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The Lost City

T C W Davies

Barry Gastrell didn’t like people. Unfortunately, he also lived in London, which put Barry in something of a bind. In London, there were people everywhere but then, in 2010, Barry came up with a very simple solution. He stopped going out. 

This wasn’t as much of a privation for Barry as it might have been for most people. He was retired, had a reasonably sized garden and no family or friends. And when coronavirus hit a decade later, Barry found himself watching on with glee as everybody else’s lives were reduced to something resembling his own.   

In fact, Barry’s life improved. The delivery men stopped banging on his door with parcels for other people. The neighbours’ interminable building works finally ground to a halt. And when Francesca - one of the glossy-haired middle-class types who had colonised his humble childhood street - plucked up the courage to ask if Barry needed help with anything, he replied that he didn’t as she was undoubtedly “riddled with disease.” 

Then, after weeks of watching deserted city centres on the news, Barry decided to do something he hadn’t done in a long time. He decided to go for a walk.  

Leaving his house, Barry did feel a little apprehensive but then he saw the line of shuttered up shops on the high street, the glorious pedestrian-free pavements. It was a perfect, golden evening, more like summer than spring, and seized by a sudden nostalgia, Barry set off up Crooms Hill. His mother used to work as a cleaner in one of the grand old houses and whilst the house itself was hardly recognisable thanks to the inevitable scaffolding, the thick scent of blossom from the trees outside was exactly as Barry remembered it.  

Out of breath, Barry reached the top of the hill and Blackheath appeared in front of him, scorched brown by the unseasonal sun. A handful of people criss-crossed it on foot but there were no cars. Barry traversed the brow to Point Hill and slipped behind the line of oaks that concealed a secret corner of heath. Then beyond that, Barry found what he had been looking for; all of London, laid out at his feet. 

Barry stood there for a long time. Everywhere he looked, there were new buildings, thickening along the river from The 02 in the east to Battersea Power Station in the west. There were towers all over central London that he had never even seen before. And the offices on Canary Wharf seemed to have multiplied tenfold. Yet, it was utterly silent, as if the entire city had risen up and then been abandoned, just in time for him to return. Barry breathed in deeply. Then he did something else he hadn’t done in a long time. He smiled. 

Barry had almost made it home without seeing a soul when Francesca appeared on her doorstep. 

“Hello?” she said, staring at Barry with a mixture of apprehension and astonishment. 

“Evening!” replied Barry cheerily before he could stop himself.  

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