Autumn. Filmy cloud sheathes the cool blue.¬† The night‚Äôs rainfall stains the streets, stewing fallen leaves on the cobbles. I start walking again, hemmed in on both sides by soot-flecked brick. I‚Äôm claustrophobic ‚Äì and it doesn‚Äôt help that I don‚Äôt know where to go. The bustle of the docks is behind me ‚Äì I turn briefly to see the barges chugging past relentlessly. And around again ‚Äì to the brown brick. I crave quiet. I crave trees. I don‚Äôt belong here. I‚Äôm out of my depth.
I breathe deeply. It‚Äôs going to be OK. Just relax, just take it all in. And step forward. One step. At a time. Maybe you don‚Äôt know what‚Äôs going on ‚Äì but to be honest, how many people do?
The leaves flutter down like yellow Tibetan peace flags ‚Äì carried momentarily on the sharp breeze, before surrendering to the mucky street. Pieces of paper, rubbish dance too. I wonder about their stories ‚Äì who threw these, was it from windows, or from passersby? Are there no darn bins?
I need a shower. I feel sticky, and the smoky air isn‚Äôt helping. I can almost feel my clothes stiffen. Just keep walking. You‚Äôre no Johnnie Walker lover, but the old man had a point. Keep walking.
Another breath, a deep one. I look ahead: at dingy shopfronts and terraced houses, their elegance faded, their beauty surrendered to neglect. But still ‚Äì I like the semi-circle tops of the long windows. I like the bays in the centre ‚Äì how they let the light in. I wonder who lives there, on the second floor of the block up ahead. So many lives, so many stories. Where does it all end?
Smoke curls from chimneys into the sky. I stick to the wall, I continue forward. I‚Äôm uneasy. Am I safe? Probably not. No one has badgered me yet, but I still don‚Äôt feel safe. Is someone coming? (To kill me, I mean.) A woman in a green dress dashes across the road almost getting knocked over ‚Äì why is she running, what‚Äôs wrong? I long to talk with her, but if I chase after that could be considered creepy. She‚Äôll be OK. Maybe she‚Äôs just late for a meeting ‚Äì or maybe she‚Äôs just always in a rush.
There is nothing I can do really except to carry on. Keep walking. I need a drink. I want a Laphroaig now, go generous with the ice.
I stop again. I watch the carriage pass, led by prancing horses. They are odourless, which is a mercy ‚Äì I‚Äôm in no mood to deal with shit.
Two Union Jacks hang eerily still on the corner of the Tea Importers. On the ground floor, there‚Äôs a pub with square windows, frames painted a red that‚Äôs seen better days. I huddle under the yellow awning. A woman bounces pass with a kid who zig-zags behind her. Why‚Äôs he walking weird ‚Äì is there something wrong with him, or with me? Maybe it‚Äôs just the wine I had at lunch.
I try the door, but it‚Äôs locked. Try again.
Now what? I know it‚Äôs a Sunday, I know that in London shops only open at 12. But it‚Äôs almost 4.30 in the afternoon, dammit, and it‚Äôs autumn, and I want to be inside, want to escape the crowds, the carriages. And the rain. It‚Äôs started splattering down. I‚Äôm grateful for the awning. Blue sky shimmers in the distance ‚Äì teasing.
I strike forward ‚Äì shit, I‚Äôm in a puddle. I‚Äôm useless at this, aren‚Äôt I? I put down the console. It‚Äôs time to call it quits.
As games such as Assassin‚Äôs Creed Syndicate¬†become increasingly epic sagas, rendered with exquisite texture and complexity ‚Äì the world‚Äôs gamers have grown 1.8 billion strong. Constant improvements in technology and graphics means that becoming fully immersed in ‚Äì and absorbed by ‚Äì the world of a game is seductively easy. Even at their most fantastical, these virtual realities created have, in a sense, become a proxy for the messy reality of life beyond the screen.
Perhaps if I‚Äôd spent a bit longer in the streets of Victorian London, I‚Äôd have gotten hooked too. But I‚Äôm too impatient: I hate learning new things, I hate feeling incompetent. I like being outside ‚Äì sun on skin, wind scratching hair, taking in lungfuls of the forest or beach. And I‚Äôm also so intrigued and bewildered and excited (and quite often a little horrified) by the real world, real life: there is so much to see and experience, so many people to meet, so much to try to understand. I can‚Äôt bear the idea of shutting the door on all that, on the crazy beautiful amazing horrendous world ‚Äì even for a few hours each week. Life is one epic saga, and navigating through it ‚Äì to me ‚Äì feels like a full-time thing.
Alexander Matthews writes about real life people and places and things.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate artwork by Bertrand Bergougnoux. Courtesy of Ubisoft Entertainment: All rights reserved.