cans of beer that littered the bus stop.
I left them behind and made the short walk into the heart of the urban jungle under a sky that had already deepened to an inky black as night descended, bringing with it a hive of activity as people either left the streets or ventured from their homes to explore it. Cars roared past and I heard the sound of a police siren, the piercing wail sounding like a bird of prey shrieking in the distance before it died away. I passed off-licences, corner shops, and takeaway shops which were now beacons of light in the darkness, drawing people in. I took comfort in the kaleidoscope of colourful faces that passed mine; from white, Asian, Latin American, Chinese and every shade of black; starting with soft golden browns and travelling down the spectrum to the richest blue-black skin tones.
Some people I passed were clearly not at ease in this world and they trod carefully through it with their heads down, trying not to make eye contact with those around them in an effort to get from A to B unnoticed. But for others the world around them had become a part of their identity and was as much an essential part of them as the blood coursing through their veins. Whether they were obvious predators or people that had simply fallen in love with the urban jungle, the hold that this world had on them was a powerful one and it kept them coming back again and again to dance to the rhythms of its dangerous beat.
I made it onto my road without having to stop and give in to the pain which was clutching and twisting my lower abdomen and fled past rows of identical Victorian houses towards the bright red door of a converted house which had become a lighthouse, lighting the way home in the growing storm of my need. Once I let myself into the house and stepped onto the worn dark brown carpet in the gloomy hallway, I was able to release a deep sigh before I closed the door shut quietly behind me. I slunk past a door on my left, which led to a one-bedroom flat, and up the stairs onto the first floor which had been converted into two bed-sits with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The tremor in my hand was more intense when I put the key into the lock of my bed-sit and swung the door open to the glare of the television set which I had left on in my haste to leave earlier on in the day. Safely in my sanctuary, I wasted no time in shrugging off my coat whilst fragments of news that nobody ever wanted to see or hear accosted me from the television screen. It was a news bulletin about another missing or dead child, and a photograph of that child wearing a school uniform that they would probably never have the chance to wear again. I watched the television sadly, affected by the sweet innocent smile that the child’s parents must have longed to see again in the flesh before I snapped the television off and plunged the room into an expectant silence.
Carefully taking out the tiny bag from my coat pocket, I reached for the lighter and roll of foil on my chest of drawers, catching sight of a tall, slim, pretty young woman peering at me from the mirror against the wall.
I avoided her as much as was physically possible, but she still managed to sneak up on me when I was least expecting it and forced me to acknowledge her as I did now.
I watched as she put a hand up to her face which had a strong hint of Ghanaian lineage in the mahogany brown skin, a small, flat, broad nose, full sensuous lips and thick, jet-black natural hair that had been pulled tightly away from her face. Although this face had undergone minor changes over the years, the eyes – my eyes – were the only feature that had changed beyond recognition and looked as if they had seen far too much in their twenty-three years on this earth. It was the clear, deep anguish in those eyes that led me here and made me tear myself away from the mirror back to the lighter and the two small pieces of foil that I tore off the roll. Rolling up one of the pieces, I put it in my mouth and let it hang off my lip like a cigarette then tore open the bag and emptied the brown powder onto the other scrap of foil. Using slow deliberate movements which defied the urgency that was speaking to me from my every pore, I used the lighter to melt the powder into a golden-brown ball and tilted the foil to make the brown ball run down to the other end whilst chasing it with the foil roll in my mouth.
Inhaling the heavenly smoke through my mouth, I chased and chased until all my burdens floated up and out of the room.
All my life it seemed as if I had chased one thing or another; acceptance, love, chasing dream after dream. Whenever I got close enough to those dreams I realised that they were nothing but phantoms. Insubstantial ghosts that quickly dispersed, leaving behind mists of failure, disillusionment and despair.
When it hits, when that first wave hits and I am swept away from everything, swept far, far away from the shore to a place where I can see nothing, hear nothing and feel nothing, I sometimes see his face. His face in all its exquisite beauty often overwhelms me, inducing tears before disappearing as quickly as it comes, leaving me far out to sea with no sight or sound of land until finally, it finds me... peace.
A.D. Koboah was born in London and completed an English Literature degree in 2000. Peace is her second novel. Her first novel, Dark Genesis, is a Paranormal Romance that was inspired by the concept of dehumanisation. She is currently working on a screenplay and will begin the sequel to Dark Genesis shortly.