Walton Street runs parallel to, and two streets over from, the High Street. You can even hear the traffic noise in the distance. You would expect it to be much busier here, but a sparsity of commercial businesses and office premises have left it strangely quiet for a road with a close proximity to the centre of town, even for the mid-afternoon lull - the part of the day when many of the residents are at work, and those children that are not truant are still in school.

Along the hundred meters stretch between Burgess Road and Toomey Street that Sam is walking along, the buildings - mostly residential and five or six stories high - reach within a meter and a half of the railings which separate them from the pavement. The gap between the building and the railings is sunken, allowing access and light into an extra basement level. Most of the buildings have long ago been converted into individual flats, serviced by a communal front door four steps up from the street. Despite restrictions limiting parking to permit holders only, every space is taken regardless of the afternoon malaise.

Number forty-nine is one of the few business premises along the street, and is occupied by a multitude of different companies representing a wide variety of differing amenities, one to each floor. Here, there is no direct outside access from the street to the basement - only used for storage by the chartered accountants occupying the ground floor - and the moat has attracted the usual collection of empty coffee cups, drink cans, and old fast food wrappers together with some of their partially eaten contents.

How it all got there is a mystery, as the nearest fast food outlets are on the High Street. Who buys food three streets away and then brings it here to throw half of it down into the sunken basement forecourt? The entirety of the refuse pile is decorated with cigarette ends, and a supermarket basket tops off the decaying mound giving the inadvertent modern art sculpture a focal point.

The railings, sharply pointed on the top, are painted with green gloss paint which has flaked away in places exposing the red rust underneath, which had not been cleared away properly prior to painting. Between numbers forty-nine and fifty-one there is an alleyway leading to the rear of the buildings, blocked to the public by a similarly green painted, and padlocked, iron gate.

Next to number forty-nine's communal entrance, several small brass plaques give identity to the occupants, from the ground floor accountants up to the top floor design consultants, and a button allows communication via a microphone and a speaker positioned just above, and labelled - helpfully - 'speak hear'.

The boundary between each floor is marked on the outside by a ledge. Only between the fifth and sixth floor does this ledge extend around the corner into the alley and on towards the rear of the building and a courtyard full of industrial sized, overfilled, wheelie bins. It is from this ledge that a small piece of debris is dislodged and falls down onto the four steps leading up to the communal door, thus startling the passing Sam and causing him to look upwards.

Above, a figure is emerging from a window, one leg already over the ancient sash window frame and placed upon the ledge below. Half in and half out of the building, the figure is dressed in an old red hoodie - which has faded to a rose colour - grubby baggy jeans and worn Converse. He looks an unlikely cat burglar, unless he is stealing the smartphone that he clutches in his right hand, which seems to take up an inordinate amount of his attention, bearing in mind that he is climbing out of a sixth story window.

Subconsciously, Sam has refused to accept that the figure is a jumper, and by the time he has fully processed the situation unfolding in front of him, the would-be urban skydiver is completely out of the window and is standing upright upon the ledge with his back to the building, still holding his phone, which he is still staring intently at.

Finally, Sam acts, escaping his startled paralysis and shouting upwards, ''Stay there, don't move - I'm coming up.''

''You can fuck off, I was here first and I don't need your help,'' the hoodie replies, looking down towards Sam and betraying his age as late teens, or early twenties, with his youthful face now visible from beneath the hood.

Undeterred, Sam leaps up the steps in two paces and hammers on the buttons, shouting towards the speaker phone as he pushes on the door and turns the handle at the same time. The door instantly gives way, not having been shut properly by the previous entrant in the first place, who unbeknown to Sam, was the person now standing on the ledge above him.

It has been a long time since Sam has ran up five flights of stairs, but the adrenaline has pushed him all the way up to the sixth floor. Despite having shouted at the entry phone, as he ascends nobody comes out onto the stairwell to see what is going on. At the open window, he pauses to catch his breath, and then he puts his head out just in time to see the hoodie disappearing around the corner.

Sam looks through the open window, down at the street, the parked cars, and the very sharp railings. He has never been good at heights. He recalls being in Spain two months before when his friend Frankie had jumped from his own balcony down to the one below - a trend called balconing. Sam didn't know whether Frankie had done it to try to impress him and his other friends, or - more likely - the girl in the apartment below whose balcony he had landed on. She had not been impressed at all, calling him a stupid prat, and Sam had nearly been sick just watching, even though Frankie had got away with the stunt accident free.

Sam takes a deep breath, holds it, and climbs out of the window. It is a long way down but Sam can only stare straight in front of himself towards the building directly opposite. A woman stares back at him, momentarily transfixed, and then, with her hand to her mouth, she looks around for her phone. Sam thinks that she is going to phone the police, but when she comes back to her window, she is holding her smartphone up filming him.

By now, Sam is sweating profusely and every breath is a labour. The deep breath that he took before climbing out here seems an age ago. He starts to shuffle towards the corner. The ledge is eighteen inches wide, but to Sam it feels like it is only six. As he moves along sideways towards the corner a foot at a time, he is muttering to himself, ''Don't look down, don't look down.''

As Sam continues along the front of the building, his progress is halted by a pigeon landing on the ledge in between him and the corner. He tries moving closer, hoping that the pigeon will fly off. The pigeon fluffs up its feathers and aims a peck at Sam's shoe, before begrudgingly giving a few inches. They continue in this fashion along the ledge, the pigeon cooing its disapproval at the trespasser.

