And then I saw Martin, right over the other side of the roof. I hid in the shadows and watched him. I could see he'd done things properly: he'd brought a little step-ladder, and some wire cutters, and he'd managed to climb over the top like that. And he was just sitting on the ledge, dangling his feet, looking down, taking nips out of a little hip flask, smoking, thinking, while I waited. And he smoked and he smoked and I waited and waited until in the end I couldn't wait any more. I know it was his step-ladder, but I needed it. It wasn't going to be much use to him. I never tried to push him. I'm not beefy enough to push a grown man off a ledge. And I wouldn't have tried anyway. It wouldn't have been right; it was up to him whether he jumped or not. I just went up to him and put my hand through the wire and tapped him on the shoulder. I only wanted to ask him if he was going to be long.
Before I got to the squat, I never had any intention of going onto the roof. Honestly. I'd forgotten about the whole Toppers House thing until I started speaking to this guy. I think he fancied me, which isn't really saying much, seeing as I was about the only female under thirty who could still stand up. He gave me a fag, and he told me his name was Bong, and when I asked him why he was called Bong he said it was because he always smoked his weed out of a bong. And I went, Does that mean everyone else here is called Spliff? But he was just, like, no, that bloke over there is called Mental Mike. And that one over there is called Puddle. And that one over there is Nicky Turd. And so on, until he'd been through everyone in the room he knew.
But the ten minutes I spent talking to Bong made history. Well, not history like 55BC or 1939. Not historical history, unless one of us goes on to invent a time machine or stops Britain from being invaded by Al-Qaida or something. But who knows what would have happened to us if Bong hadn't fancied me? Because before he started chatting me up I was just about to go home, and Maureen and Martin would be dead now, probably, and....well, everything would have been different.
When Bong had finished going through his list, he looked at me and he went, You're not thinking of going up on the roof, are you? And I thought, not with you, stoner-brain. And he went, because I can see the pain and desperation in your eyes. I was well pissed by that time, so looking back on it, I'm pretty sure that what he could see in my eyes were seven Bacardi Breezers and two cans of Special Brew. I just went, Oh, really? And he went, Yeah, see, I've been put on suicide watch, to look out for people who've only come here because they want to go upstairs. And I was like, What happens upstairs? And he laughed, and went, You're joking, aren't you? This is Toppers House, man. This is where people kill themselves. And I would never have thought of it if he hadn't said that. Everything suddenly made sense. Because even though I'd been about to go home, I couldn't imagine what I'd do when I got there, and I couldn't imagine waking up in the morning. I wanted Chas, and he didn't want me, and I suddenly realised that easily the best thing to do was make my life as short as I possibly could. I almost laughed, it was so neat: I wanted to make my life short, and I was at a party in Toppers' House, and the coincidence was too much. It was like a message from God. OK, it was disappointing that all God had to say to me was, like, Jump off a roof, but I didn't blame Him. What else was he supposed to tell me?
Copyright Nick Hornby 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by the permission of Putnam Publishing. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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