The silent fine air was rushing through my hair as I stared out of the window that was kept slightly open. I raise my eyes from my piece of paper, throwing the pen on the table. A smell of hot, dense and sticky summer night came through that small aperture. “It’s one of those nights…” I think as I stand up.
A shiver from the center of the back irradiates into my arms and legs. There was so much energy in the air.
I rolled back the ears to let my awareness travel through the neighborhood, scanning road after road any anomaly among the quiet dark allies. An alarm, dogs barking and few cars passing by were playing the nocturnal symphony.
My hand turns the window’s handle to open it wide as my thoughts travel back to the list of places I want to explore in town, left on my desk. Many places had been ticked off in the recent month to join the secret map I had been building. Many others were constantly being added, many were still in the process of being developed.
At the top right of the page, I had this big highlighted line: Get on top of the TV tower.
From the moment my eyes touch those letters I knew I had no more than three seconds to pick a side. 1… 2…
…right! Let’s do it.
My hand goes down the pocket to reach my phone: “Guys is it THE night? We go to the top of the tower. Ready or not, meet me outside the building in exactly 30 mins from now.” I type, lightning fast while wearing pitch black clothes and leaving my chalk bag filled with all my belongings bouncing on my bed.
When my phone started blinking with some confirmations and some declines, pulsating of a yellow light, I was already leaving as a silent shadow, to dive into the fluid city.
Fast steps towards my goal while I was embodying the grey-man feeling: the one that attracts no attention, walks steadily, minds his own business and avoids eye contact to not transpire urgency.
As I arrived at the designated spot for the exploration I saw a hand, shaking from inside a bush. “Pssst” it goes. Hop, I recognized R.’s big hand.
I show the ok sign with my left hand and I wrapped my right one on the vertical bar of the high gate. “C-o-m-i-n-g”, I said soundless and exaggerating every letter to facilitate lips reading.
I jumped over the high gate, landing like snow onto the hard ground. Then, I sprinted towards the green leaves where my pal was hiding.
“Hey, my friend, nice to see you!” I said, as our hands tightened around our forearms.
“So, it’s just going to be me and you right?”
“Right, apparently the others turned down the glorious mission” he continued.
“They don’t know what they are missing”
“Definitely, what else could you be wanting to do on such a perfect moment, ah!”
We talked briefly, defining the plan to reach the top of the tower: risks and dangers, points of entrance/exit and emergency lanes. I took from my pocket the printed map of the area and I placed it on the ground. Everything was silent, besides the red marker squeaking few lines and letters on the half-wrinkled paper.
The plan was to avoid security on the first two small houses to then dash to the tower running in a large open space, highly illuminated but not guarded by cameras. From there, we would have had to climb a solid orange pipe and then the outside of an emergency ladder to the top. More or less…
“Good luck brother! I’ll go first, you follow. Then we switch, cool? We are going to use the classic signaling with the headlight”. Butterflies in the stomach and slightly sweaty hands were sealing our determinate complicity for the start of the mission.
“Agreed, let’s begin”.
A Nocturnal Raid
After a quick check of the surroundings, I got out of the bushes rapidly moving to the first route. I started advancing slowly in the high fresh grass. I could see very little, so I had to trust the map I had created inside my brain.
After five minutes I got to the end of the first zone and I squeezed my body against the concrete walls of the first house. I peeked through the first window: the security guy was watching into a monitor; I checked the monitor; a movie was running.. a Japanese talk show.
“This is great”. I rip out a small piece of paper from the map and I write: “reality is better than fiction” and I stuck it in the back of the windows’ shutter. Couldn’t help but crack a smile imagining the future reaction.
Back on track, I moved quickly my stare towards R, removing my headlamp that was secured to my wrist and flashed three times in his direction. Few seconds after that, I could see the grass moving slightly in the far distance.
As I waited in absolute stillness, I decided to squat down while calming the breathing and listen more carefully.
“All good so far, the guy in here is watching a show. Bless Italian security”. I whispered when my friend popped out of the grass and moved by my side.
“Yes, what is he watching?” he asks.
“It’s some Japanese channel, I guess he might also be quite tired of this soul-less job”.
I said, pointing at my small instructional note.
We both chuckled.
“Ok R, you go ahead now” he nods as he started crawling under the long series of windows to travel all the way to the second small house.
I saw the three flashes knowing that they might have meant one thing and one thing only: it’s my turn.
