A long time ago I lived in an old London warehouse with a guy named Rob. He and I were both penniless; I worked full-time for a respectable fashion label but was remunerated abysmally, whereas Rob was a bum and deserved to be broke. On the outside of our building, near our front door, was some graffiti: a Banksy rat. It's one of Banksy’s most famous works, a gangster rodent with a boombox that's in all the coffee table books. Tourists came every day to photograph it. For what it's worth now, I liked the rat. It made me smile a little each morning as I left the house. But then something bad happened.
One night, Rob's drug dealer came over. He was also some kind of art collector. While snorting blow or some kind of flour mixed with bleach or whatever it is that dirty coke dealers give you now, he started telling Rob and I about how much the small graffiti rat on the side of our building was worth. Then he told us that if we could get it off the wall in one piece he could sell it for us for "about £50,000". 'Fuck,' I thought to myself, 'I could live off that money for a long time. I could be one of those people who gets their hand blown off when the printer in the office explodes and gets a lump sum of compensation money – except I don't even have to have a fucked-up hand. I just have to sell out and be a bad person.' At the time, that sounded just fine.
The dealer left and Rob and I discussed our moral dilemma. "Well, I mean, I'm sure Banksy himself would be fine with it because it would be like we were preserving it in a way, selling it to an art dealer and all." I looked at him and we both knew I was lying.
We decided that we needed a truly expert builder to survey the situation and see if it would be feasible to even attempt to remove the rat all in one perfect piece. I left Rob to find this builder, I was too busy and important, what with my shitty job and all. Later that evening, I came home and there was a Polish guy in our apartment.
As the guy walked past me and down the stairs, the only tool I could see was a red plastic bucket, and that concerned me a little. I asked Rob what was going on and he assured me that the guy knew what he was doing. "So he speaks English?" I asked. Rob assured me that yes, he did speak English. He sounded smug and self-satisfied and was on the computer trying to look all work-like. He said he was researching Banksy but I knew he was really on MySpace.
I sat down to eat but then heard something that made me run outside. It was horrifying. Clearly not the sound of a piece of art being carefully removed from a wall. I went outside and the builder was there chipping the rat off the wall in tiny bits into the red bucket. All that was left was his rat head. The rest of the famous landmark was in splinters of stone and paint in the bucket. I shouted at him to stop and he made some noises that confirmed to me that he couldn't speak English. I wanted to cry but I didn't, I just told him to stick some paper over the rest of the rat's head and fuck off. I cradled the red bucket and took it inside.
I couldn't breathe. I can't remember what happened next but after a while Rob came upstairs with the rat's head all in one piece, which made me mad as hell because it proved that it should have been such a simple process to remove the graffiti in one piece.
We didn't say anything to each other. I sat the red bucket of guilt and grief in the corner of the sitting room, took lots of valium, and went to sleep.
The next day I went to work and found a crazy amount of hate mail in my inbox from people who had witnessed the catastrophe. Stuff like: "I live opposite you and saw your housemate pouring the remains of the Banksy rat from your wall into a bucket last night. What the fuck is wrong with you, you dumb bitch, that was an urban landmark." Apparently all of my details were online due to me being the main contact for the fashion label I work for.
I replied to the first couple, trying to explain that it was simply an accident, but then as more come flooding in, I gave up. Damn the Fashion Council with their helpful list of contacts. That night I came home to discover Rob had plastered up and painted over the hole in the wall, which made some of my bad feelings disappear.
Days passed and the red bucket was still in the corner, haunting us like the body we murdered but didn't bury. Eventually Rob got a big tray and a bag of sand and made a plan to slowly try to piece the rat back together, as if he were some kind of arch graffiti archaeologist mapping together a dinosaur's bone from fossil fragments and I were his assistant. But we weren't: we were just a failed bum and failed fashionista who had done A Bad Thing.
I spent the whole weekend sitting at the sandbox trying and trying to find just two pieces that would match. But every time I put my hand in the stupid red bucket, the pieces seemed to become smaller and flakier. I knew that soon it would just be a pile of dust, my hopes and dreams of living my sweet life of luxury gone forever.
This story originally ran in November 2009 (hence the MySpace reference).