Firewall

Wednesdays are the worst for me, they always have been. This is something I have never understood. Sometimes in my more contemplative moments I feel that God, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen that joy shall never steal into my life.

Today is Wednesday.

Here, I stand alert and anxious at the side of a busy road, waiting for a gap in the almost incessant traffic. It is my intention to cross the road and make my solitary way to the park. For relief, for escape. A gap appears but I find I cannot move, I am solid with fear. My mind is captured by a vision and in my imagination I see my own frail body crushed raggedly under the wheels of a speeding truck. My bones splinter and the ruined flesh sprays the laughing onlookers with blood.

A man pushes against me, reality intrudes and I turn to look. He is a large man, a worker with rough hands and a rough dull face. His marbled lips open and his yeasty breath fills my nostrils.

“I’m going to kill you.”

There is a screech of sudden brakes and a car horn rages. Somehow I am on the other side of the road looking back to where I had been as the large man shambles off, cursing and brandishing meaty arms like clubs, lost in his own anger.

In the middle of the road a car has stopped and a woman, red faced with fright, is shouting at me. She has forgotten to roll down the window and her lips move, forming silent furious words. As I watch, small droplets of saliva escape her mouth and spatter the glass barrier between us. The car moves off and I notice a small child in the back seat. I smile apologetically. The child looks through me and I begin to walk slowly towards the park entrance.

The pavements are filled with colour, with flowers and people and sound. The day is warm and sunny and an aura of life leaks from the open space, my destination. Laughter and music gain intensity the closer the gates become, as if within these fragile boundaries beats the very heart of summer.

An unexpected chill affects the throng, spreading like frost. The sun shines but a visible shudder moves through the crowd. Back on the road I see the reason. A procession of black cars is passing slowly, led by a hearse displaying death like a carnival float. The cortege follows, resplendent in tears and melancholy. I want to rush to the cars, bang on the windows and scream at the mourners,

“What are you doing? Who is this performance for, how dare you inflict your misery on us? Keep it to yourselves. We have no wish to share in your grief, it is not our grief. Why do you glorify death?”

But instead I stand immobile and silent, watching until the last car has disappeared from sight. Tears fill my eyes but it is with sadness for the lonely living. Sadness for the many who will never be so honoured until death has them in its greedy maw.

A stray dog passes, sniffing the ground. Suddenly it squats and strains and deposits a liquid brown mess on the ground. Flies magically appear and begin to gorge themselves on this unexpected feast.

There is no death.

I turn once more towards the park, joined by many in my isolation. I fear every new minute but my fear must be overcome if I am to continue to live.

Now I am inside the park gates. The sun seems more intense here and my chilled emotions begin to thaw. A smile moves my face as I watch the children play, chasing one another in a playful choreography. They have a freshness I long for, a certainty in their security; a shameless, innocent delight in the ordinary.

A small girl trips and falls near me and, as I bend to help her, I see learned uncertainty in her face. She is not sure whether to laugh or cry. I understand. Now she is on her feet. She rubs her eyes, shyly thanks me then turns and runs to her anxious mother, embracing gaiety with every step.

Beauty, and I am filled with emotion and the sad knowledge that beauty, inevitably, is temporal.

Near the river, in the shade of old willows, several couples stand and sit and lie. Busy with nature and touched by love, hate, passion. In my past I have experienced these things, yet always they have brought emptiness and pain. Eventually.

I have often felt that to be able to fully understand happiness one must first understand sadness. Now I am not so sure, perhaps they are he same thing. For some sadness comes after joy making the sorrow more intense and the happiness more glorious and unreachable. For some the sadness and agony come first.

There is a movement in a clump of bushes. A frightened bird cries out in panic and escapes through the leaves into the high blue sanctuary of the sky.

Some of the couples are startled by the bird and a man leaps out of the bushes running away. He is a young man, no older than I. A few of the men at the riverside leave their partners and begin to give chase, but the watcher is too fast. He wears a jogging suit and running shoes; he is soon lost in the crowd at the gates. Now the intimacy of the moment has gone. Their privacy tainted by the unwanted scrutiny of a stranger, the couples begin to drift away.

