“Oh ho, ho, we’ve been waiting for you. Please take a seat over there, just next to Ronald Reagan.”
Ayesha Swanson struggled to keep her lips tight, her hands clasped behind her back.
“That’s not funny, Mister Mo,” she said quietly, trying to keep their conversation from the assorted police officers gathered in florescent jackets, anxiously watching the crowd of revellers as they gathered in the streets.
A sign fluttered in the cooling breeze, a makeshift banner exclaiming the simple phrase, ‘The Bitch is Dead‘. She watched it for a moment, tracking it with her eyes, listening to the sound of shouts and cheers, the first strains of impromptu music filling the air.
Apparently there were a couple of fellows with a double bass and guitar up the road, chanting and singing proclamations of the passing of the former Prime Minister.
Mister Mo laughed merrily to himself.
“Come on, little bud, you know it’s true.”
“I don’t doubt it,” she remarked, “I just get the feeling that if all this turns nasty, us standing here in stab-proof vests by a police van isn’t going to be looked on too kindly.”
Everyone had a story about the poll tax riots. Everyone knew someone who had fallen foul of the police during the poll tax riots. Everyone knew someone who had been manhandled into the back of van, arrested without reason, kept in gaol without evidence, beaten in the face with a police truncheon.
Everyone knew someone who had slipped over the margins from being someone who the police were charged with protecting to someone who the police were charged with holding down.
“I can imagine the look on her face when she gets there and finds out its one big welfare state.” He sighed, still smiling fondly. “Ah, bud I can just imagine it! Margaret Thatcher in Hell.”
Ayesha frowned, turning to glance briefly in his direction.
“Mister Mo, can I ask you a question?”
His smile faded slightly, a look of confusion settling on his features.
“Sure thing, little bud.”
The sound of the crowd seemed to increase in volume.
“Have you ever been to Hell?”
He pulled a face like someone who had just drunk milk from a carton only to find it had passed its expiration date.
“Not personally, no.”
“How do you know it’s a welfare state then?”
“UKXD used to liaise with a shadow department in Hell, Discordant Infernal Xenobiology Department or some such – some stupid title basically.”
She raised her eyebrows, a faint quiver entering her voice.
“UKXD… used to work with devils?” she asked.
Mister Mo shrugged again.
“You’re probably not supposed to know that, being a freelancer and all.”
The sound of the double bass could clearly be heard over the crowd, the chant of the simple phrase, ‘Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Dead! Dead! Dead!‘ resounding through the streets, swelling up within the heart of Brixton and threatening the far more pleasant air of neighbouring Stockwell.
“UKXD… used to work with devils?” she repeated again.
He squirmed in his black uniform, the same outfit he had been issued during the disturbances in Hackney during the riots almost two years ago.
Following the riots, UKXD staff members had been increasingly placed on duty alongside police at times of particular public unrest.
“Only now and again,” he offered, “and it’s not as if they were bad people, it’s just some of them were a bit… ugly.”
“Devils, Mister Mo,” she reminded him.
“Look, bud, did you ever play D&D?” he asked with exasperation.
She raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Dungeons & Dragons,” he elaborated.
She shook her head slowly.
“I think my brother did. That’s the one with the little figures right?”
“No, that’s Warhammer. Dungeons & Dragons is a realm of pure imagination,” he said, lifting his arm and indicating the pale blue sky above them.
“I dread to think what’s in your imagination,” she muttered.
“Devils are a bit like Orcs really,” he continued, ignorant of her disparaging comment. “They might look ugly but just like us you get good devils and bad devils. You can’t just write them all off, little bud. It’s the 21st century. Have a heart.”
She stared into the crowd, watching the faces as they cried out in shouts of praise and excitement, many of them far younger than she might have expected to see at such a gathering.
“I apologise for discriminating against devils,” she said with a sigh, pausing as if she had suddenly just thought of something. “So if Hell is a welfare state, does that mean all devils are socialists?”
Mister Mo lifted a balled fist.
“Solidarity, brothers,” he said in a gruff voice, attracting a worried glance from several police officers standing nearby. “No, devils are opportunists by nature, like us really. But the Devil, he’s a socialist.”
She nodded slowly, struggling to accept what she was being told.
“Satan is a socialist?”
“It’s more a case of socialists are Satanists. It’s a fallen angel thing.”
“Oh,” she answered, “I bet they loved you at university, Mister Mo.”
He puffed up his chest.
“I didn’t go.”
“I’m surprised,” she countered flatly.
Faintly in the distance came the sound of breaking glass.
Her muscles tensed, her gloved hand reaching for the wound bound to her belt with strands of holly and ivy.
“Get ready, that sounds like our cue,” Ayesha stated.
“I bet she’s not enjoying it,” Mister Mo stated wistfully.
Ayesha scowled in his direction.
“Margaret Thatcher? Well no, she’s hardly Dante, is she?”
Another echo of broken glass rose above the crowd.
“But I’m sure she’s there,” he stated firmly, “I mean I’m sad someone died and everything but she was monstrous.”
“Good devils and bad devils, you said,” Ayesha reminded him.
A louder smash caught her attention and she turned her head, scanning the buildings behind the crowd, watching the faces as a sudden anxiety filled them.
These were not people here to start a revolution; these were not people here to change the world. These were the resentful and the hurt, the trampled and the discontent.
“Oh, there goes Oxfam,” Mister Mo commented.
She sighed and pulled the shaft of wood free from the strands that bound it.
“I don’t want to do this.”
Mister Mo shrugged, reaching down to his own belt and pulling free a colourful mask of red and black, holes cut for the eyes, nose and mouth.
Without pause, he stretched the material over his head, hiding his face completely behind the decoration of a skull adorned by butterflies, flowers and beads.
“I do,” he answered, flashing a smile from behind his old luchador mask.
The police officers tensed noticeably, their backs rigid beneath the fluorescent jackets.
“Are you sure that’s wise?”
“What? It gets me into the spirit of things, makes me feel like I’m young again.”
She remembered the push of anxious bodies against her in Trafalgar Square, she remembered making it to a pay phone, being lifted up, pushing 10p coins into the slot as her mother stood by, drunkenly watching the crowd, and she had anxiously dialled Sam’s number, hoping he was home, hoping that if they could get out of central London, if they could make it even part way down Tottenham Court Road and towards Mornington Crescent then maybe he would be able to meet them halfway.
She remembered that he had never picked up.
She had been six years old, depending on a mother who could not look after herself and forced to rely on a boy only two years her senior.
The world she had inherited as a child was not one of kindness or compassion. The world she had been cast into during the anger and rage of the resentment against the poll tax was not one she could readily understand.
Everyone had a story about the poll tax riots.
The police began to move forward and she felt faintly sick.
“Come on,” she said, following their lead, “let’s get this over with.”
In the air, the chants of ‘Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Dead! Dead! Dead!’ continued to resound over their heads.