47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


HE STILL felt physically sick, even as he lugged the very last of the cardboard boxes out into the garden.

He started to dust himself down, but a quick glance showed him this would be a futile gesture – years’ worth of accumulated filth from his loft had been very effectively transferred from the poisonous pile to his own clothing.

He should have changed into something that didn’t matter, he realised, noting with dismay the grey grime that now seemed ingrained in his rather expensive yellow sweater.

But there was no time for all that while these things were still intact and in his possession.

If only he had reported them, handed them in, during the Amnesty.

Everyone was supposed to have gone through their entire possessions, their whole home from the back of the sofa to the garden shed. And the loft. Especially the loft.

He remembered the news reports of relieved-looking families filing into police stations with piles of illegal books, discs, magazines and photographs that they had been able to unload without fear of prosecution.

He had meant to do that himself, have a good thorough search. He’d meant to err on the safe side by handing in everything that could be considered subversive or criminal, even if it didn’t seem to meet the police criteria.

After all, he didn’t read anyway - didn’t have the time or energy with his job. And he risked losing that very job if there was ever a hint that he owned material that encouraged terrorism.

The trouble was that he hadn’t ever got as far as the loft. There was nothing there, he had told himself, grabbing the opportunity to save himself a job. Just a pile of old blankets and those bizarre lampshades the old lady had left up there when he’d bought the house.

Who’d have thought? She seemed so innocent. It must have been her. She said she’d lived there for 50 years and judging by the dates on these...

His foot prodded with disdain at the pile of disintegrating cardboard boxes.


He couldn’t bear to think about it any more and busied himself in sorting out the fire.

Having cleared a patch of ground close to the back wall, he moved one box into place and pulled it even further to pieces, spreading the contents around so they would all catch the flames.

On reflection, he pulled a dozen magazines and pamphlets completely out of the way. It wouldn’t do to burn too much at one time. People might notice. It might get out of hand.

And so, armed with a rake from his shed, he stood over the boxes while they and their contents burned.

He carefully prodded, coaxed and turned each item to ensure it was fully destroyed, reduced to a pile of unrecognisable ashes.

As he did this, separating pages deep within the fire with the rake to ensure they were obliterated, he was exposed, very briefly, to the contents of these sinister relics.

Banner headlines containing words that made him shudder, photographs of huge gatherings of criminal gangs, holding aloft profane banners and foul-mouthed signs, more pictures showing these people actually defying and denying democracy by blocking roadways, polluting civic spaces with their ugly presence, daring to appear aggrieved or surprised by the fact that the police had clearly had to use force to stop their anti-social and dangerous activity and restore peace and order.

Thank God those days were over, he said to himself, as unauthorised complainants, illegal obstructionists, economic saboteurs, wreckers, Luddites, extremists, nutcases, freaks and yobs were all obliterated for ever by his cleansing flames, along with the poisonous terrorist words they had left behind and which had been festering for so long in his own home - in fact, he realised with a nauseous lurch, just a few feet over his head while he slept at night.

He was carefully sifting and prodding and coaxing the last of the four boxes in the flames when he heard his phone ring inside the house.

Automatically, he turned and took a step towards the back door.

At the very moment that he realised it would not be a good idea to leave the fire unattended, at the very moment he was spinning on his heels to turn back and resume his watchman’s role, at that very moment a great gust of wind came out of nowhere on this still, grey day.

And, when he turned, he saw the flames leap up, he saw ashes scatter and he saw half a dozen scraps of paper leaping into the air.

He flailed with the rake, reached out with his free hand, used both feet to hold back stray fragments. He did well. There was no disorder. The situation was not out of control.

But no matter how high he stretched or jumped, no matter how much he muttered and cursed, there was nothing he could do to bring back one elusive slip of charred paper that hovered and dipped tantalisingly over his back wall, before rising yet higher and floating off towards the railway line and the housing estate beyond.

He stood back in a cold sweat.

There was no question of going after it. Trespassing on the railway was a serious offence. Besides, pursuing the escaped shred of paper would only draw the attention of the authorities. He’d be there for all to see on CCTV. They’d want to know why he’d flouted the Amnesty. Why he’d taken the law into his own hands and burnt them himself.

There was, of course, the horrible possibility that someone had seen his fire, would find the scorched remnant and would put two and two together. That was a possibility he would have to live with, through the sleepless night he knew lay ahead, but there was simply nothing he could now do that would not make things even worse.

He focused again on the rest of the documents. He could at least finish them off properly.

The small girl was playing with the snails in her garden when the shred of paper came fluttering down from the sky.

She carefully placed her two beshelled companions on the grass, off the path, before skipping over to have a look.

She picked it up and read out loud the one word that stood out from the burnt margins.

“Iberty”, she said.


“Iberty, gibberty, bibberty, fibberty.”

She loosened her grip and let it fall to the floor.

“Nibberty,” she added and for a moment thought she was going to grind the paper into the mud with the sole of her sandal, twisting it down and round until it fell apart and was absorbed into the earth.

But then, as a refreshing breeze blew her hair, she had a better idea.

She picked it up again and scampered indoors, where she placed it carefully in the delicate wooden box her grandmother had given her just before she died, and in which the girl intended to keep only those things which she felt were particularly precious and might somehow prove useful one far-off future day.

Copyright Paul Cudenec 2006 (but non-commerical use permitted)