Obviously, a book doesn’t die in the same way as a person does; the pain of its obliteration is all with the creator. But it can happen just as fast and just as unexpectedly.
On the fifteenth of May - or there about - there was a rare flash of warm London sun. I took my laptop out of my bag and sat on a pavement table beside the door of Le Pan Quotidien. As my cup of tea cooled so I typed, amending a section of my grandfather’s story. It was fictional of course. I knew very little besides the flow-graph of his life but at that moment I had him riding his horse across the pampas, the wide arc of a cloudless sky overhead. The grass was dry and the sheep were thin, and a hot desert wind was blowing dust into his face. Suddenly – even as I typed – my laptop flew out from beneath my fingers and away.
Leaping out of my chair, I chased two men down the street shouting “no, no, NO! “ as they sped down the hill on the back of a motorbike. They had mounted the pavement before an audience of shoppers and had whipped my beloved creature out of my hands. I stopped, rigid and aghast, as horror thumped me in the stomach. In the passing of a second – two perhaps –the only copy of my novel was lost.
I thought I might be sick.
People gathered around me, asking if they could help. Was I all right? Was I hurt? Did anyone get the number plate? Had I seen their faces? It was unbelievable! In Highgate of all places! What was the world coming to?
I stumbled into the café and asked to use their telephone. My mobile was in my handbag but I had forgotten all about it. I was acting as if it was 1989 and I was a teenager begging for help. I called the police. Speaking coherently but with a hollow tone to my voice as if my mind was adrift in an empty room, I tried to explain what had happened. It had been so unexpected, so swift. Brazen was the adjective I kept repeating. It had gone. It had gone. The memory stick. Yes, yes and the laptop. But the Memory Stick, that small little thing sticking out of the side of the machine, attached to a key ring with a blue leather foot.
Everything was on it; I hadn’t backed it up. My novel.
Shit. It was my whole life. Bugger-fuck! What an idiot.
The voice on the end of the telephone was firm. Where was I? God, somewhere on the High Street. Where exactly? How the hell should I know? At the top. The address – waitress? Do you have the address. Yes, yes, I’m trying to tell you – please don’t be short with me officer or whoever you are at the end of the phone. Give me a moment. Getting impatient isn’t going to make me think any faster. Look my life has just fallen apart – no, no, I’m sorry. I’m not being rude. I understand. Yes, of course. My name is – my address is – my phone number is –. Yes, I’ll go home and wait for the police to come. CCTV cameras? No I don’t think so – hello, any body in this cafe? Are there CCTV cameras on the High Street? No? No, sorry no. Very well, I understand. Thank you. Thank you.
Back in my flat, I went straight to the bathroom and vomited. Wiping my mouth and pacing mindlessly, I poured myself a brandy and vomited again. Shortly afterwards the tears came, and then they stopped. It’s difficult to cry alone. Sniffling, I picked up the telephone to call my parents.
Around eight thirty the police rang to inform me that all their officers were busy; someone would come at noon the following day to take my statement. I understand, I said. Losing a laptop and a memory stick hardly equates with rape and homicide. But it is a death of a sort and I hope the policeman turning up tomorrow will appreciate as much. A madman hasn’t torn apart my body but he has torn my dreams to shreds.
There was a burr at the end of the line and I put the receiver back in its cradle. Alone in my flat, I stood facing Nothingness with my consciousness intact, and that was as unjust a fate as any.
At noon the following day, a police officer breezed into my flat, dressed in uniform and its accessories. All smiles and good humoured, he pointed out at my Indonesian puppets standing in a conversational row atop the sideboard.
“Those are puppets,” he said.
He talked about his travels around the world, Asia and South America. Did I know Ecuador? It was his favourite. Did I know how safe Columbia was now? Especially by the coast. And had I climbed to Machu Pichu? I answered ‘no’ to both questions, and invited him to take a seat. Telling me about his grandmother who was Venezuelan and his sister who had married a violinist from Chile, he accepted a cup of coffee and chatted some minutes more
“Can we talk about my theft?” I asked after a while.
Taking out his note pad, he agreed. “I suppose I better take your statement,” he said with notable reluctance.
“It might be a good idea.”
He scribbled as I spoke, but as the facts didn’t amount to much - I saw nothing before my fingers slid off the laptop and I saw nothing after the thieves sped down the hill - he stopped.
“We’ll do what we can,” he said stowing the notepad away in his top pocket, “but the rules of engagement are against us. If we follow them with the helicopter, they just take off their helmets and we have to stop the chase. If they mount the pavement, we have to stop. If they go against the traffic we have to stop.”
“It’s the law. They get hurt or hurt someone else, and we’re liable for blame. Our hands are tied. By the way, do you want victim support?”
“Me? I want you to do your job not some bloody psychiatrist.” He gestured sympathy. I felt guilty. “I was going to put some notices up around the village,” I added fast. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“You can try but your memory stick’s probably in the municipality dump by now. And if it’s not – if someone’s got it,” he smiled as I led him to the doorway, “you can sue them when they publish the book!”