Fractal Myth



[Michelle Chapman ©2001]

Hi there! Greetings and salutations to all. My name is Richard K. Pip, though what the 'K' stands for, I would rather you didn't know. My friends call me Pip, and you may as well follow suit, for regardless of whether or not we become friends, it looks like we'll be spending a bit of time together. That is, if you can stand being cooped up with a grumpy old rambler like me!

Because I have some small literary experience, having worked as a journalist in my younger days, I have been bulldozed into the job of producing a history for our little colony. Many of our first 'founders' (like me) are getting old, and finding that their memories reflect back dimly as if from a cloudy and black-spotted antique mirror. At the same time, new inhabitants keep arriving every day - some new born, some straggling in from the remains of the decaying city. We elders have decided that these new inhabitants need to know the reasons why we left the city and started this steamy little Utopia in the jungle. Of course, a lot of high-sounding sentiments have been thrown around about not repeating the mistakes of our ancestors, and learning from the patterns of history, et cetera, et cetera. However, (and this is the real reason I agreed to get involved) I believe that human beings innately love a good story. I also believe that there are many good stories here which should be saved for the entertainment of future generations, regardless of their educational value.

The tales which I will be collecting in this volume, although they may strike you as fantasy, are about experiences lived by actual people. (If you doubt me, go and ask them for yourself, or, if time has passed and they are gone, then run your doubting fingers over their photos and belongings in the History hut). These are the stories that we told again and again around our small campfire, in the early days when our clearing was tiny, and the eerie, ominous jungle noises seemed to circle in the trees just outside the flickering firelight. To distract us from the threat of danger, and remind us of what we had left behind, we clung together sharing our pasts and dreaming about the future.

By the time those future dreams began to be realised, our own histories seemed to have been miniaturised by time and distance. At the same time, their oral repetition in fearful and unfamiliar surroundings had served to crystallize our real-life experiences into the stuff of myths and legends. I had quite a shock the other day, when I heard some of our young people talking about us as trail-blazing heroes. I think I shall have to let you judge for yourself just how heroic we were. For my own part, I always felt more of a fool, so that now I am proud to sing with Prufrock:

I grow old, I grow old,
I shall wear my trousers rolled.

But then, I guess even this classic statement of inanity is meaningless to you young people. So much that was worthwhile has been so carelessly thrown away - which brings me back to the task at hand.

It has been decided that I should begin with my own life story, or rather, the story of my family, and how I came to be in the right place at the right time to meet the people I will be telling you about. Now, this is not because I am the most important figure in this history - far from it - but I do feel more comfortable starting out with my own story, in my own words. Later on, I shall need to have recourse to other people's memories, notes and records, but here I am on reasonably safe ground, as I have my own copious journals to draw from. Do not despair, though, gentle readers! I promise to give you only a condensed precis, and not reproduce the whole lot verbatim. If you do want to read the originals, I have archived them, with everything else, in the History hut. They should still be there, unless the hut has burnt down, or unless its contents have been ravaged by the insects - as I swear I am in danger of being!

Well then -

I was born seventy-two years ago, in another world. Of course, it was still the same world we are living in today, but the way people felt about it back then was very different. I don't intend to waste too much time moralising, but you are going to have to forgive an old man his occasional rambling thoughts. Personally, I have always blamed the city, imagining it as an artificial but malevolent force, which is ridiculous, for people made the city what it was.

Long before I was born, my paternal grandparents discovered that a combination of circumstances was forcing them to leave their tiny farm. Like all the other small landholders in the area they sorrowfully piled their possessions into bundles they could carry, and sold their small acreage to the ever hungry property developers. Then they joined the disconsolate flow of people trudging along dusty roads, where the thousands of trudging feet had ensured that even the hardiest weed couldn't grow. The environment they passed through was a far cry from the farms they left behind. There, exotic fruit trees had blossomed incongruously among the foothills of a large mountain range, which was densely forested with tall trees and sprawling jungle vines. Despite this idyllic setting, the exodus from the countryside into the city had been continuing for more than a century. Developments in the production, packaging and preservation of food had gradually reduced the need for the city to be supplied from its agricultural surrounds. As demand for their produce decreased, and the taxes on their land were increased each year, few farmers felt justified in clinging to what was obviously becoming an outmoded way of life. In the city they would qualify for government assistance, they would be surrounded by friends, and have access to all the modern conveniences. If they stayed on their land, they could rely on no-one but themselves, with only lonely memories of their once lively community to sustain them.

