‘Listen, I know people are getting tired of this kind of direct protest, but that’s a good thing. It means we’re getting under their skin. It means we’re having an effect. And the more traction we’re getting with the general public, the more we dominate the headlines, the better chance we have that our frigging useless politicians will start sitting up and taking note.’
Belinda nudges Scott in the ribs, leans over and whispers to him. ‘She’s good, your missus. A proper revolutionary.’
‘Don’t take the piss,’ he says, because even though what they’re both doing is going to really hurt Jenny, he still cares about her. Just not like he used to.
‘I’m not taking the piss. I’m dead serious. Jenny knows what she’s talking about and she’s absolutely right. Her passion really comes through.’
There’s a lot that Scott could say in reply to that, but he doesn’t. If Jenny had shown him a bit more passion, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way. Maybe he wouldn’t have ended up in Belinda’s bed.
Belinda’s right, though. Jen’s a natural at this. Authentic. Honest. Believable. The cause has come to mean everything to her. If we don’t have a planet, she always says, then we don’t have anything.
The meeting room is packed tonight. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a palpable nervousness in the air, but that’s only to be expected. A reckoning is coming. The people here know two things for definite. First, they know the politicians won’t do anything other than talk the talk about the climate, won’t take any action unless they absolutely have to. Second, they know that the time for pissing about is over. If we don’t act now, we’re all screwed.
Jenny’s arguing that there needs to be a different approach at the protest this weekend. ‘We’ve done this over and over,’ she says, ‘and it doesn’t make a scrap of difference. We block their way through, we cover their important buildings and landmarks in paint, we interrupt their football matches and whatever, we glue ourselves to roads and runways, we block motorways and oil terminals . . . none of it has the kind of impact we need it to, and we’re rapidly running out of time. That’s why I’m suggesting we do things differently.’
There’s a bloke who’s been arguing with Jenny all night. He’s old school, been part of the organisation for years. He’s up on his feet now, gesticulating and shouting at her.
‘Who the hell do you think you are? You come in here and question our approach . . . do you know how long some of us have been fighting for this cause?’
‘If you’ve been at it that long, you can’t have had much of an impact.’
‘You have the nerve to come here and start lecturing us about what we should be doing and how—’
‘I mean, whatever you’ve been doing is clearly not working, is it?’ she says, silencing him. ‘The fact you’ve been at it for so long and still no one’s listening kind of proves my point. Look, you know as well as I do, we can’t give up on this. We don’t have any choice. There are no second chances, either for us or the planet. But the fact is, we’re not having the impact we need to. That’s why I think this change of approach is critical.’
At the head of the room, the leader of the group gets to her feet and calms the fractious crowd down, calling the meeting to order, silencing everyone. ‘She’s right,’ she says, pointing at Jenny. ‘We named our organisation the Silent Majority, but the fact is, we need to be heard now. I’m confident the approach Jenny has suggested will work. There’s an increased risk for all of us, that much is for sure, but I don’t see that there’s any other way. Instead of one single protest, we carry out a scattershot attack on a scale that’s never been seen before. We cause the maximum number of problems with minimal damage. We block as many roads as we can, stop as many trains and buses, barricade the entrances to as many buildings as we can . . . splitting up like this is a masterstroke. We’re bound to have more of an effect because the police response will be equally diluted. They won’t be able to stop all of us. Look, the time for causing one-off dramas with a view to getting on the TV news is over. We need to do something that’s going to impact every single person in London in one way or another. We need to get their attention. We need to make them all think.’
The room erupts in cheers. Jenny gets up again. She’s not finished yet.
‘We have the numbers to do this, and we know it. Thousands of individual protests, all happening across the city at the exact same time. We’ll be unstoppable. We’ll bring the city to a complete standstill. We’ll have their attention, and they’ll have no choice but to listen.’
After the meeting, Belinda invites a group of them back to her flat for drinks. Jenny gets the full rock star treatment. There’s a whole group of folks in the open plan lounge, listening to her in awe.
‘You’ve heard of passion plays, right?’ she says in response to a guy who’s asked her about the genesis of her idea.
‘What, is that like porn or something?’ he ignorantly replies.
She shakes her head, deadly serious. ‘Quite the opposite. Passion plays used to be these huge public re-enactments about the passion of Christ. The crucifixion, and all that.’
