They all went to the square. Every day. Without fail. They all knew without really knowing why that it was important. Something they needed to do. They couldn’t remember why they thought it was important – they just remembered it had always been of utmost importance. They just went. Everyone went at different times, but many at the same time. There was no particular pattern. All day they would just drift in, out, around and away. And then back. Alone, in twos and threes and small loosely connected groups. Some would stay all day, milling about, wandering from one side to the other, occasionally staring up or down at nothing in particular. Others would arrive, then depart immediately. Sometimes they would then return again as quickly as they had departed, rejoin the throng and then disappear as though evaporating into thin air. There was a constant movement of people, this way and that. From high above it made the impression – in slow motion – of insects on the move. The square wasn’t huge and in fact wasn’t actually technically square. There were buildings around three sides all at slight angles and to the south the square extended out into a rambling avenue lined with overhanging trees on either side and through the middle smaller fruit and olive trees. Cutting between each of the three sides were small alleyways that fed in and out of the square as if capillaries.
In the centre of the square there was a small monument on a plinth, its significance long past. Up to the plinth on all sides there were long steps. Steps that invited the visiting people to sit or stand. Which they did, everywhere. Often the first to arrive at the top, later arrivals lower down. They would sit at all angles and as conversation varied, become quite tangled up. Through the day there would be a great deal of movement. People would get up and move around. Sitting and standing and talking to each other or calling out to wider audiences. Voices would rise and fall sometimes caught up by a sudden gust of wind rushing down through the width of the avenue. At most times anywhere you looked there were people. Pouring in through the narrow alleyways and streaming out and through every corner and under every tree of the avenue. Most people didn’t keep still for long. There was always another person to talk to or just sit and listen to. Someone always had something to say and rarely didn’t say it. They spoke a lot. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes loud, sometimes soft. All cut and dash. Often they were cruel and plentiful with false praise. Kindness was fitful and married to suspicion. But they kept on. Unfurling themselves to each other and to anyone who might care to listen. On the top steps, self-appointed high priests of the monument would pontificate and gather a crowd. They would reach up and up, their voices higher and higher, pluming themselves on their latest innovations. At night and dawn they would spend hours with heads buried in books memorising phrases and rehearsing poses. A rapt audience quickly goes to the head. Many of them shared a splendid collection of masks which they would wear decorated with bright paper, tassels and feathers. They would place great stock in hacking and cutting their own embellishments. Adorned in them they would feel protected and special like kings and would jabber and scathe, smile wickedly and clamour for greater attention. Still the enthralled crowds would gather, blanketed in a continual hush. Many high priests exchanged masks. Some handed around or cast away and some hard fought over. Often they became ragged and gnarled and required hasty repair. The masks became darker and stranger and over time no one was really sure who was who and who was what and few dared to care. The self-aggrandisement and self-importance was so smudged into these voices and postures that when looking upon the square any casual onlooker was filled to his capacity. The tired but excited audiences often drained of any common sense would hang on every word late into the night some falling asleep where they sat or stood. Mindful of these slumbering heaps, the high priests – some already silent but others sharing opinions in low voices – would slowly descend the steps and shuffling or striding pass out through every corner of the square already preparing for another day.
//somewhere in england