My mother's ancestors had been city people for as long as there had been a city, but my father's family were among the very last to vacate their land and exchange their peaceful rural retreat for the crowded, unfamiliar suburbs. At the time of their migration, my grandparents had two sons, but only one, my infant father, travelled with them. Their eldest son, my mysterious uncle Jake, aged eight at the time, had flatly refused to join in the family's plans for departure, and at the last moment had purposefully absented himself. I will never be able to forget my grandmother describing her desperate search while the property developer who had bought the farm scowling with crossed arms by the gate, as he waited for them to leave. Jake was an extremely independent child, completely at home in the jungle-covered mountain range which soared above the little farming settlement. He was notoriously fond of escaping into those dark secret recesses where superstitious adults would fear to follow.

In telling these stories to wide-eyed little me, Grandma was always careful to emphasize my long-lost uncle's love and respect for everything that grew. Although she never said so, I always suspected that Jake learnt his love of the jungle from her stories, and that she, too, had been the type of child who felt a special communion with damp, green, leafy surroundings. Often, she used to tell me about the ancient apple tree which grew on their farm. With dreamy eyes she would describe thick, strong branches spiralling out from the trunk like a giant staircase leading to the sky. Even my father could vaguely recall being rocked by the gentle swaying of the upper branches in the breeze, and seeing the blossom petals swirl around the house like delicate fairy snow. To me, chafing at my comparative lack of freedom, it sounded like Paradise, and it was beyond my comprehension that anyone would leave such a place voluntarily, no matter what inducements were offered. At the same time, I formed a childish resolve: I was determined to find my uncle Jake - that romantic, larger than life, eight-year-old runaway. I would dream of leaving the city, and living with him in the jungle forever, like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. (Look it up in the History hut! I didn't lug all those old books up here just to let them go mouldy because you kids are too lazy to read!).

Anyway, to get back to the story ... when my grandparents and baby father finally arrived in the city, they and the other immigrant farmers were assigned thin-walled, prefabricated houses, on postage stamps of land, near the city's outskirts. Here they were expected to unpack their few treasures and start life anew, surrounded by concrete instead of grass. The contrast proved too much for many, but when they retraced their steps and attempted to return to their farms, they found that large, heavy machines had scraped the ground bare and were now quarrying out the materials needed to continue building and repairing the city. Frightened and despairing, most of these people turned with broken spirits back towards the city, but here and there we heard stories of individual brave souls who, like Jake, simply vanished silently into the jungle.

My grandparents never tried to return to their farm, despite their missing child. It was not that they didn't care about him, but he was old enough to make choices for himself. On the other hand, my father was only a tiny babe who could have no future on the farm, especially now that the farm seemed to have no future. My grandparents had never expected to have a second child. After seven years of trying to produce a little brother or sister for Jake, they had become acclimatised to the idea that they couldn't, and had begun making plans to stay when everyone else left. The idea of the city held few charms for them, and they hoped to continue living off the land like their parents and grandparents. It was a way of life that they believed in, and they believed it was a way of life which should continue, regardless of the city's demands. This was another reason why they were not worried about Jake. For nearly five years he had been helping them, stashing caches of food, medicine and other necessary supplies in the jungle-covered foothills behind the farm. They had even built little hidden shelters which were intended to become their home once they were forced to leave the farm. When my grandmother discovered she was pregnant again, all their decisions had to be reviewed. There was no way they could hide out in the jungle with a new born baby to look after, for if anything went wrong, they would have nobody to turn to for help. On the contrary, they had heard that the demolition crews, who would soon be moving into the area with their machinery, also had orders to round up any remaining 'stragglers' and transport them to the city. They were not prepared to take the risk of allowing angry and resentful farmers near their expensive machinery. Instead, the authorities were relying on the disorientating effect of the strange new environment to defuse the discontent among the city's new residents. Rather than raise their new baby like a hunted animal, my grandparents decided that, after all, the city might be the lesser evil, and determined to leave.

