Saturday, December 20, 2008


He had lived in the city for most of his life. All his dreams had come from its streets and buildings. Yet, as he stood at the bottom of the escalator he realized he knew very few people. He watched as shoppers floated down before his eyes and spilled onto the concourse like hour glass sand. None of their faces struck a chord of recognition.

This fact was not that surprising. It was after all December the 6th and the city held a million people. He decided to conduct an experiment. He wanted to see how far he could take this melancholy thought. He decided to stand and observe the crowd till he recognized someone.
He was pushing sixty and apart from college years and spells working in other places, this city was his life. He had a family, a job, what passed for a social circle and enough self belief to know that if he died he would be missed. He groaned inwardly “this is my town goddamit”.
After ten vain minutes without success and weary from scanning the throng, he sighed. One or two people had glanced at him but without any flicker of recognition. Perhaps they thought he was a plain clothes cop looking for a suspect or maybe they saw through him and realized he was waiting for someone to save him.

He decided to lighten his load, after all a lot of these people were out of towners on a shopping spree, the shopping centre was close to the main railway station. He began making a few mental notes on the parade of other people’s lives. A young couple slipped by sporting matching hairdos, with little quiffs peeking over their foreheads. Did they get ready in matching his and hers mirrors, he couldn’t imagine his wife allowing such a self referential piece of “couple” exclusivity. An older woman with a strongly joweled face and long blond hair caught his eye. Did her features betoken a stronger personality? And did it echo somewhere in the further recesses of his memory? A face like hers would surely have left a trace and perhaps a few bruises he chuckled. Middle aged mothers who were obviously competing with teenage daughters, floated by in a flurry of eyeliner, they always amused him until he remembered the rough horseplay which had accompanied the pissing contests he fought with his own son.

How to end this self imposed task? His slightly obsessive nature wouldn’t let him just get on and forget it all. Yet release in the face of a friend just would not come. Had he been spirited away last night and transported to a doppelganger city on the flip side? Perhaps his idea of himself and his place in the world was inflated; perhaps he needed to get out more. He suddenly moved the goal posts, he would move on, not when he recognized someone, but when he saw a woman wearing a yellow dress. This arbitrary choice pleased his sense of surreal happenchance, and on face value he would be on his way in a couple of minutes. Yellow after all was a common colour and women still wore dresses. But hang on, the city was in the grip of a cold spell and the women were all wearing coats. Was he deliberately extending his self imposed sentence by setting an unmeetable get out clause? If yellow suddenly went out of fashion, if the women were all so wrapped up to cover even the tiniest piece of cadmium or buttercup, if the cold spell turned into arctic winter, as many climate change commentators were suggesting, he could die in his poorly polished clarkes size 10’s.

A woman appeared with the faintest glimmer of a yellow belt. He scurried away in relief. As he walked uptown towards the car park, he passed the German market which was in the main square. He saw a face from his past; it was a local politician he hadn’t seen in some years. After a brief conversation the man told him he had moved to Spain, and was just visiting for the holiday.

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