Everything was still and cold and clear. I let my breath out slowly, feeling the warmth around my teeth and lips, the catch in my lungs, unaccustomed to such stillness. When it seemed there was no more breath to breathe, I forced the last traces out through my nose. All gone.
Before my eyes, moisture shivered, shimmered, and evaporated, then that too was gone. Time to go.
Four bags were waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. One by one I had manhandled them down the narrow, twisting steps, stumbling over doormats and scuffing whitewash, smearing myself and mine with tenement warpaint. If they hadn’t disappeared, it was because there wasn’t much worth taking. Everybody round here knew that.
First up was the blue army surplus rucksack with its creaky metal tube frame and catch fasteners held on with yellowing Sellotape. From an era long before ergonomic design was invented, it cut into my ribs when overfilled; if I hoisted it up off my shoulders every minute or so, I could take on just enough oxygen to keep going.
That went on first, and diagonally over that a smaller rucksack with some money, a depleted and insistently bleating phone, and a notebook – the kind made of paper – with maps and addresses and numbers and the like, kept in front of my face and so within easy reach for me and less easy reach for sharp-eyed opportunists.
That left one hand each for the purple “Calvin Kien” wheely suitcase that had lost three of its four wheels and both its zips, and the leather suitcase I’d been given when I first left home, which was a piece of family history, and as such should have been in a museum dedicated to the inconvenience and discomfort of a bye-gone age.
All it took to set myself in motion was to gently shift the combined weight forwards, and gravity would do the rest. And remember to breathe, I thought, just remember how to breathe.