Where most other families packed their bundles with clothes and jewels and anything they thought they might be able to sell, my grandparents took only the clothes they were wearing, and left all their cherished heirlooms and ornaments behind. Instead, they packed something even more precious to them. Having read this far, you can probably guess what that was. BOOKS! Yes: hard, heavy books with sharp corners that bruised them at every step, and which could not be left by the roadside when they got too heavy, any more than they could leave the baby, when he cried and squirmed and wouldn't sit still to be carried. If their wriggling baby was the future, then the bundles of books they were carrying contained the past, which he would need to understand if he was going to grow in mind as well as body.

The cardboard walls of the house assigned to them were very different from the thick, solid rock walls they had left behind, but inside the house my grandparents tried to make everything look as homely as possible. Few of the farmers felt satisfied at the change in their lifestyle, but unhappy and unable to return to their agriculture, they turned instead to the towers which were being constructed in the city centre. They discussed the growth of the strong concrete skyscrapers in the same way they had used to discuss their crops, though instead of estimating the time remaining before the harvest, or calculating what they would buy with the proceeds, they ambitiously boasted about how high and in which tower they were going to live. In contrast, my grandparents were determined to make the best of what they had. They detested the thought of living in a stack of other people, like bees in a hive, but cut off from the fresh air, and the rich soil, and the growing, flowering plants which bees take for granted.

About this time my grandfather successfully applied for the somewhat unpopular occupation of Park Keeper. There were fourteen parks in and around the city, areas of land that had been planted instead of being built on, so that the city residents would still have the illusion of space and greenery around them. Although Grandpa loved working with plants, he found this job intensely frustrating, as he was always being expected to keep everything in order, where he loved the fractal chaos of nature. He would come home and give his pay packet to my grandmother, and then sit with his head in his hands for half an hour or so. When my grandmother gently touched him on the shoulder, he would look up at her and hold her hand while he poured out his grievances. "Why must they always control everything?" he would ask. "Does it really make a difference if the grass is half an inch too long? Does it matter that the wind has blown the leaves from the deciduous trees across the path? Will anyone suffer if the roses are not clipped the moment their bloom fades? These things are natural. They are the work of God, so therefore they are perfect. What right has man to insist that everything conform to his own idea of perfection? You would not believe what they had me doing today ..." On and on he would talk, pouring out his heart to her sympathetic murmuring of "my poor love", and "it's a shame". Yet despite these complaints uttered in domestic safety, my grandfather never gave the City Committee cause to doubt his commitment to the job. As he always said at the end of his long tirades, "It doesn't matter what I think. They are going to get someone to do it, whether we like it or not, so it had better be me that does it. I, at least, have some idea of what I'm doing. If I wasn't there, they'd be out planting white roses by mistake, and then trying to paint them red!" This was Grandpa's favourite joke, and he was usually able to trick himself into a better humour by imagining the city authorities suddenly transported to Wonderland. "Only one problem", he would finish by chuckling, "No rabbit holes!" This would send him into a paroxysm of giggles, as he remembered the occasion when a City Committee member had caught sight of an escaped pet rabbit lolloping across Endeavour Park. The Committee member had stared with bug-eyed amazement, and then turned to my grandfather, spluttering "Get rid of that animal. I will have no rabbit holes in this Park. Do you hear me? No rabbit holes! Absolutely NO rabbit holes!". My grandfather often said he didn't know whose nose had been twitching faster, the frightened bunny's, or the indignant Committee member's! Either way, that incident provided my grandfather with a bright silver lining for the dark storm cloud which otherwise tried to eclipse his happy temperament.

