Years later, a number of parcels of neighbourhood land were purchased by single developer, some sort of foreign conglomerate. In a form letter stuffed into my letterbox, they explained that there was increasing concern about ‘liability due to crime’ on the private land they had acquired. They were unfortunately required to enforce an explicit ban on certain activities – things like busking, sleeping, taking photographs and congregating in groups.
My friends, who all live in other boroughs, thought the rule was oppressive. We chatted at the pub about whether it was justified – or even legal. We wondered why the council wasn’t stepping in. We mused over who actually owned the land – a person? A company? We considered staging a protest in the area outside of the building. One friend, a solicitor, pointed out, laughing, that we probably couldn’t, since protest was banned there. If we refused to leave when ordered to, we could be arrested for aggravated trespass. We all laughed and ordered another round.
The next morning as I crawled out of bed, head pounding, I heard water pipes come to life in the walls and wondered who lived next door. Staring down from my light-flooded flat, sipping my morning coffee, I could see security removing a homeless woman. I was embarrassed for her. I hadn’t noticed her before he grabbed her. Other than the security guards, there was never much movement on the street, as if it were always winter outside.
Quite suddenly, the embarrassment I felt for the woman made me cry and I realised I’d never been so lonely.