I started crawling slow and steady like a feline pointing the pray. My whole spine was still with the head pointing forward. The rest of my body was turning, twisting, folding and unfolding to allow myself to glide through space.
I was trying to turn on the volume of the surrounding by pulling the ears back and trying to absorb more light from the eyes by force-opening them.
Recalling those moments, I must admit I might have looked like a crazy scientist in the middle of an undoubtedly interesting and wrong experiment.
The feel of concrete passing under my palms was giving me a familiar taste as I was moving forward in the unknown. The summer breeze coming from a green-river close by was filling my lungs. The surreal silence highlighted every little stone as they were rolling under the thick rubber of my shoes.
“Softer Marcello, softer” I was repeating to myself as a constant mantra.
I exhaled “R. we are almost there, nobody saw me, I am quite sure,” I said to his ears as I got there. We both looked through the retractable curtains of the second control house. The security guy was actually looking through the cameras. Uff, good, nothing better than a predictable problem. We grinned knowing that if he kept doing his job, he wouldn’t have had a chance of seeing us sprint through the open space to get to the designated dark side of the tower.
We walked close to the wall and crawled again underneath the windows. The low yellow light was filtering on top of us from the room, projecting to less than 1 meter from us some black and white shapes on the floor.
Resisting the temptation to raise the hands to draw some Chinese shadows we moved on to proceed over the two corners of the house to face our destination. Every motion was accurately cooked, the awareness was the deepest I had ever felt in my life. Nothing, not even the slightest movement was left to chance.
As we reached the opposite side of the small building we finally saw it.
The tower was standing right in front of us, less than 50 meters away, showing all its antennas as the feathers of a big peacock.
How many people saw that place from the outside, but how few saw its the top? Who knows what a view of the city I might get while being up there. Workers, technicians, managers, engineers, some cleaning people – those might be the lucky ones that have been up there. The bad news is I have none of those roles, the good news is that I am going to go there anyway.
“Almost there, come on, let’s find out how’s the view from up there…” I remember thinking between me and myself. I rubbed the bottom of my sleeve on my forehead to prevent the sweat from dripping into my eyes. We both agreed to run together at a count of 10 towards the target.
10… I was checking the shoes to make sure they were still well tied
9… 8… I passed my hands under my shoes to ensure an enhanced grip
5… 4… I look at the ground and I focus on a small hiding spot behind the lights of the tower
3… The body is tensed like a harrow about to be fired from a bow.
A security car suddenly rushed inside the open space from the streets. It was moving at full speed in our direction with the lights completely turned off. The sound of the tiers squealing sounded like the shout of an animal of the wild, mortally wounded.
Mine and R.’s hearts jumped to our throats and our pupils got wider: “What the hell was that??” R. shouted as we were jumping behind an electricity box without hesitation.
“Shhh… They might not be here for us” I suggested.
“You think so? If this is true, that was extremely good timing for them” R. replicated “so what do we do?”
“We wait…” I responded.
“Hey Giovanni, how did you like my need for speed entrance?” Exclaimed a girl coming out of the vehicle few meters from us “Hahaha… ciao Cristina, nice to see you, yes loved it” the man answered while his hand was still on the handle of the door, just opened, greeting his colleague.
As this was happening, we were both still like two hamsters in a cage waiting for their fate: ready to fly at any moment. The two kept talking and joking loudly while moving toward the center of the wide area, away from us. I tried to silence my breathing to a bare minimum.
“Abort. Get. Out R.” telegraphically whispering few keywords waiting for the right window to sneak out. “Blow on my face” he replies, to my surprise.
R.’s eyes started to close slightly and the muscles of his face began to cramp. Damn, he is about to sneeze, I remember thinking as I was letting a sharp flux of air get out of my lips. I stared at him for what seemed an eternity to see his eyes reopen as he regained control of his own bridles. A bright relief flushed our chests. Our eyes crossed in complicity and we both nodded. “Go, go!”.
The two guards were still in the middle of the wide area, talking now closer to the tower – they still had no idea they were silently observed by us. We waited with discipline until they turned their backs at us. As it happened, we used their short window of blindness to allow us to rush towards the series of trees on the side of the site.
After a 3-minute cautious walk in this little forest, we got to a mossy and wet wall leading to our new improvised exit. I grounded myself, supporting my weight with my legs in a high horse stance and placing my hands on the wall for improved balance.