Meanwhile, Grandma buzzed around like a busy bee herself, building bookshelves and makeshift furniture, and scrounging scraps of fabric to make bright, cheerful patchwork cushions, tablecloths and bedspreads. As her little baby, my father, grew quickly into a mischievous toddler, she spent more time each day playing games with him, and teaching him to read. As he grew, she taught him the history of the farming community they had left behind, and together they explored the city that was their new home. The only thing that ever caused a cloud to cross her smiling face was her worry about Jake, for he was never very far from her thoughts. Then, late one night about three years after they had arrived in the city, a strange figure left a parcel on their doorstep, knocking at the door, but vanishing before my grandmother had time to answer the knock. Inside the parcel, which she and my grandfather opened with bated breath, there was a short letter from Jake, and a few small bags of nuts and dried fruits - apple, apricot and pear. I still have eleven-year-old Jake's letter, so I will let you read it for yourself:

Dearest Mum and Dad,

I hope, by now, you have forgiven me for staying behind. I'm sorry if I made you worry, but I didn't know what else to do. I am safe and happy, and I have plenty of food. The nut and fruit tree seedlings we planted so long ago are beginning to produce, and I am an even better hunter now than I was then. It is very sad to see what the big machines are doing to all the farms. There's almost nothing left except holes in the ground where they were, and the big trucks leave every evening carrying the rock, and soil, and sand they quarry out into the city to build more buildings. Our farm was one of the last to be 'dozed, so I managed (don't worry Mum, I was really careful) to rescue everything you left behind. That old cave network we found is quite safe, so I have moved everything in there. Whenever I get homesick for you, I go into the caves and fall asleep in Dad's big chair (I had fun getting that up here, as you can imagine) and cuddle up in your blue dressing gown, Mum. Then I feel as safe and cosy as a baby. I hope you are all well, and that my little brother is being good and growing big and strong. Maybe one day we can see each other again. The man who delivered this package is a friend of mine, but he is VERY shy. He probably won't talk to you. You remember Tom Grelling had a son who was big and slow, and the kids used to tease him all the time until Dad told them how cruel they were being, and asked if they wanted him to tease them? Well, Davy Grelling never forgot that Dad had helped him, and when his own father packed up and left for the city without him, he came here to our farm, to see if you could help him again. Of course, you had already left, and when I came back that night to get my first load of our things, I found him sitting in the apple tree crying as though his heart were broken. I felt a bit like that myself that first night, so I climbed into the tree next to him and soon we were both bawling our eyes out. I don't know how long we might have stayed like this, but suddenly a very curious owl landed on the branch in front of us, looked at us first with one eye, then with the other, and then, tilting his head to one side, said "Who?" with such a comical expression that we both burst out laughing helplessly, and had to hang on to each other so we wouldn't fall out of the tree. Since that time, Davy and I have been best friends, despite the difference in our ages. It was a bit strange, at first, to have someone relying on me for direction, but we soon fell into a comfortable working arrangement. I look after our little food crops in the jungle, and make sure Davy always has somewhere dry and friendly to stay when he's not out wandering. In return, he brings me all the interesting and useful things he finds while he's away. The quarry workers don't chase him off anymore. They look on him as a mascot or something, and often give him stuff they don't want anymore. That's how he is going to get into the city. They think he is stupid, and a bit crazy, so when they offered him a ride in their truck he acted all goofy, like an excited little kid. After they had taken him for a couple of short rides, one day they decided it would be 'fun' to show him the city. He heard them talking about it - they don't really talk to him, just about him, as though he were a dog or something. Anyway, he raced back here and got me to write this letter in case he could find you. I hope he does. He is much smarter than he seems, and he is very good at finding things. The guys in the truck do not keep a very close eye on him, because they don't think he has the intelligence to do anything tricky. He is planning to slip away while they are unloading, which should give him a couple of hours, because they are pretty lazy, and take any excuse to knock off. If he does manage to find you, and you have anything for me, he wants you to bring it to the unloading depot before morning, because the trucks start heading back out at dawn. It's probably best if you don't try and talk to him, because it might make the guys from the truck become suspicious, and then he won't be able to travel with them again. I love you very much, and I miss you, but I am safe, and comfortable, and happy, and I have friends to help me.

