a slower seasoning
A Slower Seasoning
He moves clockwise, the metal pole of the bus stop his anchor. Walking with head bowed he follows a tight, tidy circle, as he skirts close to the timetable board fastened to the pole with wire clips without catching it. I feel I have missed his beginnings; there is order in his revolution.
He smiles. Not at me, nor anyone else, but for himself. It’s a smile that comes from deep within, accompanied by a faraway look in his eye. Together they give him a beatific air, the pale skin of his face shines in the grey midday light, as though he can see something that nobody else can; something that leaves him in awe.
He has a young face, aged twenty, maybe twenty-one: Those years when love leaves bruises like a beating. When a wrong word can sever an artery. His unwashed hair is collar length and he is unshaven. His clothes are simple, creased and faded. Only his walking boots seem new – box fresh and comfortable. He mutters under his breath; I cannot hear the words for the confusion of yelping and barking traffic swamping the streets all around but I can tell from his face that he speaks softly to himself with well worn words. Clutched in his right hand is a small, dog-eared matchbox.
Moving around the pole he makes a step each turn. At first I assume there is significance, as though in his mind he is following a clock face and stepping over a certain hour, but then I notice he is stepping over something on the ground. From a distance it looks like fluff or a tangle of dark hair. A light, cold wind tugs at the tangle without troubling it. I move nearer pretending to look at the timetable board. He pauses mid-rotation waiting patiently for me to read the timetable. I nod thanks and stepping back I can see that each time he steps, he is stepping over a small, neat mound of dead, black flies.
Sometimes in life you get a feeling for people. As I watch him it’s as though he is able to drop shadows inside my mind. They arrive as scenes of his life, one taking over from the one before; like looking through the smooth, reassuring red plastic of a ViewMaster 3D viewer. The flies came from the windowsill of his mother’s house. They had been trapped in the house after they found her. The majority had flown as soon as the police broke the front door down, swarming the officers in desperation. The stragglers, busy in the bedroom upstairs, had failed to make it. As the days passed they had banged against the glass over and over. Bouncing into and over one another like raindrops down a drainpipe. Eventually they became exhausted and had given up.
His mother’s belongings were returned to him by a man from social services with dandruff who had apologised as he left behind a stiff cardboard box that smelled of apples on the turn. The flies were all that was left after the house was cleaned out. After they discovered he was still going there, before the locks had been changed and the ‘For Sale’ board had been rammed into the flower bed in the small, unkempt front garden.
As a bus rounds the corner of the street he completes his rotation and stops.
Stooping, he stops to tuck his hair behind his ears, before reaching down and carefully placing the five flies, one at a time, into the matchbox in his hand.
He smiles at me one last time before being swallowed up by the half-empty mausoleum of the Arriva 263.