A cry of excitement escaped the crowd like a canary that slips between one’s fingers and to freedom. Then a hiss. Like a traveller meeting a cobra on a rocky path, the crowd recoiled, Then they scattered as the gas snaked from its canisters in the afternoon breeze.
Lauren Penniman had seen this before. The squares were all the same: dry, dusty, and scarred not by history but by the careless and mundane tracks of daily life. But today the people were different.
A correspondent for a London journal of declining fortune and gliding to its natural end on the currents of public affection, Lauren Penniman savoured these moments. Soon history itself would be at an end and. The world slouched towards normality. Complacency. The remaining islands of chaos offered a last hurrah for Penniman, the observer of revolutions.
He saw her. Out front. On the crest of the surging crowd. Penniman. Her parka flying as if she were running with the bulls of Pamplona. A study in scarlet.
And then blackness.
Michael Ezra did not know what drew him towards this North African town. He was not like Lauren Penniman. He was at home in The City, the financial heartland of the empire. As each fresh revolution brought a new province to the empire, the administration – he was quick to discover – was less of a challenge than he imagined. He became obsessed.
The tales did not stand up. Objects shifted and moved. With each probing question the images, the events, the sequences, the truth itself leaked with the unmistakable hiss of Hasbara. To find the truth he knew at once he would have to find his truth.
What was the process of revolution? The archives offered nothing. Data meant nothing. The facts told no story. The unfolding New World – our restored empire – required a poet to record it, not an accountant. Michael Ezra knew then that the truth – his truth – would be found at the heart of civilisation’s last revolution.
Lauren Penniman was his poet. Her prose made him sweat and shake. She was the voice of the last generation.
He left his job. He bought a ticket. It cost £500. He travelled. These details are not important. His story begins when she woke up in his room in the riad he rented for the revolution.
The bed sheet inflated like a dirigible in the heat. His mood was elevated, restrained only by the ballast of propriety. “I’m Michael. Michael Ezra,” he stammered.
“I know,” she replied. She didn’t.
She didn’t care.
“Do you have a name?” he asked. He knew.
“It’s not important,” she said absently, flapping the sheets as if sending signals.
“You’re Jewish” she said, “from North London. I can tell by your accent. It’s like Lawrence Harvey in Expresso Bongo. I like that. It’s sexy. Are they still shooting outside?”
“No,” Michael said presently.
“I don’t have any clothes on,” she said to Michael.
“No,” he said. “That’s my fault.”
When an object falls from an aeroplane and – because if fate were not cruel it would be called something else – it kills a man sunning in his garden, so fell the silence upon the pair. Michael Ezra and Lauren Penniman.
A travel clock ticked on the dresser. A motorbike gargled in the distance. A cat walked past the window. They looked at each other. They regarded the silence. They looked away from each other.
“Did we?” Lauren asked.
“Yes,” said Michael. “Yes. I’m afraid we did.”