Love Jake.

Of course, my grandparents wrote back immediately, assuring Jake that all three of them were well, and safe, and very happy to hear that he was doing so well. I do not have a copy of that letter, but I did find a torn page from my grandfather's journal, which my father had kept. It tells how he left the house at midnight with a small parcel, containing their letter, some of my grandmother's fresh-baked cookies, and a scarf she had knitted for Jake from brightly coloured scraps of wool. She had made another for my grandfather and he was wearing it to keep back the chill night wind. It took him two hours to walk from their house near the city's edge to the depot where the trucks were unloaded, closer to the city centre, where the ceaseless construction resulted in a ceaseless demand for building materials.

The depot was brightly lit, illuminating massive mounds of rock and dirt which seemed to dwarf the large trucks parked higgledy piggledy around the complex. The entire depot was ringed with chain-mail fencing, over six feet high. There was only gate, which was guarded by a sentry box, inhabited by two men engrossed in a heated conversation about some bet that one had made, which the other thought was bound to fail. My grandfather waited in the shadowy doorway of a neighbouring apartment block until his eyes adjusted to the light, and wondered how he was supposed to deliver his package to Davy Grelling without arousing suspicion. More importantly, how was he even going to find Davy? There seemed to be no way out of the compound other than that single gate. As he watched, he noticed a tall, lanky young man with a vacant smile drift slowly away from a group of workers and towards the fence. Almost imperceptibly, he saw the youth's head turn to where he was standing, as the youth acknowledged him with a deliberate wink. My grandfather moved out of the shadows and strolled along the side of the fence closest to Davy, who had allowed his facial muscles to collapse into their habitual tic, in order to disguise his previous wink.

Suddenly, Davy rushed towards the fence and stuck his hand through a small gap, clutching Grandfather's colourful scarf and repeating "Pretty, pretty" over and over again. Some of the workers in the group Davy had left had obviously been watching him, for they called out to ask my grandfather if Davy was annoying him. "Naw", he yelled back, imitating their lazy drawl, "the kid's just taken a fancy to this scarf of mine. I don't like it much myself, so he may as well keep it. It isn't worth getting strangled over by some looney kid!" The workers laughed and went back to their conversation, hardly noticing as Grandpa unwrapped the scarf from around his neck, secreting his small package in its folds, and passed it through the fence to Davy, who immediately transferred the package to an inside pocket of his coat, and then began dancing round and round trailing the scarf out behind him like a whirling dervish, and howling like a siren. The workers clustered around their trucks grinned good-naturedly at this further evidence of their mascot's lack of brain power, while my grandfather whispered a quiet "Thank you. God bless you!" before crossing the street to join the stream of sleepy, early morning shift workers who were just beginning to emerge from the various apartment buildings in the area.

After this little excitement, ten years passed uneventfully for my grandparents and father. Davy continued to visit at irregular intervals, bearing letters from Jake and gifts of fresh vegetables and dried fruit, and taking back little presents for himself and their absent son. After his first few visits to the city, however, the quarry workers decided they could trust him to look out for himself, and to be in the truck ready to leave when they were. None of them bothered concerning themselves about where he went in the city, any more than they cared where he went to back at the quarry site, when he leapt from the truck and vanished into the jungle. He was just like a stray dog to them, unwanted and abandoned, fun to pet and feed but without any of the responsibilities of ownership. Luckily, Davy enjoyed outwitting them, and was never offended by their jokes, for the lower their opinion of his abilities, the more freedom they allowed him.