‘Oh, right. Not my kind of thing. Didn’t have you down for a bible-basher, Jen.’
‘Believe me, I’m not. It’s not the subject matter that interests me, it’s the scale of them, the shared feelings, the collective passion. They used to hold these things in the streets, thousands of people watching and taking part. I just thought we should apply the same logic, and do something that’s gonna suck people in, give them no choice but to get involved and listen to what we’re saying.’
‘And you think it’ll work?’
‘I think it has to. By showing people how important this is to us, by demonstrating our collective passion, we’ll make it matter to them.’
Scott watches the conversation from a distance, leaning up against the bar that separates Belinda’s kitchen area from the rest of the living space. ‘She’s in her element,’ he says to Belinda.
‘Do you think she knows about us?’
‘Honestly? I don’t think she cares.’
‘That’s not what I asked.’
‘I’m serious. She’s obsessed with the group and the cause, hardly gives me a thought.’
‘My poor little soldier . . .’ she laughs, mocking him.
‘It’s true, I swear. I could strip you naked and fuck you on this worktop right now, and she wouldn’t even notice.’
‘Want to try out your theory?’
‘Don’t tempt me.’
She’s still going for it over there. Jenny has hardly paused for breath since they got here. Belinda suggests Scott comes with her up to her room so they can fuck. She’s in the mood now, and this lot will be talking for hours. Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve snuck off like this, and it sure as hell won’t be the last.
It’s the day of the protest. Rather, the protests. Plenty of people wanted to know what Jenny’s personal plans are for today, but she’s not shared them. ‘This is all about the individual,’ she tells folk when they ask. ‘You go and do whatever feels right for you.’
The important thing is synchronisation.
For this to have any impact whatsoever, all the hundreds – maybe even thousands – of individual protests have to begin at roughly eleven o’clock.
Scott persuaded Jenny that Belinda should protest with the two of them. Truth be told, Jenny had kind of intimated as much. She said three was a good number to make sure they could go through with their protest. It gives them room for manoeuvre. One person on their own can be easily stopped. Two people, less so, but a couple of police and you’re still going to struggle. But when three people are out to cause trouble, it’s harder for the law to keep control of the situation.
There’s a definite apprehension in the air. A sense of nervous anticipation. The importance of what happens today is weighing heavy on everyone. On their way into the centre of the capital, Scott chatters nervously. The other two are quiet, things on their minds. All things considered, Jenny seems pretty chilled. She knows how things are going to go down.
In her rucksack, she has their food and drink for the day (they know they could be out here for some time), as well as the resin she’s going to use to do the deed. The others left it to her. She’s a veteran of gluing herself to things in protest. Runways, roads, banks, statues, doorways . . . you name it, Jenny’s stuck herself to it in the name of the cause.
Today, she’s selected a prime location for them. A statue of some long-forgotten politician, that guards the entrance to a fairly modest-looking building. A building which, she tells them, is the headquarters of a shady, pro-business, anti-green thinktank that has its oily tendrils wrapped around virtually every level of the government machine from the PM down. This thinktank, she’s explained, is disproportionately evil, its funding less-than transparent. Causing problems here will get its name all over the news for all the wrong reasons.
Belinda and Scott readily agree. Whatever Jenny says goes. She knows her shit.
The statue’s plinth is a huge, rectangular slab of stone. It has relatively smooth sides. Good for adhesion, Jenny says.
It’s ten-thirty. Perfect. This gives them time to get set up. The rest of the protests will begin throughout the city in the next half-hour. The authorities (and the public) won’t know what’s hit them.
‘You sure you’re both ready for this?’ Jenny asks. She can tell they’re nervous. No surprise. She is too.
‘I’m ready,’ Scott says. ‘Let’s do it.’
Jenny puts her bag down and gets to work. She wipes the sides of the statue’s plinth clean to make sure they get a good bond, then takes the resin and starts mixing the chemicals. ‘This stuff is quick acting,’ she explains. ‘We need to move fast.’
Belinda looks into the plastic pot, screws up her nose at the acidic smell. There’s no way that stuff is environmentally friendly. ‘You sure this is safe?’
‘As safe as sticking your hand to anything with industrial-strength adhesive is, yes.’