R. started to climb on top of me, using my thighs and shoulders as if they were steps of an organic ladder.
“Marc, I still can’t reach it, I need just a bit more!” he said, with trembling muscles and a voice was broken by fatigue, while standing on the tip of his toes.
“Damn…mmm…R. step on my head, quick, just do it!” I answer tensing the muscles of my neck and trying to become of steel.
After a few seconds of confused noises above me, I felt my companion get lighter and lighter until his weight disappeared entirely: he managed to grab the edge of the wall, I realized with relief.
I stepped back to look at him as he was remaining in a hanging position to allow me to use his body like a rope to get to the top. I took a short run-up, to get just as much speed as needed to reach his legs.
I placed three fast strides on the ground and one step on the wall until I got to the point where gravity and my upward forces canceled themselves: catch! I fastened my hands around my partner’s ankles.
I climbed on top of him until my hands came into contact with the edge of the high wall.
We both climbed up and down on the other side. We jumped off from a hang securing our arrival with a roll, right after having touched our feet on that uneven terrain, made of leaves, green wet grass, and humid earth.
We both got up and started sprinting out of the forest towards a gravel road. We were tasting the beauty of the sound of the little stones as they were blasting away as our fast steps kicked them. What a feeling to perceive the coordinated motion of two souls in the still darkness, in agreement of intent.
While running, we started laughing all the tension out of the body: “We were so close, what the hell was that car!” Shouts R. as the wind shouts back at our faces. “So close, we have been so unlucky” I confirm.
We keep running slowing down the pace slightly, thinking about our next steps, and realizing that the mission was probably over for the night.
“We can’t quit” R. resumed with a heavy resolution in his brown eyes.
“What’s in your mind?” I answered, rapidly scanning our options.
“We might try to sneak in from the back, right?”.
“Yeah, if there wasn’t a river and a barbed wired fence” I reply.
“Marc, what do you do with an impossible problem?” He giggled like a fox.
“I solve it with an impossible answer, ok, so what, we swim through?”
He answers with a pretty self-explanatory smile all the way up to his ears.
“It’s a ridiculously bad idea …I think I like it, we can’t just quit now”.
We were circumnavigating the objective this time, hiding in the woods to get closer to the back side of the tower without being seen.
R. started to lead, climbing a seven meters old wall made of bricks. “stay careful, they come out of the wall easily” he warns while his right grip was crumbling into dust.
Following the advice, I started the ascend pinching the first brick with care – it came out of the wall: “ok, now that’s a good start”. I laughed to myself and to the horrible climb ahead, to lighten the mood.
There was such an unnatural silence there that in the far distance we could still hear the laughs of the two security guards we left on the other side of the river. At the end of the day, it might have been just 100 meters as the crow flies to reach them.
One hand after one scratch and one foot after one glance we both reached the top. Keeping at least three solid anchor points at all times was our only way to ensure safety.
“Next time we take a ladder with us ok?” R. told me, still panting, with red fingertips and covered in sweat.
“Ok, sure, you put it in your pocket, and we take it out whenever needed – you better wear really long pants” – I answered while looking at the river. I could see it clearly from there, with its green rushing water and its strong smell of algae, cattails, and reeds.
“Wait, what is that?” – I said, pointing at what looked like a large pipe crossing the river – “if it crosses, we can cross, I am sure we can balance on it”.
“Please, tell me we can avoid swimming, I would balance on Satan’s trident rather than dipping in that water” stated my companion, slightly closing his eyes to acquire better focus.
“It looks like it can hold our weight, I wonder why we never saw it before” – he continued, just before answering to his own question “Oh, right, probably because we never came all the way up onto this wall”.
I nodded, and we started walking in the direction of the pipeline, realising that the balance was actually possible.
“Let’s go down from this pole, so we don’t have to climb and then let’s cross. We can toss a coin to see who goes first ok?” I suggested.
“Sure, if we had a coin it would be a good move”. Said R. turning his empty pockets upside down.
“Hahaha… right, I go ok, no problem, let me open this road” – I exclaimed rushing towards our improvised bridge. *Don’t be slippery… Don’t be slippery… Don’t be slippery…* I was repeating to myself passing a hand under the shoes, to dry them.
Almost there, I took a longer stride with the weight still on the back leg to touch the new surface …it grips: “R. it can be done” – I shouted without the voice – “see you on the other side”.