Jake, and my grandparents, were the only true friends Davy ever had, and he loved them because for the first time he really felt like he belonged to a family. Although he never overcame his shyness and reserve with adults, he was a fascinating store of information and entertainment for any child who would come up to him and trustingly take his hand. Then his face would melt into smiles and words would flow out him and stream around his little listener. My Dad often used to tell me how Uncle Davy had taught him the secret languages of birds and flowers. "Not much use to me here, now, is it my son?" he would say, shaking his head ruefully as he looked at me playing within the solidly man-made walls of our tower apartment. Then he would hear my Mum humming and singing to herself as she slid a fluffy fresh loaf of bread out of the oven, and he would look at me and wink. "Who can complain at living in a cage, when he has such a cheerful songbird for company?" Then, propelling me up onto his shoulders, he would waltz into the kitchen and waltz my mother out and around the apartment, oven-mitts and all, while whistling the birdcalls he had learnt so long ago from Uncle Davy.

Dad had just turned thirteen when Davy made his last visit to the city. Davy himself by then was a strong young man of twenty-eight, and had several times proved his usefulness to the quarry workers by helping to change the worn tyres on their truck, a job which they all detested. Their opinion of Davy's mental ability had not changed, but they had been suitably impressed by his increasing physical prowess over the years. As a result, he had long been allowed to travel freely with them whenever he so desired. They were perfectly used to the idea that he would simply vanish at either end of the journey, and reappear at the side of the truck when they were about to leave, if he wanted transport. Now, however, things were changing. Truckload after truckload of material for building had been taken from the old agricultural belt. As the towers in the city grew taller and more numerous, the massive quarries grew wider and deeper, until, as Jake said in his last letter, "the foothills had become foot-holes, as if an angry giant had stamped them back into the ground they rose out of. But," he went on to say, "it is no giant that has done this. Those responsible wander around the rims of their handiwork, and from my perspective high in the jungle, they look like insignificant ants. Yet the destruction they have occasioned is immense. It is a scar on the landscape that will never heal, just like the scar on my heart."

Now that he was eighteen, Jake felt particularly bitter and resentful against those whom he had watched gradually destroying the remnants of his idyllic childhood. He had vowed never to set foot in the city. Not even to see his parents and little brother. His anger against the whole notion of, as he put it, "raping innocent nature to build a hundred towers of Babel" could not be suppressed, even momentarily. Davy was kept constantly on edge, trying to think up new reasons for discouraging Jake from sabotaging the quarry-workers' machinery. Not that Davy agreed with them any more than Jake did, but he did know how severely they had punished the few would-be-saboteurs who had attempted to interfere in the past.

"So long as they don't know of your existence, they can't hunt you down." He had said it to Jake so many times it had become his mantra. "Me, they don't care about. I'm just another pest like the mosquitos, only, occasionally I am useful, so they tolerate having me around. But the last thing we want them to do is start thinking. Once their curiosity is aroused, they will want to know where I come from, and where I go to, and we will all be in danger. Just leave well enough alone, and they will finish and leave, and then we can begin planning to repair what damage we can. Nature is resilient. Already the guerilla tactics of the jungle vines, and the insects, and the animals, are having their effect. Those workers hate the jungle as much as you hate the city, and they can't wait to be gone forever. Please, don't do something that might make them decide they need to stay to be certain that the area is secure. We don't want them defoliating the jungle just to find us!"

Davy's good sense was very persuasive, and Jake confined his resentment to the letters he wrote for his family, until finally the day came when Davy told him all the machines were being loaded onto massive transport trucks, and the workers were preparing to leave for their last trip into the city, and were not planning to return. Davy arranged to go with them, so that they would believe they were leaving the site deserted. Once in the city, he made contact with my grandparents, but instead of slinking back to the truck depot before dawn, this time Davy lingered for a long goodbye, after delivering Jake's letters and his own report on how they were surviving. It was late afternoon when my grandfather, and father, set out to accompany Davy on the first leg of his long walk back to Jake and the jungle. The dusty track which had brought them to the city had been tarred long ago, but the heavy traffic of the quarry vehicles had degraded it into a series of ruts and potholes which twisted their ankles, and constantly threatened their balance. Although it was still the only major land route out of the city, now that the quarries were mined out, there was no longer any reason for traffic in that direction. Anything which the city needed and could not manufacture, and the raw materials to feed its massive manufacturing plants, were shipped in by air from exotic foreign countries, or by container ships travelling down the mighty Mogen river, which formed the city's eastern border.