Sam continues his low-speed pursuit, and has passed another window. Facing outwards from the building, he does not see the woman inside design consulting upon her computer, and with her back to the window, she does not see Sam or the pigeon. He is nearly at the corner when the hoodie comes walking back the other way as casual as if he were strolling on the pavement below. Sam nearly falls with the shock and the hoodie puts an arm out to steady him, the pigeon still standing its ground between them.

''Jesus, man. What are you doing up here?'' the hoodie says, and then laughs and continues, ''Did you lose your pigeon?''

Sam wants to tell him that he is here to talk him out of jumping, but is unable to say anything at all, and just about manages to carefully shake his head.

Hoodie looks at Sam, and shaking his own head, and with an incredulous grin says, ''You look like shit man. I think we need to get you back inside.''

Sam just about manages to say, ''I can't move.'' This is a better description of his current predicament than he realises, as he barely moves his lips as he speaks, sounding like a poor ventriloquist struggling with the letter 'm'.

''Okay,'' says the hoodie, ''I'm Dougie, and I'm going to help you get back down. Just flatten yourself against the wall and don't move.''

''I am flattened,'' says Sam, again without any lip movement.

Dougie aims a kick at the pigeon, which finally takes the hint and flies off, and then reaches up above Sam, finds a handhold in the brickwork and swings himself across Sam's front putting an arm back over Sam's chest to ensure that he is still pressed back against the wall.

''Okay, give me your hand. Come on, your hand. Now. Okay, I've got you. Come on, a bit more. Keep going. And don't forget, if you fall, let go of my hand first.''

Sam is far too busy trying not to fall off to tell Dougie to fuck off. And if he thought about it, he would realise that he does not actually want Dougie to fuck off anywhere without him, until he is back inside the building.

On the street below, there are now six or seven gawkers, all with their phones out filming the drama. As Sam and Dougie reach the open stairwell window (having passed the consultant designer again, who still does not see or hear with her back towards them and her headphones on), Dougie realises that he will need to enter the window first. He prises his fingers out of Sam's, turns around and slips inside.

''Okay, you need to turn around and step inside, I'll help pull you in.''

''I can't turn around,'' Sam mumbles.

Dougie thinks for a second, and then grabs Sam's belt, slips an arm around his waist, and yanks Sam through the window as hard as he can. They both land sprawled on the floor, Sam rubbing his head and swearing as a result of hitting his head during re-entry, and Dougie is unable to stand up for laughing.

When Dougie finally regains his composure, they both sit on the floor leaning back against the wall.

''You came out there for me, didn't you? I can't believe you done that for me, man!'' Dougie says, still with a little bit of mirth lingering, ''You came out there to get me? I told you to keep out of it.''

''Just what the fuck were you doing out there?''

''I was looking for something,'' Dougie replies.

''Looking for what? What was worth going out of the window and risking your life for?''

''A Pokémon, man. You know, Pokémon Go. You catch them with your phone.''

''You went out there for a Pokémon? Are you insane? A fucking Pokémon?''

Dougie is laughing again. ''It's no big deal, man. I go out there all the time, it's what I do.''

''You go out there looking for Pokémon on building ledges?''

''Nah. The Pokémon just happened to be there. Caught the little bastard though. I climb all over these buildings. It's called free-running. Parkour. I do it all the time around here. I live here, in a flat in number 57. I can't believe you tried to rescue me. That took some balls man.''

''Why did nobody come out when I shouted into the answerphone? What's wrong with them?''

''Nobody takes any notice of people shouting into answerphones around here. Didn't you ever play Knock down Ginger when you were a kid? They all do it here.''

Sam still can't believe that nobody has come out of the offices to see what all the noise is about, what with people climbing all over the building. Sam explains, ''They know me man, and my mates. They're used to us shouting and climbing all over the buildings. And anything else, they ignore so as not to get involved. They missed out on a good show with you though. And you did get involved. That makes you different man.''

''Is that good then?''

Dougie looks at Sam, thinks a little, and makes a decision. ''Yeah. I reckon it is.''

Sam laughs.

When Dougie and Sam get back down to the pavement the gawkers have gone. Dougie and Sam are going to be all over social media. When the design consultant sees it on Facebook later that evening she cannot believe that she missed it.


The next time Sam is walking along Walton Street, the best part of a week later, a voice shouts down from above him. Dougie, wearing a faded green hoodie and the same baggy jeans and Converse, is sitting on the parapet that surrounds number 57, a building - like many of them along Walton Street - with a flat roof. His feet are dangling over the drop and kicking alternately at the wall. Two other boys who are about the same age, and dressed similarly, are sitting with him.

''Yo, Sammy. You gonna come up here with me man?''

''Nah, I don't think so Dougie, you're on your own today. I'll just watch from down here, if that's okay with you.''

''You see the two of us on Facebook and YouTube, Sam?''

''Yeah, I saw.'' And a picture in the local free newspaper.

''I'm gonna be a star man! You sure you don't want to get stuck somewhere again Sammy?'' His mates are laughing, and Sam watches as one of them gets up and does a handstand on the edge of the parapet. Even the baseball cap that he wears on his head, back to front, stays on.

''Nah, Dougie. I might spoil it for all of you by falling off.''


Michael J Jones

October 2017