Ash was falling down this time, from the sky, on the people, in the city.
Pale pink, at first insignificant ash. But then it settled and people noticed the increasing covering of dust; pink like petals, lightly layering their loved ones, their dogs, their dustbins, their children’s swings.
Ash was falling down this time like snowflakes, yet people weren’t standing in awe with mouths agape to taste. This time mouths were firmly shut, gripped lines of lips and clenched teeth.
‘The ash is our sins’, one voice cried out, yet the children laughed and swirled and made ash angels and so this woeful prognosis didn’t seem to ring true.
‘The sin of our pollution’, the voice tried again, as pale outlines collected on eyelashes, shoulders and brims of hats. A dog barked with glee and skirted a tree edge, sniffing and then scenting, turning the pale pink into a patch of dark crimson, whilst people walked carrying their new silhouettes.
Yet people cast baleful looks around and at one another and wondered this time what the sign meant.
The ponds were starting to scud frothy pink at the edges and fishes were seen to pluck upwards with round circle mouths, mistaking the fine ash for something like food.
The people would know shortly if this was a poison, for then the fishes would rise lifeless and bloat. Yet even for this knowledge they would have to wait, fearful and tender to each other, united in their scant hope.
Decisions were made and children were ushered home, propelled forward by flats of parental hands, like little offerings to their squares of domesticity.
The next day they all arrived, the scientists, the holy, the politicians and the critics; cascades of controversial thought rolling down the dusty hills, along the furrowed paths of the city, each in turn collecting more props for their inconclusive theologies.
They gathered in the square, where the ash still lay, thick and mysterious and each in turn began to half speak, half shout their views.
The scientists were angry, as they saw the phenomenon as a vindication of their studies of the corruption of the environment, and demanded change.
The holy were sage and self assuming as they preached of the ash being a compelling sign to return to the old devout ways and be forgiven their modern dissolute lives.
The politicians were excited and rubbed their small greedy hands, as they plotted ways to extort more money from this unexpected yet highly taxable windfall.
The critics expounded both furiously and happily as they saw the ash as an opportunity to vociferate upon the glories and failings of all in the city.
The voices grew in pomposity as they grew in measure, till all were speaking and none were listening, as the fishes one by one started to float.