By contrast, Davy's destination was far to the west, and the two men heartily congratulated each other on the city's apparent lack of further interest in that direction. Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old Benjamin, (my father-to-be) vowed in his heart that he would do all in his power to protect the mountain ranges he could dimly perceive on the western horizon from the inevitable encroachment of the city. To him the mountains were a magical place, where the brother he had never met lived in perfect freedom, untainted by the spirit-numbing influence of the city. He was almost in tears as he watched Davy trudge off into the heat haze that shimmered above the road. He felt that he was losing his only tenuous connection to the kind of life he should have been living as well. My grandfather seemed to sympathise with his son's feelings, for he put his arm around the boy's shoulders. Together they dawdled slowly back to the house where my grandmother awaited their return, each lost in his own thoughts, and each leaning on the other for support. That was the last time my grandparents heard from Jake, for they had convinced Davy not to risk another trip into the city, now that he no longer had access to transport. Too much could go wrong on the long lonely trek by foot, and they could not bear to think of Jake being left completely alone without Davy's cheerful influence to keep him sane.

It was around this time, or a few months later, that my Grandma's sewing skills began to be in great demand. Five new towers were being opened up, and the inhabitants of the city's outskirts were being encouraged to apply for residency. This caused quite an upheaval in my grandparent's life, for although they had no interest in moving into a tower themselves, the majority of their neighbours thought of nothing else. While the men agonised over their prospects of promotion (for the higher you lived in a tower, the higher your salary and prestige), the women concerned themselves with preparing wardrobes suitable for the occasion. My grandmother had easily gained recognition among these women for her skill with a needle. Now they flocked to her, armed with pictures torn from glossy magazines. Some brought her richly coloured traditional brocades which they had carried with them as treasures from the country. Others wanted the new chemically extruded fabrics, made in the city, which were lighter than gossamer and flowed like silk. My grandmother would welcome them with her calm smile, and invite them into her little sitting room where they would be surrounded by her handiwork, from the rag-rug, to the patchwork cushions, to the crocheted lace curtains. With perfect poise, she would pour them cups of tea, and offer them a dainty homemade biscuit, ignoring their confusion when they noticed, as they always did, that none of the teacups matched their saucers, and that the teapot had been mended many times.

"Why, Mrs Pip," they would say, "surely that clever husband of yours makes enough to buy you a proper tea-set?" and at times they would even add a little extra to her dressmaking bill, with the sympathetic hint that she buy "a little something nice just for herself" with it. To watch my grandmother deal with their patronage was a lesson in perfect diplomacy. She would incline her head ever so slightly and lower her eyes, as though bowing humbly in absolute acceptance of their opinion, while at the same time she went on doing things exactly as she had always done them. In fact, my grandfather had offered on many occasions to replace her worn and mismatched tea-set, but she had vehemently refused. "What, give in to those gossipping biddies, just so they can criticise my taste and assume I put up with what I could get, because we couldn't afford better? I would rather drink my tea out of a cardboard cup! And besides," here she would grin archly, and bat her eyelashes at my grandfather, "just think of all the extra tips they give me this way. If I had fine china to drink from, they would take tremendous advantage of me, for they would stop believing I sew because I need the money, and start thinking I actually enjoy sewing! Then where would I be? I would have twice as much work as I do now, and they'd stop paying me for it. You don't want that, now, do you?" In response, Grandpa would fondly tease her with the accusation that she was taking advantage of these unsuspecting society ladies' vanity. She always answered by pointing out that her arrangements made everybody happy. The ladies believed they were being charitable in bringing their dressmaking needs to her, and she felt she was being charitable in putting up with their demands. With so much benevolence and goodwill floating around, it was my grandmother's opinion that any project undertaken was bound to succeed. The many beautiful dresses produced in that tiny sitting room served as a testament to the truth of her belief.

