Just a random bit of prose I conjured up on the bus. Conjured looks weird, doesn’t it? Conjured, conjured, conjured; con-jured. Never mind. Enjoy
He isn’t a particular interesting figure. His hair is unkempt and overgrown and bedraggled, like vines, like that of a homeless man recently caught by the rain. His jaw is obscured by a slim beard, shaved at the cheeks and the throat, but still the hairs that cluster there loop over each other and create a wild aesthetic. He doesn’t have much in the way of a chin, and the tips of his beard are in-line with his upper lip, so pronounced is his overbite.
He laughs with the bookseller, says something about his sister and they talk briefly about Kerouac – they don’t know each other, that much is obvious, but instead share the laugh of men who might have been friends. He pays on his card, calls the bookseller ‘mate’ in a voice unsuited for it and stuffs the four books into his bag before leaving the store. I had seen him pick the books up; I knew what three of them were. The Tropic Of Cancer, by Henry Miller. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. On The Road, by Jack Kerouac. An eclectic collection and, despite myself, I find myself dropping the book I had in my hand and following him out into the main hall of the shopping centre.
He is already clipping away across the faux-marble. He walks with a strange gait, one that looks almost lopsided. Whilst his right foot does not make a sound, whilst he moves like a ghost and his impact on the earth could have been a whisper, his left lands heavily with every step. It isn’t a limp, but the suggestion of a limp.
His entire body is rigid, firmly held in its position as he moves – his is not a choreographed rigidity, but an innate thing, like he has arthritis in his entire body, like it has permeated his personality and left him stiff – inhuman. He has to wait for a moment at the glass doors to let a fat couple through; they don’t even look at him, but I have to slow down so I don’t walk so close to him. I don’t know why, but it seems wrong to let him see me – there is something about this, a voyeurism, perhaps, to know that I am viewing him and that he cannot see me or, if he did, his eyes would flicker onto someone, something, else.
The wind is hot, like that of a hand dryer in a public bathroom, and the smell of the main street is much the same. It is raining, weakly, and the man buttons his blazer and pulls the hood over his head. He is a tall figure, and easy to follow as he moves through the meagre crowds. I can hear his left foot, every second step it hits the floor like all his weight comes crashing down on it, as though he couldn’t lift it for any length of time.
He turns into a sandwich shop and I take up position on the opposite side of the road. I can see him through the window as he queues, and taps his phone with his thumbs whilst he waits. He is the tallest person in there, towering over those on either side of him by some inches. Oh, that I could know what he ordered – that I could know this figure in such a way! I see him chatting to the young woman behind the counter – they both laugh, but even from this distance I can see a certain wariness in her posture. She doesn’t like him, it is obvious, but he still smiles – he still turns his head to say something as he walks out of the door.
By the time we have walked on some more, his leg has developed a defined limp. I catch up to him easily, though I try not to. I catch a flash of his expression in an empty store’s window as we pass, the darkness and dust creating a mirror like surface. His mouth his a grim line, his skin is pale and his eyes are bright, feverish, and his pupils are distended. He is certainly in pain, that much is obvious, and I pretend to take a phone call, and slow my pace to allow him to gain a few more feet on me once more.
I hold half a conversation, and he vanishes into a small, ugly-looking building opposite a mechanics. It is an office of some kind, I read the name above the doorway as I move past. It kills me not to know what he does, what he is doing; is he a digital marketer, a technical analyst or a copywriter? An advertising consultant, a first-line support employee or a cold-calling salesman?
I wonder, briefly, if I should wait for him to exit the building and exist once more, but no; he has let me down. No man who reads Kerouac should work in an office – I wonder how he hasn’t killed himself, and I consider murder.