One step after the other, I was moving forward on top of the black pipe, crossing the river.
The more I was gaining ground towards the centre, the more I could sense the surface I was standing on shake – I had to slow down. The big cylinder was anchored at both ends but lose in between.
I kept moving forward, playing the balancing game in the same way as I would do during a chess game. One breath cycle, one reflection, one move and one reaction. Constantly switching attention.
As I got to the other shore, I took out my flashlight and signalled the position to my partner.
Done so, I let myself fall into a full squat position, head lose. The back of my arms on the grass covered in dew, feeling my spine stretch. What a ride so far.
I check my watch: 02.45 am. Ok, time is running quickly; no wonders fatigue was crawling upon me.
Just the time to shake my head and I was back aligned to the mission with all my energies: supporting my companion with a focused stare, ready to help in any way if needed. I saw him crawl all the way across without hesitation.
“Apparently you were right, this thing could hold our weights,” said R., jumping off the pipe and ending up close to me.
“Yeah, pretty solid right? We must thank some engineer out there”. I answered, bowing to the person who built our way in and then continued: “Ok, we need to get over that fence – while pointing at an old steel barrier – to get behind the tower. Cameras state: only one, small range to the left and free space to the right. Let’s do this”.
We both glided sideways in the grass like a cloud in the fog, avoiding the camera range and overcoming the fence. We proceeded to the dark side of the tower, finally touching that big block of concrete. Checking both sides, we made sure that the security guards had gone back into the small house. The car was still left in front of it with the front door open, but with the engine turned off. Good, the moment had come, it was time to get to the top.
The top of the TV Tower
Sticking to the original plan, I started climbing the thick yellow pipe, whispering to my companion to follow me from as close as possible. We had to be quick since, for some brief moments, we would have been wholly exposed: two moving black stains on a white background. We climbed all the way up to the first 7 meters.
We used grids, gas tubes and small holes in the wall that was there for who knows why. Reached the end of the first part of the climb, we stopped to regain our strength and focus back. We found ourselves surrounded by antennas of all kinds, in a completely dark spot isolated from any sight. We could see the top, closer than ever, almost calling out our names. Climbing the tubular protection on a wall ladder appeared to be the perfect solution to finish the ascent and reach the top.
However, the bottom of it was closed with a trapdoor, and a circular two-meter grid prevented anyone to climb from the outside.
“Damn, the door here looks alarmed and we can’t climb the antennas.
This structure – said R. while making the grid shake with the touch of an index – looks weak and cannot definitely hold our weight. Going back is not an option at this point. So, what do we do?”
We continued our conversation, trying to imagine all the possible solutions to that almost uncrackable riddle. We were getting pretty discouraged, when I pushed slightly on the base of the trapdoor just by chance, after leaning on it.
To my surprise, the horizontal metal gate opened like the blade of a knife.
I look at R., laughing “It was open! Why didn’t we try to push it before?”
“Ok, to you the honour” I went on “lead the way to the top”.
I could feel the cold of the metal bars refrigerating my hot wet fatigued skin. Rung after rung, the feeling of a deep curiosity was detonating in me. What could possibly exist at the end of the ladder? R. opened the last gate, and I saw him disappearing beyond the edge of the roof.
“Not a single word. I want to see it with my own eyes!” I shouted against the wind, that was blowing stronger now between the antennas.
My arms pushed open the last trapdoor, and I climbed up onto the top of the TV tower. A flat, smooth ground completely surrounded with an iron fence was welcoming the visitors.
The energy was so electrifying that it was giving us both goosebumps (I reckon it might have been something to do with the radio/TV receivers, but whatever…).
Done. After so many years of thinking about getting up here, there was another line to be drawn on that checklist. The TV tower had been conquered. I hugged my friend, thankful for his support.
I switched my eyes’ focus from the close surroundings to the area beyond it. The city was awaiting my sight.
Stripes of lights were painting the ground like an organised pulsating web; all the way to the horizon of the events.
The honking of the cars, the clanging of the antennas moving with the breeze and the few birds that dared to fly that high, were playing a similar symphony to the one I was listening from my room, a few hours before.
The smell of this dense adventure was suggesting to my nose it was a good choice not to say no to this quest.
“All those people down there, running on their treadmills, they must have no idea of what they are missing” – I whispered.