All Architects Are Called Zach (Part 4, words 1,533)
By Mark Burrow
4. Night of the Assassins
Outside, standing on the balcony, Freddy looked at several pigeons strutting about on the ground below, pecking at a discarded box of chicken and chips. They were the only birds he ever saw on the estate and he liked to sit and watch them, with their white-ringed necks, oily rainbow markings and bobbing heads, searching for tasty titbits.
A bloke called Alfred, who lived in the old people’s home, liked to warn kids that the pigeons were secret agents, sent by the Government and set on destroying us all.
To Freddy, they were simply unappreciated birds.
The estate was circular, with blocks of flats forming a kind of perimeter. He wondered if Zach realised that, as a result of his clever design, you never had a cool breeze running through the buildings. Instead, the atmosphere was sluggish. During the six-weeks school holidays, everyone – animal and human alike – roasted in the muggy heat, unable to escape the oven-baked boredom.
Walking along the balcony, he came to the stairwell, intent on leaving, but there were no stairs going down. They had vanished. He could only go up. He breathed in, then out, heading up the stairs, wondering why he couldn’t hear the usual murmur of traffic or cry of a police siren. When on the next floor, he leaned his elbows on the ledge of the rough textured balcony and waited.
One by one, the lights in the windows of the flats on the estate came on. There were hundreds of them. Freddy looked over his shoulder and calmly registered that the latest stairwell he’d come up was sealed. He couldn’t go back if he tried. Part of him wondered about opening the doors of the lift and trying to clamber down the shaft, but he guessed it was pointless. The estate was not going to let him to leave.
The doors of the flats started to open. Figures stood in the light of the doorways. Arms rigid by their sides. He scanned the different balconies, row by row, trying to make out who the figures were in the ultra-bright lights.
Hundreds of people, playing statues for him.
When the penny dropped, he had to laugh. So this is where you’ve all been hiding? Gathered together. Colluding. Waiting.
It made total sense. Of course they’d be living in a place he’d longed to escape. This estate was his private museum of horrors, where bodies fell from the sky and the only flowers you ever saw growing in the sparse patches of grass were brown lumps of dogshit. You had to laugh because if you cried, you’d never stop.
Freddy noticed a lad, Nellie, who had bullied him repeatedly on the estate. Made his life a right misery. Nellie always mum-cussed Freddy, saying things like, “Your mum finishes work when she gets out of bed.” And they’d get into fights, surrounded by taunting children who were wild with bloodlust. Punches and kicks would be thrown and then they’d roll on the concrete floor, and Freddy would feel humiliated because Nellie was younger but a much better fighter.
And Mrs Elliott, the Born Again Christian Home Economics teacher, who was an absolute C-U-N-T. She asked the class what they wanted to do when they left school and they told her they wanted to be postmen, scaffolders, electricians and nurses and the rest. Mrs Elliott encouraged and supported everyone else in their dreams but when Freddy said that he wanted to be a soldier, she told him that he would never make the grade as he was too lazy and lacking in self-discipline.
And the football manager for the Sunday league team who suggested Freddy take extra, one on one training. The manager said he wanted to make Freddy a special player, maybe getting him a trial for the regional team. Freddy had to stop the extra training after a couple of sessions as the manager tried to feel him up, probably wanting to bum him in the changing rooms, because he was a dirty old paedo like his team-mates warned him.
And Tara was there, illuminated in the doorway, frozen in time with her perfect brown skin, black hair and wide, beautiful eyes.
All the people on the estate had betrayed him, let him down, double-crossed him in one way or another. Some of the betrayals were huge and others minor, such as the boy who had beaten him in the egg and spoon race on a sport’s day at infants school, or the manager of the frozen food store, where he had a part-time job, who refused to allow him to leave early to watch his team play in the cup final. The same people appeared repeatedly, like his mum and dad, for the different occasions they had let him down, not least when they took him to Hamley’s for Christmas, where they were going to buy him James Bond’s Aston Martin, with machine guns, ejector seat and rear bullet-proof shield. It was the absolute bollocks. Except they had to leave after ten minutes, without the present, via a fire escape due to a very convenient bomb scare.
Grudges and resentments. Against his bullying brothers and Carrie, his sister, who was his mum’s favourite. He walked along the balcony, passing the American Director of a film he had taken a girl to see. It was his first proper date and the film was rubbish. As Freddy had chosen the film, the girl blamed him for it being boring and therefore she thought Freddy was boring and she dumped him the next day. There were characters from the children’s TV show, The Box of Delights, who had scared him senseless, as well as Bananaman, for never being as good as the intro led you to believe.
Then there was the shop assistant who had convinced Freddy that he was rocking a pair of bright red Adidas trainers with green luminous stripes. He bought them and was universally ridiculed by friends and laughed at in the street by strangers. And the woman who interviewed him for a bank assistant role that mocked him for his accent and mispronouncing the word administrative as “admimastive”.
Bosses. Friends. Family. Bus drivers. Shop assistants. Characters. Actors. Tara’s dad. There was the Careers teacher who told him that he should be a mechanic as he’d never go to university, and the man in the Job Centre that refused him benefits because he had quit a warehouse job. You weren’t allowed to quit employment, regardless of how demeaning and stupid and mad the work sent you.
You name it, they were here on the estate, staring back at him. He spent ages wandering the balconies, taking a trip down memory lane. Reliving the hatreds and grievances like D had said. She was here too. There were plenty of versions of her given her crimes and misdemeanours, along with that sneaker fucker in IT, Olly, as well as other exes.
Since leaving his parents’ flat, he had deliberately refused to look at the tower block. He really didn’t want to. It was a sky kissing death machine that freaked him out. But he knew he would have to at some point. He counted to 10 and then allowed himself to succumb to the sight of that evil steeple. Once he made eye contact, the lights were switched on, starting from the bottom floor flats and rising to the top.
It was a dramatic sight, like the beginning of a concert. Figures appeared in windows. They were hard to distinguish at first, silhouetted, and then he realised they were replicas of himself. In every window, he stood there, regretting something he had done. From petty incidents, like drinking his mum’s Cinzano (which she ended up hiding from him in her linen basket), or stealing his nan’s Christmas bottle of Bailey’s, to something major, like ordering some girl he allegedly got up the duff to get rid of it.
So much related to his drinking. Stuff he wished he could take back. The hurtful comments, the fights and scenes he had caused which were down to losing control from boozing, as well as drugs. Entire floors of the tower block had windows of him standing there, arms by his sides, due to his addiction fuck-ups. Not going to his old man’s funeral. The years of robbing and thieving. Arguing with girlfriends. Cheating on girlfriends. Cheating on girlfriends by sleeping with the girlfriends of supposed mates.
Lying and deceiving that fooled fucking no-one and achieved zilch.
Freddy recalled something that his grandfather, on his mum’s side, had told him as a boy: “You never hear the bullet that’s got your name on it.”
As he scanned the floors, rising upwards, he accepted what was coming to him. In a place like this, you never escape your past. The nightmares stay with you, buried within. They’re like asbestos of the soul.
On the top floor, he watched a perfect copy of himself raise a bolt-action rifle, taking aim with a telescopic site.
Calmly, he said, “All architects are called Zach.”