Just noticed that one of my articles on an internet writers’ forum is at number 2 (of 40). Hadn’t logged in for a while, so am pleasantly surprised – particularly as it’s one of my least favourites! So what else can I do except repeat it here?!
There was one who was always a few paces behind the rest of them. They were never seen to check on his existence, just appeared to assume he would always be following. He was.
Shorter than the smallest of them by a good foot, he was a huddle of man, wrapped in a battered army greatcoat. The lower part of his face was hidden beneath the folds of a ragged scarf which he wore tied in a large tangle at the front. I wondered how may times the scarf was wrapped around his neck; perhaps he had a thick neck and it was a short scarf. Or a thin neck and the scarf was wrapped round five, maybe six times. Maybe he had no neck at all and if you were to unwind the scarf you’d find yourself with yards of decaying wool and… nothing.//
From the rope he wore knotted around his middle (there was no waist to speak of) hung a carrier bag. He was never without it. I’d never seen him actually putting anything into the bag, or taking anything out of it; yet sometimes it was empty, sometimes bulging.
He walked by carefully shuffling first one foot, then the other, over the ground. There was no other perceptible movement except for the rhythmic swinging of the bag, or its gentle billowing when empty. On windy days it somehow became trapped between his body and right arm, although he was never seen to actually move his arm to enable it to become trapped there. It’s unclear as to whether or not he possessed hands, or if the ends of his fingers (all that was visible from the limp sleeves of the coat) sprouted directly from his unseen wrists. Or perhaps his fingers were grafted onto the inside of his sleeves – he was never seen to use them, so they were obviously just there for show.
My father once had a pair of slippers not unlike the remains of those he wore on his feet, but dad never wore his in the rain. Between their tops and the grimy bottoms of his indifferent trousers, a glimpse of grey foot and ankle could sometimes be caught. What could be seen of his face between the folds of the scarf and the bottom of his woollen hat (it was one of those hats that made you think of your granny’s tea-cosy) was that same grey. No visible ears, which would explain why he never appeared to hear. The man was totally grey. There was no colour in the space in which he lived and walked; all he possessed were a few sombre shades of grey.
Except for his eyes.
If it weren’t for his eyes, then the myth of his hands and the scarf would perhaps have been believable. His eyes rarely left the ground, so it was difficult to catch sight of them. But when you did, it always surprised you that a body so grey could possess such eyes. They brimmed with the brightest blue; a shade so startling that it made you think twice as to whether this man was actually what he seemed. Could he be secretly harbouring some amusing secret, so laughable that he dare not look up from the ground lest he should catch someone’s eye and dissolve into hysteric laughter? And as he laughed, would his grey facade fall away, leaving behind the image of kindly old gentleman who’d been trying to hide his identity on his excursions into the city? Who was he really?//
The last time I saw him he was distanced further from the rest of them. His carrier bag was missing.
It was nearly two weeks until I saw the group again, and he was nowhere in sight. They sat or stood around their usual boxes and crates. I bought a warm beer from the bar opposite and sat outside to observe them, waiting from him to shuffle his way out from nowhere and take up his position, slightly on the outside. But he never arrived. Then I noticed the taller one, wearing a familiar scarf. And the woman, that coat she wore with the long sleeves rolled up…
With his greyness spread between them, he was finally a part of the group.
I finished my beer and moved on.