It didn’t happen all at once. We don’t even know when it began. It just sort of crept up on us when we weren’t paying attention.
First they took the ones closest to the sea. We didn’t think much of it. I think we were happy to see them go. We were jealous of them, standing there proudly facing the beautiful vast blue sea. They seemed to deserve a bit of pain.
Before we knew it, they were all gone. Entire rows of them replaced by younger, taller, stranger ones that didn’t seem to get along with each other as well.
But we thought nothing of it. Evolution, we said. Progress.
Then they took the ugly ones. The ones that had been abandoned. The ones built between the wars. The austere ones.
They started dropping like flies, one by one, replaced once again by taller ones, perhaps more attractive, modern, built for today’s realities.
We weren’t sure what to think. Sometimes the new was built over the old and it looked good. But sometimes they appeared odd, lifeless, jutting out into the sky, unfamiliar and out of place.
Soon it became clear that none of us were safe. Whenever a big steel cross settled into our street, we knew one of us would be gone within days. And whenever one was gone, we knew the others would follow. It was just a matter of time.
Last month they came for my neighbour. We’d been standing near each other for more than 50 years. Most of our friends had already gone. But we kept our owners happy and we kept each other strong.
But then it arrived like we always feared. That green and white flat sheet nailed to her facade. The warning of impending doom.
Then more sheets. Then a skip, then a big steel cross, casting a shadow over us. Then the metal skeleton all around her and a big black cloth over her face as if to stop me from watching.
They tore her down in three days. I didn’t see much but I felt it all.
Eventually they removed the sheet and there she stood. Hollowed. Lifeless. Her face still there but with no eyes, no life. She was gone.
Today I wait for my white and green sheet. I know it will come. I know it won’t be long. In some ways I think I long for it. It’s not the same anymore, standing here alone, looking like the one that doesn’t belong. I don’t work as well without the others by my side. Now I just look like an ugly gap between the newer ones.
But who will tell our stories when we are all gone? Who will remember what we remember?
All photos taken by Joanna Demarco.
Want to help save Sliema from more careless development? Join the Sliema Under Siege protest this Saturday at Dingli Circus.