Abel stumbles and falls into the ankle deep drain water. He’s been in the tunnels for 5 hours and found nothing but sewage and rats. He’s only managed to keep going through fear of what he’ll become if he stops. Dread is tap dancing heavily in his head, and something seems to be following him. He is lost. Actually he is in the storm drain that carries the Westbourne river to the Thames, but he doesn’t know that.
He tries to get up again but only manages to slide the upper part of his body against the tunnel wall. Then he passes out. If Elsie saw him now she wouldn’t recognise him, he looks so old and ill.
It is the mad harmonica lady that finds him, turns out she knows her way round the the underground rivers very well. She dances along the tunnel, her ripped skirts trailing through the water, singing to herself :
In the blood in the gene Malformed and obscene Its a crack in the glass And a whisker in the cream A snake in the garden He goes unseen Theres an apple in the tree And a devil in a dream
There’s bones in these tunnels Your hands won’t wash clean There’ll be meat in the belly Where the carnival has been
She grabs his arm and drags his now corpse-like body over her shoulder. She is surprisingly strong for an old lady.
When Abel wakes he finds himself in a small cave-like room lit only by candles. There is what looks like an alter on the far wall, and straight in front of him is a roughly carved wooden Jesus on a cross with a hand painted sun as his halo.
There are several hundred people living under London. No one can say when the first people started living down there, but it has certainly been growing steadily since 2000. They are a close, strong community due to the harshness of their circumstances. The elder generation are mainly people who lost their homes during the big recession, those who couldn’t get jobs, the sick and the disabled who were abandoned as successive governments privatised the NHS.
The elder generation, although mocking of the above-landers, still hold a buried shame and desire to return to the daylight. The second generation however, now in their late teens and early twenties, don’t have this desire. Born in the tunnels they are proud of what they are, scavenging is their art and the above-landers are cattle to be milked.
The biggest difficulty about living down there is finding clean drinking water. Although Underlondon is partially flooded most of the time, and contains the old buried rivers of London, the water is dirty and the rivers have become sewers. Instead the people of Underlondon have sort out the ancient springs, trickles of fresh water flowing from cracks in the brick work. These springs are precious to the people down there and the holy qualities of the springs, appreciated in the past, are returning.
Where as many an above-lander has come to the rational conclusion that there are no gods, the Underlondoner knows there is nothing more rational than treating what sustains your life as Divine.
( I know I should be listening to CD’s instead of writing this, but I really can’t stand those little black speakers I’ve got, and when I do listen to a piece I like on CD I have to listen to it again and again and again.)