As time went on, many of her original customers found their dreams fulfilled, as their applications for residency in the towers were approved. Their appreciation of her skill as a seamstress outweighed their qualms about her 'quaint' behaviour, and she soon found herself making ceremonial outfits for a growing clientele of tower inhabitants. These clients now felt themselves too grand to venture back into the 'slums' they had left, so my grandmother was required to visit them in their tower apartments, for consultations and fittings. Knowing that my father was keen to learn all he could about the towers and the city's continuing plans for expansion, Grandma only ever visited the towers on weekends when he could accompany her. He would carry her heavy sewing basket, overflowing with dresses in various stages of construction. The rest of the week Dad attended the local school for children of the ex-farmers and agricultural workers, where he was taught the skills which the city authority's hoped would make a useful and contented member of their society. Once they had mastered basic literacy and numeracy, the young students were encouraged to specialise, choosing an area where their interests lay, and working towards a career which would guarantee them a productive place in the life of the city. Remembering the day when Davy had left forever, and the vow that he himself had made, my father chose to study law. He believed this would give him the greatest chance of understanding and anticipating the directions in which the city would develop. My father ... (I really do find it disturbing to refer to my father as Benjamin, just as I can't seem to call his mother 'Bella' or his father 'Joe'. It seems disrespectful, somehow, so I shall continue as clumsily as I began).

My father enjoyed his trips into the tower with my grandmother for more than one reason. Although it gave him the freedom to investigate the social structuring of the towers, and to compare the way the city's culture was changing as ever more people moved from their houses into an apartment, and although he was able to converse freely with his mother's customers, providing a necessary distraction from the tedious process of fittings and alterations, and finding out many interesting snippets of tower life along the way, it must be admitted that the real appeal for my father was the chance of catching sight of a lovely young girl his own age, whom he had never met, but the sound of whose voice, and the sight of whose form skipping along the endless tower corridors set his heart pounding as nothing else could. For nearly eighteen months my father approached the tower where she lived, in breathless anticipation of seeing her again, and yet, whenever he did see her he would try and shrink down, hiding behind the heavy basket he carried so that she would not see him watching her. Normally completely dismissive of social distinctions, my father felt incredibly gauche and shy whenever she was near. He was keenly aware that he was only permitted in the tower as an adjunct to his mother's work, while this lithe young lady enjoyed all the advantages of occupation. For the first time in his life, Dad realised that he was not completely immune to the propaganda praising the towers. This was because, for the first time in his life, my father saw something which could induce him to consider an apartment to be a desirable place to live. If only she lived in it, too. This fascinating young lady, as you have probably guessed by now, was one day to become my mother. Her name was Miriam Lacey, and she lived with her parents, John and Kate Lacey, on the twelfth floor of the Brazler tower, less than ten kilometres from my father's small house on the edge of the city. This, however, seemed like a pitiful shack in comparison, despite his parent's best efforts to keep it clean and repaired.

My parents always gave conflicting accounts of their first meeting. My father claimed that she had come running down a corridor where he was standing, had tripped over his big feet, and had hurt herself. According to his version of events, he had then taken advantage of the accident to get close to her, and things had blossomed from there. My mother, on the other hand, admitted that she, too, had noticed the handsome young man who looked away whenever she tried to meet his eye, and that she had finally arrived at a desperate plan designed to trap him into talking to her. Either way, their meeting had the desired effect, and soon the young couple were finding any excuse to sneak away and spend time together. I'm going to gloss over their courtship and romance. I imagine it was just like young love today, but I still find it uncomfortable to imagine my parents as clumsy teenagers, necking in the dark alleyways between the towers. Then again, I promised you some entertaining stories, and you will probably refuse to believe me if I keep cutting out the juicy bits! All right. ... I will do something I have never had the courage for until now. ... I will read the secret diary written by my mother as an adolescent. ... Purely in the spirit of realism and historical accuracy, of course ...

The Towers:

~ Exodus
Garden of Hope
It's a Beautiful World
From a Tower Tall

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