– When the World Changed –
You blinked when you emerged into the light, closing the heavy door of the hotel behind you as softly as you could. You heard the dawn chorus coming from the trees in the little park across the street, the chirruping of the birds strident to your ears after the quiet of the hotel. You lit a cigarette, which you held in one hand, and you used the other to hook your denim jacket and sling it across your shoulder. Then you swayed slightly as you began to walk up the middle of the empty street on your way home.
You were thankful to be out in the fresh air again after all that time spent in the dark fug of the public bar, whose windows had to be kept shut and curtained so as not to attract the Police and any reprobates sniffing out a drink after hours. You and the other guys smoked cigarettes and drank bottles of Oranjeboom, while the Boss puffed on his cigars and drank gins and ginger beer. You all watched in awed silence as the events unfolded in black and white blurs on the little television above the gantry.
On the hottest night of the year, you sweated like the others. You all stripped to the waist, except for the Boss, who kept his string vest on to cover his man-tits and that big belly of his. You and the other guys sat on barstools, your skinny torsos glistening in the soft light of the gantry. You were skinny back then, but you were tough, with muscles like knots. You could lift a full crate of beer with one hand and you could toss it in a corner as if it was a matchbox. You had no fear back then either. Without thinking twice, you would hop over the counter and leap into a bar fight to stop it; you lost the heel of a boot once doing that.
As you turned off the High Street and headed up the Back Braes, you remembered that you would have to return that way in a short time. You would crate the empty bottles of Oranjeboom, which covered most of the counter top. You would haul up crates from the cellar and stock the bar. You would clean out the toilets and mop the floor. And all the time you would sweat out the alcohol. You would catch only a few hours’ sleep before you did all that, but it didn’t matter because you were tough and you could handle it.
You heard more birds chirruping when you passed the ancient spruce tree that always creaked in the breeze on dark nights and made you jump. You climbed the steps made of old railway sleepers, and you paused at the top, as you always did. You lit another cigarette and took in the view: the new bridge glinting silver and the old bridge blushing orange in the pink-blue sky, the water between the bridges pale green and shimmering. You surveyed your kingdom, feeling important. Something momentous had happened only a short while ago, and you had been a part of it, a witness to history being made. The world had just changed irrevocably. A man had stepped on the moon.
‘One small step for man,’ he had said. ‘One giant leap for mankind.’
You turned away from the scene to cross the footbridge. You were nineteen and invincible.
– o –