6. Nina

Where is it going a good question and one that she was only just after asking herself as she walked down the road. Just where indeed is it all going, Nina - and are you up there at the front, or only just after catching the tail end of it. Life's running away and one of these days you'll not be holding the reins girl: that's for sure. Coming down off a trip and she's feeling blue, blue and mottled, thoughts scattered and useless.

She is tall and pale from a decade under London's gunmetal sky, with red hair and faded freckles. A slightly too-sharp nose points upward and (at this moment in time) her mouth points downwards. Her eyes are shadowed; one keeping an eye on the pavement while the other looks inside. She might be enchanting but she tends to the tawdry. Her clothes are garish.

Her one firmly held belief is in chaos. In the beginning was the word? Bullshit. So what was before the beginning? What was outside the universe? What was inside the apple? Chaos. There is no truth. There is no law. There is no reason. We are not even a humorous error: geometry and nature are only by some strange synchronicity connected. What is left, then, when the creed of irrationality rules? Language only hides the fact that there is no truth.

What makes her distrust truth, all truth, to such a degree? Who held her back with custom, with prejudice and with guilt? Who still daily smothers her with silent grief?

People are far more complex than they appear. These are not characters. The only names that have been changed are to protect the guilty.

There are no innocents.

Her room is small, untidy, littered with books, with bright things, things she's found, and things she'll find a use for sometime. mistress of disguise, her collection of wigs, false eyelashes, hats and glasses allows her to express her protean personality and exercise her obsessions; self is after all, only a construct. Books are visible scattered amongst underwear, feather boas, glossy magazines and shoes. Energy without expression, painful vision of a world in shades of grey, lost to the simple dichotomy of black and white, opposite and equal, and one in the middle makes Trinity, Church, Our Father, Hail Mary - and Christ I still know all the words after all these years; cold knees and the chill hand of the devil down the back of her neck. She drags her past behind her like a trawl net.

Her age? Indeterminately twenties. Stance? Defensive. Voice? Mellifluous. Object of desire? Freedom. For desire.

What do we mean by freedom? All of these threads will at some point conjoin. She will discover, and they will realise, and he will decipher, and yet another will record freedom, under 3, under seven, or infinite criteria. At which point there will be a denouement and it won't matter any more. Sure someone will care, but you and I won't know about it, and sure what's the point when I'm only young and I've no desire for a church wedding or knitting lessons. Because after all St Peter's retired, and the hinges rusted off the pearly gates, and God gave up, and man got stubborn: and now here we are faced with this crap. They always say you can spot a convent girl a mile away. Especially the ones with the veils and black habits.

She has no piercing in her body: her earlobes are unblemished, her tongue in one piece, her nipples and navel framed only with fine hairs. She has no scars, no tattoos; none of life's signifiers. She doesn't dye her hair. In this respect she is entirely as nature intended her and thus eminently suited for this narrative. For someone as precise and devoted to rules as the Photographer she is ideal. Her skin is variegated: he could read volumes from her wrists, the flesh on her cheekbones. She is an obsession waiting to happen.

She doesn't have a job in any recognised sense. She gets by on the dole, and on a series of get-rich-quick-earn-㣣㭡t-home schemes that haven't yet made her fortune but consume enough hours to stop her feeling guilty for doing nothing constructive with her time - and keep the DSS off her back. When she's not scratching a living from London's unwelcoming streets she spends her time in libraries, watching the other readers: ostensibly there to borrow books, but perhaps like herself lost in contemplation of the library's patrons, constructing imaginary lives and fantasies around them. The British Library is best. She loves the smell of books long untouched, the dark corridors of shelves and the dim recesses where gems of intellect rest. She has her regulars there, each tenuous connection: students, writers, harmless crackpots engaged in researching their genealogy and serious academics with their air of abstracted genius, gestating theories. Glances across the wide tables, eyes not quite meeting, relationships formed but not consummated.

The reader's ticket she has had since her college days gives her access to the stacks. Down here direction is confused by the fact that the shelves are on casters and can move in any direction, creating a maze of shifting passages where bearings are soon lost in the dim light. You see few people, but they are often the most interesting; each struggling with their own private obsessions. Practice has helped her to develop techniques of observation so subtle that her victims have no idea that they are under surveillance, and she is able to reconstruct their research with astonishing accuracy - checking the notes that they make for themselves, and then carelessly leave on tables, the queries made of the vast catalogues, monitors detailing the location of volumes buried deep in the library's bowels; vicarious intellectual. Is she looking for truth amongst those millions of words, a copy of every book mapped out like a blueprint of humanity's imagination? If so, she hasn't found it. Yet.

But she senses that they have: and one in particular. The Photographer. He was the first that she had wanted to follow outside the Library; to discover what other secrets he had found.

She lives near Elephant and Castle in a council block that's been condemned. In this sense she's technically homeless, but the block has been squatted for long enough that it's inhabitants feel reasonably secure. The corridors have been trashed beyond all recognition, graffiti scrawled in unreadable palimpsest on the filthy walls. The floors are a mess of rubbish, broken furniture, syringes, old newspapers and other, unrecognisable, detritus. She tries not to examine it too closely, and watches where she puts her feet.

Some of the flats have electricity and water - the utilities companies don't care if the tenants are legal or not so long as someone is happy to feed coins to the meter. Five or six people share the one she lives in. She likes designer replica handbags. She doesn't trust any of them, and padlocks her door when she is at home, and even more securely when she is not.

She has no friends, but innumerable acquaintances. She's known, on the scene, always at the edge of parties, always caning it. She has her contacts with the e-dealers, speed freaks, acid punters. Base, coke, 2CB, pure MDMA when she can get her hands on it - which isn't hard, at the right parties. The wasted addicts lying in the corners in the hallways- eyes glazed and cunning, sizing her up for her cash, looking through her at the next fix, are enough to dissuade her from indulging in anything harder. They make her think of a certain genre of film, the 'gritty hardness' of the 90's, smug revelations of society's decay, drug addiction, violence, crime. - But the comparison is meaningless in the face of their reality. The books she had read, films she had seen always glamorised the addict to some extent. But there was nothing seductive about these wrecks. So she watched her step, was careful and kept her eyes shuttered.

She comes from everywhere and nowhere: one of London's dispossessed, her accent has mellowed and been adulterated in the city of Babel until she speaks in a flat London drawl, with just a tinge on the R's to suggest her origin. The honey pot of the city has drawn her in, as with other character in this story - and now holds her fast in a web of seeming coincidence, where all time's strands conjoin and conspire inexorably to draw her into the centre.

If you asked her where she comes from she would probably name some anonymous small town in middle England - but it's not home to her anymore. Going back there she's a stranger. She remembers a couple of bars, but they're different. She's unlikely to meet anyone she once knew on the street - and if she does, it only confirms her lack of contact. They will have nothing in common, and will soon drift on, having established their separateness. Her life is a list of outdated contact numbers.

Chapter 7 »