A short Story

 

MAN

 

 

It was so cold that morning. The biting chill didn’t stop him, half asleep, from peeking past his many scarves and up into the sky, to leer at the sun who hung among doting clouds at such a convenient distance from the earth. It was quick, when those hollow voices that echoed in every direction, faded in with a noisy clamour of shoes on the weary pavement. But it was the sea of people whose shoes clicked and snapped violently against the concrete that finally woke him.  Not far down the street, big busses were pulling in like red elephants with those un-ignorable screechy groans, grinding briefly to halt before heaving sonorously as they gussied up again to assume a place in the traffic. If you’d bothered to turn and maybe look just passed the curtain of people, then you might have seen him huddled against a scraggy poster board. Really, he’d been hoping that a masked thing would have snuffed him out already somewhere during the night , maybe leaving no more than a blot of ink, spat against the sidewalk -  just vanish him like that - but no. It was too easy for him, reaching into his inner pocket and pulling out the black hat, laying it on the ground and starting another day. ‘I’ll ask as usual’ was his first thought- ‘Any spare change please?’ .But lately he’d been feeling the pennies they gave were taking far too much from him, and that if he should beg for anything it’d be another chance. But even he knew those passing strangers couldn’t spare him that.  He put the hat away. This man then straightened his aching back to wipe his face with the back of a hand, and clasping the bearded jaw for a second, denied that he’d changed at all. ‘What a waste-’ he sighed to himself under breath. But it was no use getting into all that again – it was already agreed and for sure, it would be taken care of today. So he stood up to feel every joint unlatch and muscle sigh finally as he crept out of that street–ascent of man all over again.

Some days it just warms up. All of a sudden, after a horrible morning, things just start being nice. It was like this today, so the bees were humming by cosily and even the odd butterfly could be seen bobbing weightlessly past, flapping orange wings. The people who rushed were locked away in offices by now so only the daring, the satisfied, and joggers were left. As he passed through the square, some people glanced over, in fact some really starred as he shuffled by, bundled up like a Mongolian baby. From a perspective, he seemed to glide, like an apparition along a string of café’s and baristas dotted together, lively with chatter and laughing and continental breakfasts. There were all kinds of people in hats and sunglasses seated in patio chairs, lounging underneath parasols, nattering carelessly as he walked by, tuning in and out of every conversation.

     ‘He should at least show some interest in the kids-’, ‘she’ll think she was right, she always thinks she’s right’ ‘No, I ended up buying the blue dress actually-’. ‘You should visit more often – we miss you’ .He always listened. Having no one to talk to, the least he could do was listen, but as if he should care – none of it caught him; this was a man whose lust for life had drowned long ago in the same waters that were keeping theirs so cheerfully afloat.

It’d been a while since he’d wandered so aimlessly like this, and somehow he eventually found himself at the city’s edge, crossing those wire fences that you aren’t supposed to. But then it was easy. Finally sinking whole into that feeling and tumbling down to find himself surrounded by long shoots of mad, grassy stuff that went on uninterrupted for as far as he could see. Save what he was hoping – ahead, cutting straight through the wild, and surely enough was a single track far in the middle. It was on this, trains sped past like lightening and set the grass alive from the fierce wind that followed. Nestled in this expanse, he sat up to glimpse those last moments of the sun’s warm company, now sinking beneath blue and pink-orange marbled sky. Closing those eyes, he could remember it all - the story of himself, and he thought now that if what they said was true and home is where the heart is; he must really be homeless after all. From the corner of his eyes he caught some movement, and for what the grassy shoots would allow, he could make out some distant noise and some peaking lights - yellow, red, blue. Made him smile. Like he did on the cliff edge long ago, remembering how city life seemed so attractive to those who never lived it. He sighed. The crickets were singing to him now, everywhere was that radiant indigo you get as daylight departs and he couldn’t. ‘I’ll try’ he said as he got up to his feet, straining more to see those little people in the distance, waving off the careless tracks. He was already heading back across the wild when  a train flew past behind him, thundering by with a sonorous howl. His train. No. Indeed, he was sick of  this story and sick of everything - but now, the irrepressible signs of life had said ‘yes’ and were hinting that he might still live too.

 

21

Alsace

Copyright Brin Lautrec (2001)