There are few opportunities to experience the world without people, particularly if you live in a town. But there is a special kind of hush on Christmas Day. A silence so intense that it feels like it might shatter. People are celebrating behind tightly closed doors and the roads are all but empty.
Late afternoon, not long before sunset, I walk with Winston into the centre of town. Every store is closed. The street is lined with metal shutters, firmly down. A few shop signs are still lit, a monitor flashes advertisements to an empty store, and the occasional light remains on. High up above one of the shops is an open window. I wonder if there are people in any of these lit rooms, guarding empty premises, or if it’s simply that the last person to leave forgot to turn out the lights.
Wind whips down the street. A handful of crispy leaves, scraps of paper and an empty milk carton spin around the street with a hollow rustling. Something creaks. There is the clink of a lamp-post as it sways in the wind. And gulls. When the people are absent, this town belongs to the gulls. They perch high on the buildings, braying a lament or perhaps a celebration, that the streets are theirs.
I stand in the centre of the street, looking from top to bottom. There is no sound beyond the gulls and the wind-songs. The cyclone of the leaves is the only sense of movement. On my walk here, I saw only one person, in the distance, walking purposefully in pyjamas and a Santa hat. I have heard only one car passing. It doesn’t seem possible that I’m the only person on these usually busy streets, but I am. I give thanks for the opportunity to see the world as the gulls see it.
We walk home through vacant streets, Winston and I. Christmas lights glitter in living rooms and gardens. I think of the people behind those closed doors: how they have celebrated this day, how they are celebrating now. All of the excess has come to this: the silence of the streets and a thankful pause before the madness of the Boxing Day sales begins. There is fire in the sky ahead of me. Black clouds like smoke, seared by a slash of blazing orange. Darkness will be here soon and I will revel in the last hush before the people wake once more.