Wednesday, 13 August 2008
Nobody knew how it happened, let alone why, but it has never been forgotten since. I wasn't there at the time, but Addington told me about it.
For a long time in the city, the old people had complained of being forgotten by society or just plain ignored. The irony, as Addington said, was that nobody listened to the complaints. After a while, the old people got fed up and just kept quiet, but they would gather all over the city in groups and meet up to talk about what to do.
Not many people knew, but there was a small coven in the city. Addington didn't tell me this, my grandmother was one of the witches in the coven and she told me on her deathbed. The witches in this coven were not wicked witches in pointy hats who flew around on broomsticks with a black cat hanging on for dear life on the back. They were ordinary women like the old women you see all around you. In their youth, they had been drawn to their craft and used their magic in quiet ways to help others where they could. They were generally friendly, but woe to anyone who crossed them with cruelty or pettiness. Many a bureaucrat whose petty adherence to the regulations meant that they kept bursting into a musical number in the most embarrassing situation for example. A waitress who kept them waiting in a restaurant because she was flirting with a young man suddenly felt compelled to list all her bad habits in public to him. Still, generally the coven did a lot of good things and they would have kept on doing them but for one young fool.
He was in front of a witch in the queue for the checkout at the supermarket, trying to be smart with his girlfriend and the words just slipped out, which was bad enough, but worse he did not regret them.
"What exactly are old people for anyway?" was what he said.
The witch behind him found her lips purse and her eyebrow rise at this. She said nothing to him, but as he was leaving his underwear suddenly rose up sharply making him gasp and fold up. In the ensuing fuss, the witch paid for her shopping and left quickly. She called around to gather the coven and indignantly related the comment to her fellow witches. They too were angry and it was at that moment that one of them had an idea. Lily Pugsley her name was and she was a redoubtable woman. Short, skinny with a nose that could slice wood, Lily nonetheless was a warm, kind woman unless crossed. She told the rest of the witches her plan and they giggled and agreed.
Tuesday morning, the coven was seated in the Arches bus station waiting room. It was a spacious high room with the arches opening out onto the street. Inside there were seats for an awful lot of people, which was lucky because very suddenly an awful lot of old people started to enter and sit down. They sat with each other and fell silent. All the old people in the city arrived and sat silently. The station staff tried to talk to them, but got no answer at all. Then, at a quarter to eleven, a curtain of water fell from the arches and froze solid, not like ice, but like thick glass. All around the Arches waiting room was this solid curtain of water-glass separating the rest of the city from the old people.
At first, there was confusion, nobody knew what happened or who had done it. All over the city, parents could not leave their children with grandma and grandpa. Cafes fell silent as did the library. All the old people who worked did not arrive for work. The city suddenly ground to a halt. The city lost millions in revenue. It was as if the Angel of Death had taken all the old people with him and left the city bereft.
At four o'clock five days later, the water-glass suddenly vanished. The old people got up and left the bus station in silence until they were out on the street. Then they suddenly felt hungry and filled the cafes, bars and restaurants looking for food. The witches went home and quietly went about their business. Two days later, the city council took a serious look at their provision for the elderly and implemented laws. They consulted with the elderly, but nobody knew what had happened and the elderly had no idea what people were talking about.