Block 5 – by Jamie Maddison

Primrose Hill Short Story Entry

If you’ve come by this account, then one of only two things could’ve happened to me. Either I’m there, standing right besides you – most likely with a mad grin on my face on account of the fresh air. Or I’m here – in the lobby of Block 5, Darwin Court, London – and you’ve perhaps come to my rescue, if indeed rescue is still a possibility by that time. Either way, it’s imperative, my fresh-eyed reader, that I leave you with a full and comprehensive account of what’s transpired here over the past 100 days. Let me explain.

The first we heard about it all was when Block 1 stopped coming out. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at time – I don’t have much business over there and my work forever keeps my occupied with errands and the like. Still, it did seem strange to me that every time I bundled past their building on my way to get the morning milk and a newspaper (yes, I still read the broadsheets) that there appeared to be people milling around in their lobby. And yet, I never saw a soul come in or out of that place. Not an Amazon delivery guy, not a young couple taking their newborn out for a stroll – not a sausage. All these people, dozens of them, downstairs in their lobby; no-one in or out. It didn’t make much sense.

Unable to restrain my curiosity any longer, I decided to go take a peek and see what all the fuss was about. That’s when I saw the padlock. It wasn’t big, probably what you’d use to secure your belongings in a gym locker, but there is was, just on the other side of the glass at about eye level. Of course, I was bemused, confused even – I mean who wouldn’t be? But then, what confounded this befuddlement further was that these lobby people didn’t even seem particularly put out by such an unusual blockade to their natural freedom, no they just seemed bored. Well of course I knocked on the glass and gestured if they’d like any help – that’s what good neighbours do after all – but they just shooed me away with a hand gesture or two and then returned to looking at the lock.

Truth be told, I did have an awful lot on at the time and was honestly quite glad to be rid of that strange scene. Indeed, I didn’t think about it again for about a month or two after because the work keeps me so busy these days. I’m mean, I heard rumours about more padlocks appearing in the other blocks, but who really pays detailed attention to the minutiae of places that aren’t you home? So it was with no small amount of red-faced shock that one day – as I bounded down the stairs for yet more milk – I came face to face with our own padlock, on our lobby door, leading to everyone’s great outdoors.

Of course, it caused quite a stir with other Block 5 residents as well – not just me – who all came down to stare and contemplate ways we could open the blasted thing up and get on with our routines. Our first plan was simple, if naive; we picked everybody who’d been to Blocks 1 through 4 in the past two months and asked for them to supply the right combination. Needless to say, they didn’t have it. We also tried the door by force, then the lock, then the windows – I even contemplated jumping from the roof. Alas, it was all of little use: Block 5 was sealed tight, me along with it.

So how best to explain the next 100 days? Imagine you’re living in a room, and in that room you knew the entire layout of every single piece of furniture, every painting on the wall, every cup in the cupboard, even board in the flooring, every speck of dirt on the ground and every piece of dust in the air. You knew it all so well that you’d become unable to distinguish the differences between these objects, like a perfume worn too long and now numb to the nose.

But wait, that’s not entirely fair. There’s also been a comforting coziness to this lock-in. I’ve loved the weekly claps and cheers from Floors 1 to 5 to boost morale, the elaborate telephone system we rigged up between apartments just to talk. Even the monotony of living the same day after day has grown a certain Zen around it. No, dear reader, looking back it wasn’t all that bad really, and sometimes (can you believe it?) we even forgot there was a padlock on the door at all.

And so, in equal parts rebellion, relaxation and revelation, us residents of Block 5, Darwin Court, returned our attention to the lobby – where I am sitting now – and the lock. From what we’ve learned of padlocks, which is more than I ever wanted or cared to know about them, there is one surefire to unlock a combination lock through guesswork alone. Have you heard the account of the scientist who goes to the country fair and observes the guess the weight of a cow game? The first person who guesses will be wildly off. The same is true of the next guesser, and the one after that and the one after too. But by the 100th participant, or by the 1000th, the scientist learned that the crowd averaged together is able to guess the cow’s weight to within a gram.

Stick together and you can’t be beaten. Well, there’s a lot of us in the lobby now and we’re all working on the combination. I think we’ll crack it. Gosh, look at me, it’s all enough to bring a tear to an old man’s eye. But enough blabbing on, time to put down the pencil and get back to door and (I hope) the freedom beyond!

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