Tuesday, 15 March 2016
The Look of Strangers
There are those amongst us who slip into to this life like a well-worn glove, who very rarely question its strangeness and in most circumstances prefer to take everything that it offers.
Then there are people like me, Michael Andrews, sometime author, sometimes happy but mostly otherwise confused. There are days when I intentionally tell myself I’m stupid so as not to think too much, so as not to over analyse too much. But on other days...well on those other days I look around and scare myself with what I see. All of us sharing a little rock in space without rhyme nor reason, perhaps that is part of what makes me an author or maybe I’m just going plain mad.
There can only be two answers to this universe; either there is a God in control of everything or there is no one in control and now that I’ve had that thought I don’t want to get out of bed - ever.
Perhaps I’ll just hang on to my mattress and hope that Gravity does its job and keeps me in place.
So on the days I have to go into the city to see some colleague or other, I look at the faces on the subway or on the buses or on the trains or in all those faces of people walking. I look for some recognition that I am not alone in this belief, the belief that this existence really is only for the stupid and that the rest of us are terrified out of our minds the whole time.
And then there is always that nagging feeling which has been around since I was a kid – a feeling that I might have forgotten something important, something that when I remember it will make sense of all of this.
Then I see those faces in the city, those faces looking back at me and I rub my own face looking for marks, or bleeding from my nose or words written on my forehead that say ‘stare at this man’ – but there’s nothing on my face, it’s just the look of strangers.
Maybe they are also looking at me for some recognition that I am going through the same hell as them, but I have that well disguised expression of the stupid and they find no comfort in my face.
But I now know what it is and the truth is even more terrifying than my fevered imagination could have ever created.
I am going to tell you all this as a warning, to tell you to take care. I will tell you what I know and then let you decide.
Last Saturday morning the sun was bleaching the streets of the city and so I decided to take a walk from the central station up to the bohemian part of town.
I passed by the government buildings, the Royal palaces, the squares and avenues that were full of tourists. I walked under trees and arches and I walked around bistros, street cafes, theatres, cinemas and all of them full of strangers, some of whom caught my eye and other who walked on.
Then as I passed a glass shelter at a bus terminal a strange thing happened, I could see in the reflection that many of those who were behind me or had walked passed me were now looking in my direction.
But when I turned around no one was looking. No one was staring and everyone was going about their business. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying it’s the start of the decline, the start of the long journey into the dark. Soon names will be a thing of the past and I will be left in a corner with vacant eyes.
Perhaps I was thinking something similar myself until it happened again.
I had a pair of sunglasses, the type that allows you to see behind oneself, maybe made for this very exercise and there they were again, people looking at me behind my back and when I turned once again - nothing.
Paranoid? - Perhaps.
I took my phone, the one with the video recorder, and began to keep it in the palm of my hand, always filming behind me. At the Gin Joint Cafe I had a coffee and excitedly started to watch the film.
There they were - people who showed no interest in me apart from a look while passing – who, when they were behind me, would stop, look at me and apparently discuss amongst themselves some detail or another. People who were apparently strangers were talking about me.
Insane? - You would think.
I did what any insane person would do, I turned quickly and started to follow them through the streets and the arches and the squares until several of them disappeared into a doorway, one that slammed shut in my face. I waited on them but no one came out.
I waited and waited and still nothing.
I walked with my head down back to the railway station until in a shop window I saw more of them, a new crowd watching me.
I am ill, I must be.
I let it be. I went about my life ignoring the look of strangers. Some still walked by me and watched my face as if they were drinking in every last detail.
I just assumed I was wrong.
Then one night in the Gin Joint Cafe I drank more than I should have. I sat at the bar like the old soak of a writer I was. It had just gone eleven o’clock when the girl sat next to me.
“You’re Michael Andrews, the writer?”
“What do you want? An autograph or maybe you want to buy me a drink?”
“I just wanted to shake your hand” she said “we are not supposed to do this. It’s against everything.”
“What is?” I asked, slipping back another short.
“Well talking to you, the greatest writer since Shakespeare.”
“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”
“No I haven’t, Michael Steven Andrews, born 1963, died 20... wait I’m not supposed to let you know that.”
“You know when I am going to die?” I asked.
“You died years before I was born” she said.
“We come back to visit all the great ones, you and Shakespeare are the most popular.”
“Come back from where?”
“The future, your future, I mean you have already found out that Einstein was wrong and things can travel faster than light. It won’t be long until you start sending objects back in time.”
I was about to ask what asylum she had escaped from when she disappeared.
So now you know what I know. When you get that look from a stranger then perhaps they are more than just inquisitive. Perhaps they are one of your own descendants or a student or a time tourist.
Who or whatever they are, just do what I do and keep on walking.
It's safer that way.
bobby stevenson 2016