Lying on the pavement. Helpless. A leg stuck under the weight of an overturned cart. Desperate. “Eddie! Eddie!” the shout reverberated through the crowd.
We had crossed the river in search for a terrace and must have veered off the established route into a side street at some point. We were so engrossed in conversation that the change of direction and scenery were lost to us at first, until we reached a busier part of the road, surrounded by an eclectic group of people. Their appearance and clothing were so strangely out of place that one could easily have believed themselves to have inadvertently stepped into the middle of a carnival or… through some deficiency of the time fabric, into 16th century Britain.
At first we could not distinguish between the disparate elements of that mobile picture to know what it was. A mound of bodies, half covered in dirty cotton, lines of rosy flesh interrupted by triangles of torsos, the number of which appeared to be greater than it was possible to belong to the number of women and men entangled in wretched proximity.
The day was quickly turning into dusk. Streetlights flared up here and there struggling to disperse the gloom. We were making slow progress up the road, as the crowd inexplicably thickened. We could not walk a pace without having to turn and twist through the anonymous living bodies littering the street, wandering in lowered whispers what all of these people could be doing out in fancy dress.
Cries erupted somewhere in our vicinity. We tried to isolate distinct parts of the picture, differences of size and shape, length of limbs and skin colour before we could only view it all as an endless mass of grey. Turning towards the direction of the noise just in time to avoid the advance of a cart and horse, we were suddenly struck by the slithering movement of bodies and limbs all around us, their faces turned inward, as if ashamed to be noticed.
Eddie had promised to lead us to the bank of the river so we followed him in silence, taunt faces in an line that threatened to be pulled apart at any moment. The increasing number of people, or perhaps one should rather say men, wearing clothes cut plainly from a brownish sackcloth ought to have worried us, but we were too busy trying to keep our leader in sight to think of much else. However slowly we were advancing towards our destination, we were advancing nonetheless. The crowds were only a background blur.
A woman of nondescript age approached us and asked whether she can make herself of any use. She was so tall that we thought she must be walking on stilts, although her maid’s outfit made her look rather matronly: a washed out blue dress set against a chalk tinted apron, the edge of which she kept twisting slightly with her thumb as she spoke. She asked whether we were lost. We were quick to decline her services. There was something otherworldly about her looks. It did not bode well.