What drives a man to seek his pleasure in the lusts of others? But are we not all the same, do we not all collect vivid thrills watching others’ lives? I myself must endure his strange prison, this punishment of freedom. To watch but not participate, I myself am tainted by the intrusion of another.

I walk along the riverbank. Swans glide purposefully on the water like stately triremes, chasing morsels of food thrown by an old man. This old man seems incomplete to me, as if part of his essence is missing. He smiles and nods as I pass but inside the smile I see a longing, the frightening solitude of a human who is alone for the first time in his life. This man understands joy, perhaps too late.

The path leads away from the river now, towards the playing fields and I can make out the harmony of sport mixed with the excited cries of spectators. A game of football is in progress, a blue team and a red team. A child in red is running with the ball at his feet, two blue players are closing on him. A leg is thrust in his path but he skips nimbly over it. Three more yards and he kicks with his left foot. The ball flies away from him and soars past the outstretched fingers of the goalkeeper. A goal. The small crowd of parents and devotees roars as the team-mates of the boy in red descend on him, slapping his back and tousling his hair. In the eyes of some of the onlookers there is misplaced hatred. The blues are walking miserably back to their positions to begin again, another battle. A feeling of unrest radiates from the crowd and I hurry past, heading for a safer spot.

Crowds have always frightened me; they are not like anything else I know. A mass of humanity becomes inhuman in their collective loss of individuality.

I am approaching the pavilion and I hear music from a portable. It is happy, youthful music and I see a group of young people at the side of the building, the music is coming from here. Some of the group are dancing, some are just sitting. I notice that most of them appear to be drunk. There are empty cans and bottles strewn around the grass and some of the boys are drinking bravely, arrogantly. One of them is sitting on a low wall with his arm around a drunken girl. He is waving to his friends, calling them closer to watch as he pushes his hand up the girl’s skirt. His friends, male and female, whoop with glee and gather to join the invasion. The girl is oblivious as her boyfriend lifts her skirt to display her cotton knickers to his audience. Now he is pulling at her blouse, pushing up her bra, baring her adolescent breasts. Hands reach out to touch this rare pink fruit.

The girl suddenly coughs and vomits, spattering her maulers . The boys jump back and the girl slumps to the grass. She lies exposed in her mess and the boys return uncaring to their bottles and their music.

I look away ashamed, ashamed that I too am a necessary part of this petty episode, ashamed of my inaction, my incongruous reaction, ashamed of my life.

It is beginning to cloud over as I climb the small hill to leave the park. Others too are leaving.

An elderly lady is striding purposefully in my direction, her lips pursed in a permanent look of disapproval. She reminds me of someone.

Suddenly I am ten years old and I am looking through the drawers in my father’s dressing table. I am holding a picture that I have found. It is a picture of a girl; her hands are tied and are fastened to some sort of beam above her head. She is naked. There are welts across her ribcage and down her thighs as if she has been whipped. I feel strange looking at the picture, an unknown emotion is washing over me, making my heart pound and my face redden. There is a gasp behind me and my aunt bears down on me.

“You dirty boy”, she cries as she tears the photograph from my hands, “You dirty, filthy, disgusting little boy.”

She begins to beat me.

I know who the girl is.

She slaps my face, my legs, my buttocks. Her hands become fists and pummel. I am bleeding but she does not stop,

“How dare you, you little wretch?” the blows keep coming.

I curl on the floor but still she beats me. The strange feeling I had looking at the picture is still there, only stronger, more intense. The pain is intense too but somehow it makes me feel good, cleanses me.

I cry out. The elderly lady passes me, giving me a strange, angry look.

A woman asks if I am alright. She can see I am upset, embarrassed.

I turn from her and run. I run and run and run. Always.

Tomorrow is Thursday.