The depot was open for a meagre four hours on Saturdays, from eight in the morning to midday. It was located in an area that was full of the sort of buildings that had the right shape for buildings, but in fact had no visible doors and no windows, nor anything else. Consequently, it was possible to imagine that the whole block faced inwards, rather than out towards the street; and that the buildings, turned towards one another, communicated silently. 

The depot collection point was a very small room and there were already seven or eight people waiting. Some were queuing in front of a small service window, behind which was an empty chair, and others sat on leather banquettes. Everyone was turned towards the large flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, which was screening a recap of the film awards that had taken place the previous day. A very beautiful actress was speaking, her gaze aimed just a bit off-centre. She was talking about how pleased she was by the nominations, how difficult she thought the choice would be, how all five nominees deserved to win, how she wished they would just chop up the award and give little pieces to everyone. And then she laughed and recoiled as if the brilliance of her own laugh had knocked her back slightly. 

I joined the end of the queue and waited. Eventually a small door opened behind the service window, and a man stepped out, wearing a bright yellow shirt with the depot’s logo on it. He sat down wearily in a chair. The person at the front of the queue stepped forward, and they exchanged words none of us could hear before the depot worker once again disappeared through the small door behind the glass. Having watched these exchanges closely, we turned our faces back towards the screen.

We were watching a clip from one of the nominated films – the actress from earlier was covered in mud and crying, holding a dead man in her arms – when the scene split suddenly and gave way to an image of a newsreader. This is an emergency broadcast, she said, and trembled. We looked to see if the depot worker had changed the channel, but he was gone. We assumed, for the first moments, that this was another excerpt from a film that had been nominated for a prize because – of course – emergency broadcasts didn’t happen anymore. 

But we recognised the newsreader as a real newsreader, though we had not seen her like this before, speaking in half-sentences, scrambling her lines and dropping her papers. The depot worker emerged from the backrooms with a large box in his hands: he too stopped what he was doing to watch. We remained utterly silent. There were blurred, hasty clips, hardly discernible clips, narrated by flustered correspondents who cropped up sporadically, their eyes wild, their cheeks rosy. The transitions were a mess. There were brief cutaways to experts who had been hurriedly rung up, but the connections were bad. They were calling from airports and from cafés and they were breathless; they kept dropping away. 

We began to get out our phones. Our phones were ringing, and we were answering them, and while we recounted the snippets of information we were receiving from the TV, new snippets were flooding in. We imagined these snippets as small, spermatozoic morsels of light. They made their way through us in neat, quick processions. A loud thud: the man behind the window had dropped the box he was holding and was pushing open the side door to join us.

Unwittingly, we’d been preparing for this moment all our lives. We put our hands to our mouths or held them to our temples, and shook our heads from side to side. We fainted and caught each other. Some of us lifted our hands to the sky, opening our faces towards the ceiling, and some of us fell to the floor to gently rock ourselves back and forth. We opened our mouths and the noises we made all pooled into one melodic roar. Simultaneity! Hugging! Sobbing! Flushed cheeks! And all the time we kept saying oh my god, unbelievable, I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it. Even though we absolutely believed it, we had believed it so intensely that it soon became clear it had happened entirely because of our belief. 

emergency broadcast

lauren collee

lauren collee is a writer and phd student living in london. her essays & fiction have been published in Real Life, Another Gaze, Eyot and SPAM Zine.