Thirty more seconds of vigorous stirring, and the resin is ready. She offers the pot to Scott. ‘I just shove my hand in there?’ he asks, unsure.
‘Yep. Make sure you’ve got a decent handful of resin, then hold it firm against the side of the statue. Got it?’
‘Got it,’ he says.
‘Be quick, then. This stuff will go off in a couple of minutes.’
He’s ready to take the plunge. Jenny stops him.
‘Use your non-writing hand, just in case.’
‘Now you’re making me nervous,’ Belinda says.
Scott, keen to prove his credentials, shoves his bare left hand into the pot. He pulls it out again and it’s covered in thick epoxy that’s like a cross between varnish and wallpaper paste. Belinda follows his lead and the two of them stand side-by-side and press their encased mits against the plinth.
There’s not enough room for three.
‘Guess I’m on the other side, then,’ Jenny says, and she goes around, gives the pot a final thorough stir, then presses her hand against the cold stone surface.
Jesus, but this stuff is quick drying.
‘It’s already set,’ Belinda says. Her hand looks like it’s been encased in glass. Anxious, she exchanges glances with Scott. He tries to tell her everything’s okay, but he’s also feeling unsure. He can’t move his fingers, can barely feel them. He tries to pull his hand away from the plinth but it’s locked solid, like it’s been welded into place, like it’s always been there.
‘How’s it going over there?’ he asks, trying to sound more confident than he feels. He ducks down so that he can see Jenny through the gap between the statue’s legs and the draped hem of a stone-carved overcoat.
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Jenny tells him.
For the next few minutes, there’s no conversation. The three of them are settling in, getting used to the situation. After all the build-up, it’s hard to believe the big day is finally here. It’s very quiet in this part of town, though. Almost too quiet. Scott tries to check his watch, but it’s hard now he’s only got one hand. He has to shake his sleeve down so he can see what time it is.
‘Where is everybody?’ Belinda asks. ‘I thought we’d have the police crawling all over us by now.’
‘Oh, no one’s coming this way,’ Jenny says, matter of fact.
‘No one’s going to disturb us here. This road’s closed today.’
Scott’s struggling to understand. ‘Wait . . . you’re saying you deliberately got us to stick our hands to a statue outside a building no one’s even going to walk past?’
‘What the hell for? Fuck, are you insane?’
‘I needed to talk to you both.’
Jenny ducks down a little lower so she can see the expressions on both of their faces. Yep, they’re looking about as uncomfortable as she expected. She thinks they’re getting close to figuring it out.
Scott’s getting angry. He’s trying to sound like he’s in control of the situation, but he clearly knows he’s not. ‘So, what exactly did you want to talk about?’ he asks, trying to sound casual, but just coming across as scared.
‘Passion,’ Jenny answers without hesitation, and the other two exchange glances again.
‘What kind of passion?’ Belinda asks, not knowing if she should.
Jenny shrugs. ‘That’s not really the point. It’s not so much about passion itself, more if it’s possible to fake it.’
Now they’re both really worried. They’ve been rumbled. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jen,’ Scott says, though he thinks he probably does.
‘Listen,’ she says, prolonging their agony, ‘I’m just going to say it like it is. I’m not entirely convinced that you’re as passionate about our cause as you claim to be.’
Scott relaxes. Slightly. That wasn’t what he was expecting her to say. ‘You’re wrong, Jenny. I’m absolutely committed to the future of our planet. We both are.’
‘One hundred per cent,’ Belinda says. ‘I promise you. My commitment to what we’re doing here hasn’t wavered.’
‘I’m not so sure.’
‘What makes you say that? We’re here, aren’t we? We’ve glued our hands to the statue, same as you have. How can you say we’re not committed when the three of us are all stuck here like this?’
‘I didn’t say you weren’t committed.’
‘You did,’ Belinda starts to protest. ‘You said we weren’t—’
‘Passionate,’ Jenny interrupts. ‘That’s the word I used. Nothing about commitment.’
‘It’s the same thing,’ Scott says. ‘We’re just arguing semantics here. Belinda’s right . . . we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe.’
‘Still not convinced,’ Jenny says, cold as ice.
‘Then I don’t know what you want me to say to you.’
‘You could start by answering my original question. Do you think it’s possible to fake passion?’
‘No,’ he very definitely says, making a stand.
