The year was 2011. The sky was split with fire. The earth shook; red blood ran, darkening, into the gutter. The moon smiled malignantly; blue, cold and hungry. As we raised our swords for the final charge, memories shuddered in and out of focus.
My family live in an ordinary English street. We’ve lived there as long as anyone can remember; several houses, but always the same street. Next-door is another family who had been there as long as us. When my grandfather was young both families were good friends. They came around to our family home and we went to theirs. In the war bombs damaged their house and we let them live in with us for a while. We regularly held out the hand of friendship to them, even lending them clothes when they were poor.
Most of the time our families had decent, neighbourly relationships. For a long time our house and family was bigger. Their fortunes improved after the war, despite a family disaster. But this was a time of plenty and my family prospered too. A healthy rivalry ensued, where the adults drunk wine together, and the children socialised in the street, but competed in a sporting manner. It spurred both families on, but things started to turn a little ugly. Some of the younger, wilder family members started to brawl with each other occasionally, and the rivalry deepened. Each family began to guard their own turf.
Then my family fell upon bad times. The family elders became transfixed with the family next door and this caused us to have mounting financial problems. Family feuds were commonplace and the only constants were gambling, fighting and wasting money. Despite great hardship, what carried us through was our underlying love for each other.
Next door, things became different. They came into money. Lots of it. They renovated their house, inside and out. It made ours look shabby. As they rose up the social ladder, their attitude to others changed. Like many who become gorged with success, they became insufferably arrogant and boastful.
When my family passed them in the street, they laughed and mocked. They waved their new jewellery and trinkets and laughed at our scruffy house. It became ingrained in their family, to tease and to boast. My family began to resent this and became jealous of their success. But around the fire at nights, our parents and grandparents taught us the hollowness of their boasting. Their house had become so big, so ostentatious it now attracted people from all around the neighbourhood and beyond to their parties. They opened their doors to anyone from anywhere; shallow people who knew nothing of family tradition, loyalty and unconditional love.
Our children were brought up to value these things, whilst their adopted children cared only for the parties, the jewellery and the glamour. And they enjoyed being the neighbourhood bullies, in the full knowledge that their family were the richest in the street and could do anything.
We became used to it, became browbeaten. Our younger family members had only ever known the house next door towering over ours, had only ever heard the gloating songs about their power and our impotence. The older family members talked around the fire, but it began to sound hollow. It didn’t used to be like this, they said, and our day will come again. Few of the young believed this. But they never deserted the family. They walked the streets, desperately, bullied and humiliated. Next door’s family grew and its malevolence grew. They began to believe they owned the street, and could crush anyone who stood in their way. This they frequently did. They did what they wanted. Our family kept true to traditional values and walked past, heads held high. But these were indeed tough times.
Then, one summer’s day, a man turned up at the door. He was looking for a family with integrity. He wished to invest in a local property, one with great potential, and make it the best house in the whole neighbourhood. This would give him great satisfaction and also great returns. He desired profile for his huge construction business. An agreement was reached, and he and his friends from afar were welcomed with open arms by my family, who were stunned that someone could see the potential of the house that they had owned for so many years.
For a while, the man performed renovations, inside and out. The changes were significant and everyone in the neighbourhood began to notice. Next door they just laughed. They would always own the biggest house on the street; it was all they had known. They sneaked across the fence late at night and chipped away at our new structure. They waited gleefully for the day when a hurricane blew the house down.
But that day never came. Our house began to slowly take shape and suddenly it became noticeable that their house was starting to show signs of wear. Their landlord was increasing the rent and suddenly a few cracks appeared in the woodwork. They never noticed but we did, and redoubled our efforts. Still they laughed, and mocked with the arrogance born of lifelong security. They slapped each other’s bloated backs and laughed out of the windows. We held our counsel and turned the other cheek.
And then suddenly, last night, while they sat around their fire, gloating and singing their songs about our family’s failures, and burning our effigies, the elders said to us quietly: The time is now.
And my family, made strong by the years of hunger and torment, marched into the street, eyes cold, biceps bulging. We surrounded their house and lit torches. And they looked up, bellies fat from years of gorging, senses dulled from their fire and wine and trinkets, and suddenly fear glowed in their eyes. In line, arms linked, torches aloft, we marched forward.
A red sun dipped below the horizon. The year was 2011.