We reached the top of the hill and looked down. Below us were lights of different colours – orange, red, yellow – and even from this distance we could make out one set of traffic lights that controlled the flow of traffic in the city. A neon light flashed on and off, sending its message to all that could see and read it. One building kept shining and then dimming. It was decided that that happened every time a car passed. The figure ‘S’ was illuminated by street lights, and indeed many other letters of the alphabet could be seen that had been formed by the street lights.
All this colour and brightness disappeared as we reached the bottom of the hill, and entered the suburbs. The corner shops dark and uninviting and the rows of semi-detached houses with curtains drawn over the living-room window with spots of light shining through where the curtains have not touched completely to enclose the light from within. On the other side of these curtains would be a family sitting around the television, comfortable in their central-heatinged house and soft armchairs.
The street lights gave off their lights, illuminating an area around them which meant a dark patch between two lights.
Comfort, quietness and security receded as we came upon the city-centre. Here, the pavements were as crowded as they might have been during the day, and the traffic was as bad. Cars, lorries, buses and vans all drove along the streets, honking their horns like geese as someone slowed down, or did a foolish overtake.
The shops here were brightly lit, with neon lights that announced the shop’s wares, each one trying to outdo its neighbours. We were held up by traffic lights, possibly the set we saw from the hill, but we were soon on our way again.
The night club area was made obvious by the crowds of people outside buildings, massing together like wasps on a broken jar of jam, each one trying to get to the sweetest place, the best seats in the house. Music reached through the traffic noise, providing a pleasant interval from the monotonous engine sounds, and the music was followed by laughter, which gave as much pleasure as finding a fifty pence piece. Everywhere there was hustle and bustle, but not the kind where everyone has faces like someone who has lost a pound and found a penny, but happy, smiling faces as they went about their business of pleasure seeking.
Leaving all the gaiety and bright lights behind we came to the industrial area. The tall, black chimneys, that by day carried the pollution into the atmosphere, looked like giant fingers pointing into the sky. The dark workshops, that by day are alive, were now dead and nothing moved. In the distance could be heard the rhythmical thud of a steam-hammer, and a furnace could be seen glaring, which seemed out of place in this forbidding area of darkness.
Gradually all the foreboding was left behind and we came once more into the countryside. Here and there were estates, but these gradually lessened, and the darkness once more enclosed us. At the top of a hill on the other side of the valley, we again looked down upon the letters of the alphabet, the neon signs, the different coloured lights and traffic lights, forever changing colour. With this last look, we drove on, thinking of the thousands of people moving about, the laughter, the music, the gaiety.
(c) M. Robert Gibson
First written 1977-09-14
Don’t forget, it was written by a schoolboy.
It is published here for purely selfish vanity reasons.