‘Correct. That’s what I think, too.’
‘Then why the interrogation?’ Belinda asks.
‘Because I want to know what it is you’re most passionate about.’
‘About saving the planet,’ she answers immediately. She’s a little too quick, if anything. She knows she’s not convincing.
‘And that’s all?’
‘Yes, that’s all,’ she says, again without hesitation.
‘See, that’s where your story falls down. I do believe you care about the planet, and I definitely do believe you’re both capable of showing passion. I see it in you all the time.’
‘You do?’ Scott says.
‘Absolutely, yeah. Passion, lust, whatever . . .’
‘I’m sorry, Jenny, I really don’t know where you’re going with this.’
‘Your passion for each other is obvious. Your passion for our cause, less so.’
‘I was so busy it took me a while to realise, but I’ve been watching the two of you. You’ve been cheating on me for the last couple of months, haven’t you, Scott?’
Scott doesn’t know what to say for the best. One thing’s for sure, with their hands welded to the sides of this damn statue, avoiding the question isn’t an option. No, he realises it’s better just to deal with this head on, get it all out in the open.
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘But you’ve been so wrapped up with the protests . . . I’m surprised you even noticed.’
‘We didn’t mean to hurt you,’ Belinda says, feeling brave enough to chip in now the cat’s out of the bag.
‘Well, you have hurt me.’
‘We didn’t know how to tell you.’
‘You didn’t even try. It really was painfully obvious, though.’
‘I never wanted it to be like this,’ Scott says. ‘We had a good run, you and me. I hope we can still be friends, Jen.’
‘Really? I don’t think so.’
He feels duty bound to explain himself now, even though there’s no point and he’s just making the situation worse. ‘It’s just that . . . just that you’ve been really distant. It’s like I’ve been an inconvenience to you, like I’ve been invisible. I’m always having to take second place to the protests.’
‘We’re fighting to save the planet, Scott. Do you not think that should be our number one priority?’
‘Yes, but not at the expense of everything else.’
Jenny looks to the heavens and wipes a tear from her eye with the hand that’s not pressed against the base of the statue. ‘You’re so naïve,’ she sobs. ‘Without the planet, there is no us. I don’t know why that’s so difficult to understand. This cause is everything.’
‘To you, maybe,’ Belinda says. ‘You were asking about passion just now. I don’t think you have the first idea what passion like this feels like. When Scott and I are together we—’
‘I couldn’t give a damn about that,’ she yells, interrupting Belinda, silencing her. ‘You think I care about Scott? Fuck no. The fate of the planet is more important than any individual man or woman, any relationship.’
‘Then why are you so mad about us having an affair?’
‘Because I can’t have you taking the focus away from today’s protests.’
‘Are you insane, Jenny?’ Scott asks.
‘I only need people who are one hundred percent committed. If you’re distracted and selfish like you two clearly are, then I need you to stay away from the protests. You’ll do more harm than good.’
‘Bit late for that, don’t you think?’ Belinda sneers.
The hairs on the back of Scott’s neck stand to attention. ‘Wait, what are you planning, Jenny? What are you going to do?’
‘I’ve already done it.’
And she steps away from the statue and holds up both hands. She never glued herself to the stone. She walks around so she can see them both properly when she explains.
‘So much for commitment,’ Scott says. He tries to flex his fingers and form a fist, but they’re stuck solid. With his free hand, he holds onto Belinda.
‘You crazy bitch,’ Belinda screams, and she spits at Jenny. Jenny wipes the dribble from her face then takes a couple of steps back, out of range. She checks her phone.
‘I need to get going. Don’t want to miss anything.’
‘What about us?’ Scott demands.
‘What about you? I chose a place where there wouldn’t be a lot of footfall today, if any. I thought you two would want to be alone together.’
‘When I get free I’m going to come after you,’ Scott says, seething with anger, but Jenny’s not in the slightest bit fazed.
‘But that’s the thing . . . you won’t be coming after me. That’s industrial strength resin I used. It won’t come off. Not ever. Short of having your hands amputated, you’re not going to be going anywhere.’
And Scott and Belinda both scream and shout in protest, but it doesn’t have any effect. Jenny walks away and leaves them to each other.
Fuck the pair of them, she’s got a planet to save.
Thanks for reading
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