Friday, May 27, 2005
Stevenson craned his head, neck and vertebrae, hexagonally to gaze at the pavement slabs in front of him. He tried to play imaginary hopscotch on the different sections, weaving about, jumping between one and another with the numbers popping up on the jagged squares and disappearing the moment he clapped and slapped his feet upon them. In this way he travelled around corners and up busy main streets filled with the hustle and bustle of noisy people milling about in front, with their voices swirling in the air and then fragmenting into the crowd behind. Taking his daily street exercises, moving his creaking leg and hip joints and bending his clicking back, aching from days of inactivity and indulgence after sitting upright on the backless chair in the flat, fearing loss of composure, having to square his eyes upon paper in the lamplight of the still night, in that silent but peaceful enclosure.
Once on the road it was a different matter. Those fragile days cooped up in the warm nest, listening to the grate of joints caused by the bending of limbs into a limited number of positions to navigate a short list of habitual spaces, had ended. He was now Stevenson outdoors, a different kind of animal altogether. Once a month the narrow public spaces of the small English town were briefly turned into a wide open adventure playground in which to flex his legs. A bright circus of activity and a fairground of surprises awaited him as he stepped from the door at 3 Walnut Place, to walk at his usual pace, into a fire cauldron of potential encounters.
He was a regular feature on the old flint stone road in town, legs motoring whilst arms stiff like toy soldiers at his sides. If observed from close quarters by local types he would be seen to be marking off posted lamps…one…two…three…four…with the left eye squinted, cocked up and swivelling inside its socket, the other being kept rigidly alert for cobbles and cracks while scanning for straying pedestrians accidentally venturing into his path. Walking the streets in tightrope lines and leaping towards one marker post, then towards the next.
Sometimes a casually wandering shopper who happened by chance, to glance, in a certain second, they reckoned, a strong and straight legged person swinging, a winging his way, with his legs as fast as a flicker and a flutter of the eyelids, wide open and aghast at the frowning, swerving hunch-backed figure flying past, "like a chariot" said Mrs Marriot from the shadowy interior of her fortune telling tent. "A perennial menace" said a stiff and strutting suited young man hurrying, he hoped, to meet Mrs. Ruttle for some tennis.
Marched with thunderous strides up bluebottle Street and swerved sharply at Cottage Road. Rushed through Blind Man's Alley only to stutter and skid against the rocks and boulders along the side path by the ladies green paint chipped frame, you could see she was out and the man with the blue and white umbrella was in – "Could this mean rain?" He stopped all of a sudden, staring blankly in front. A herd of people ignoring him and also the person to path-wide ratio, flaunting the hidden rules of ancient road law, set about to confuse Stevenson.
He had no option but to turn back and anxiously skip around the corner in search of a clearer track, one hidden from these rapscallions of the roadway. Galloping down to another end point and then peering around, searching to find which way was next, looking west, looking east, hoping not to find confusion along his path this time at least!
An excitement would boil up inside him and the urge was to stretch limbs and pulse blood and not look around and about, nor see who was ambling beside him. It was the result of a natural swelling of need he would think, crashing into labouring shopping haulers and hypnotised window gazers. Even the most avid bargain trackers would eventually fall away once they realised that Stevenson was hell bent on his own separate way.
Stevenson had walked these pavements many times before but each time it seemed they had changed. The slabs and cement lodged between them were aged and fragmented, chipped at the edges, worn by the stampeding rain and baked dry by the unfettered sun beaming down upon them. The general trampling of stiletto heals lodging themselves in the grooves, sliding and ploughing into the narrow troughs, gouging lines in the weathered asphalt. Sometimes you could believe the ground beneath was shifting slowly in indefinable movements. How could one tell sometimes, when racing forward, that the earth beneath him was not moving at least an inch? Did his rushing movement not have some physical impact upon the stones, not even if he leapt from one to the other? Maybe if he pushed hard on the stone behind the wheel would start rolling and he would be stuck at that point, rolling for ever?
It was while walking down the main street after doing several turns of the central square that he did suddenly stand to attention with his face frowned in worry. He did this in his customary manner not unlike a Mir Cat spotting a predator across deserted Quarry. Head held aloft from the steady stream of heads fielding an array of different hair-cuts bobbing in a tired march up the reclining road, nose pointing and eyes glaring, standing straight, one hand to spy into the distance and the other held strong to withhold the current. Across there in the distance a familiar bony and emasculated face was hinted at beneath a mop of reddish brown hair breezing around the attached scrawny shoulders. Three quick jabbing movements of Stevenson's head quickly scanned the nearby roadway for exits. Panic stricken, he was getting too close, he realised that it was too late; all alternative routes were blocked off! All he could do now is prepare for the inevitable, the meeting to strike. The fact that Stevenson had forgotten the persons name added to his discomposure as he moved now, with the crowd, drifting towards the fearful encounter, unable to hold back. His heart raced but he couldn't look away, "oh look there's some interesting oranges on that stall, those there!" Thought Stevenson.
He knew what was coming from experience, knew this person too well. He'd be standing there waiting to get going, and listening to Thing-a-a-me-jig's excited descriptions of his latest creative enterprise whilst all the time trying desperately to think his name, a simple language tool that must be the foundation stone upon which all conversations were built. First the name and then the rest followed naturally. If a person neglects a fellow's name then the structure flounders and wobbles and ends up flopping uselessly to the ground, splat! Bloody hell! Thought Stevenson.
"A name, a name?" he thought. "Rumpling…Dumpling…no! Bri…Brin…Brinner…um…no. Oh it's useless!" Like an unexpected guest he would pop up as if from nowhere amongst the crowd, hailing Stevenson over. He did not say Stevenson's name and Stevenson did not say his because they had both forgotten. The two beings staring vacantly at each other and trotting out the functional pleasantries while at the same time their thoughts were strangled by the search for a correct name. A lost name could be lying deep somewhere within the hidden estuaries of everyone’s brain, thought Stevenson.