I find myself wondering what sort of lives they lead.
There was the man in the woods, when my friend and I were seven. He seemed to live inside it, in boots and an itchy-looking coat tied up with string. There was an old mattress; it had lain so long in the entrance to the wood that only coiled springs remained. We assumed he slept on the mattress. We saw him, and presumably he saw us, but nothing was said.
There was the woman in the Post Office, parked at a table with plastic bags around her, holding a loud conversation – an argument, really, with an invisible someone-else. She was getting angrier by the minute.
There was Funny Philip, who took a liking to me and would arrive on his bicycle, having cycled all day; unannounced, and frequently. I hurt his feelings, eventually, I had to. But I hurt him. I could hear it in his voice.
There was the man in the park. He was often there, especially in winter, standing on the path at the far end. Just standing, and watching.
There was the Scotsman, who would march along the beach of our seaside town in full regalia, even in summer. The kilt, the sporran, the tartan drapery. He marched very fast, as if pursued by someone, or as if in pursuit. And other times he would be in other parts of the town. He covered a huge area. We imagined him marching all day, from dawn to dusk, maybe through the night as well. He looked neither to the right nor to the left.
The boy in the white suit, who haunted the coal-black railway. Who knew where every driver was at any time of day, which bridge, which crossing, when they were to be expected, whether they were late.
The girl at college with the weird little screwed-up face, who made up out-of-tune songs with many, complex verses and sang them at anyone who would listen, clapping her hands in delight.
The dancing man, in my mother’s home town, who prances and twirls at intervals, waving at passing cars. Every day, a different hat to be doffed, to be waved in the air. He’s everywhere. On the bench outside Tesco’s; waiting at the railway crossing. He styles himself the King of the Town. Some say he had a breakdown and emerged from it…changed. Some say he lost his wife, and cavorts to keep the dreadfulness at bay.
The old lady who escaped from the home and asked me where to catch a bus to a town a hundred miles away on a Sunday. She had no coat; she had no money and she was very, very old. I managed to find out where she had escaped from; called them from a phone box in secret and waited for them to come for her. When she noticed the policeman she turned and caught my eye. Traitor! She whispered. Traitor!
There are all these watchers, these sitters and standers, these scarcely-registered encounters with odd passers-by.
It is as if they have been sent from somewhere…
…to be caught sight of…
…out of the corner of my eye.
It is as if they bring messages.
As if each is a separate element in a code to be deciphered.