London tales 3: He Who is Not me:

The stranger stood for a moment with his back to the Palace, as the sun rose above the park that lay before him. This would be a good day. He crossed the great road at a fast trot, for this was all teh time allocated him by the green light and he walked along the road beside the park, observing the squirrels and the early pigeons who were taking up their positions ready to get the best view of the tourists as they came. Part of the normal routine, the natural order of things. He walked the length of the park, past rows of empty park benches. Almost empty. As he drew up to the two-thirds point on his walk, the stranger saw a man sitting, not quite reclining, in a worn grey coat. The man looked quite old from his hunched appearance and silver hair. The stranger nodded to the man and walked past, though the man seemed not to notice.

At the end of his labours for the day the stranger replaced his pen in the breast pocket of his suit, closed down the computer, and set off with the sun in his face, ready to observe the flowers, and listen to the way the birdsongs are drowned out by dulcet clatter of countless diesel taxis and passing helicopters. He passed through the arch guarded by archaic soldiers with drawn swords, trying to look stern with sweat glistening under the brass helmet in the glare of camera flash lights, and headed for the park- in the mood for shade, the stranger skirted the park along the same rows of benches as in the morning. Sure enough, there again was the man in the grey coat, his face red against the silver of his hair. This time the stranger noticed that the man was quite young, no older than himself, but who had had a hard life. The stranger nodded to the man in greeting, but met with no response.

Day in, day out the stranger walked to the place of his toil and each morning the man was there, and each evening the man was there also Sometimes the man had changed seats from morning to night, sometimes he had changed seats from night to morning. Once it rained hard for two days and the seats were empty - perhaps the man had found some shelter from the rain. When the rain finished, the stranger set out in the morning, but teh seats were all empty, and in the evening too. The second day after the rain the seats were empty also and the stranger began to feel concerned that perhaps something had happened to the man. It felt as though a lurker had unsubbed - a deeper silence.

A week passed. One day, when the stranger was going to work the man appeared on a bench next to him. "I am you" he said "I am well thank you" replied the stranger thinking he had misheard him, but the man went on "I am you" he insisted "but there is a difference." Intrigued, the stranger sat down and the man spoke again. "I am you who might have been except... I knew my place. I changed my shoes when they looked at me, I didn't make a fuss. I was disorganised and didn't pass my exams, and worse than that, I stayed. When my parents thought of emigrating I said no. For that would be disloyal to this great nation. I once was creative, and bright, but I bored easily and changed jobs many times. I could not get interesting work because I had not jumped their hoops, I tried not to be different, or stand out, in the hope that I would belong. They still called me mad and locked me up. I did many menial jobs, because that is all they asked of me. But now there's younger ones to take my place, see I'm nearly forty now - he paused as if to apologise - "I just thought I'd peep through into this universe for an hour each day, half hour mornings and half hour nights to see how I might have done if things were different... "But," the stranger said "if you are me then how can we meet?" "Ah, but you decided not to be me" the man said, and he smiled. But before the stranger could reply, the man had disappeared.

Jerry Everard ©1995

© Jerry Everard

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