Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Vivien Jones

Right Side of the Track

Off the train, I looked for help with directions. The scant instructions given over the phone were clearly inadequate: ‘Turn left away from the station’. I had asked, ‘Is there only one exit?’ but there were, of course, two.
The only other person to get off the train was not someone to ask for help. The man’s gaze was downwards to the ground in front of him, and the steps he made were placed deliberately as he walked away from the track and the receding train. I hesitated, forming a question in my mind . . .
Which of the two exits from the station should I take to start the quarter-mile walk to my rendezvous? It was hard to address this man, so badly was his spine curved, but I approached him, watching the walking-stick tapping the ground where he would place his next step. The stick stabilised him – his spine bent his back to almost a 90º bend. I addressed the capped head, not seeing his face.
“Excuse me, which is the main entrance to the station?” My voice sounded apologetic, revealing how uncertain I felt about the encounter. He did not raise his head – was unable to – and he paused, waved his stick in the direction of an exit. Close up, I saw what the Harris Tweed cap failed to conceal, a clean-shaven face beneath an overhang of silver eyebrows.
“Thank you.” The exchange was over.
“I would advise you not to go out of the other exit.” His voice carried to catch up with my back as I hurried away.
I turned, “Why not?”
“It could be dangerous.”
“Dangerous? In what way?”
“Vandals, out of work, who accost or mug, targeting the elderly.” His voice quavered as he raised it to be heard over an express train.
I wondered how he knew as I fell in step with him.
“I’m going to Grosvenor Heights,” I said. “Is it safe to go there?”
“Oh yes, I live there. I can take you.”
I walked, reluctantly measuring short footsteps to match his feeble pace, aware of what an odd couple we were. Our feet, on autumn pavement slabs, kicked and crunched fallen leaves. Fallen berries that had been pressed under walkers’ feet stared, like red eyes, back.
I sensed strength, not frailty, in this man’s bent gait, and we talked . . . his voice told me of his prize-winning poetry and prose. He quoted a few lines.
I was silenced by it and was warmed because of it.
We talked more about him – once a teacher, who turned to writing after retirement, and of children in school that enriched his life.
Like the man, I walked with my gaze downwards – it seemed the right thing to do – to collaborate with his posture. The uneven pavement slabs of the path were familiar to my companion and, on that day, I saw them with him.
His cultured voice, as much as the quality of the thoughts he expressed, held my attention and I knew this was a remarkable man.
“What’s your name?” I asked as I turned to say goodbye, “I’ll look out for your work.”
“Ted Garnier.” He lifted his head a little sideways, and smiled. We shook hands and the skin where our palms met, felt dry, taut.
“I won’t forget you,” he said, and the bushy silver eyebrows lifted to reveal clear blue eyes. In them I saw a beautiful soul.
At Grosvenor Heights there lives an angel and the memory of him remains with me.

 

The Way to Go

Off the train I looked for help with directions. The scant instructions given over the phone were clearly inadequate: ‘Turn left away from the station’. I had asked, ‘Is there only one exit?’, but there were of course two.
The only other person to have got off the train was lost in the music blaring from his mp3 player. It would be hard to ask the young person dressed in black. It was clearly a male, but the bob was effeminate and revealed a slim strip of his face between its curtained front. How he could see where he was going, was a mystery. The sun caught the glass lens of a spectacle – he had to be far-sighted.
But which of the two exits from the station should I take to start the half-mile walk to my rendezvous?
I straightened up and approached the young man, irritated by the buzz of music and the weighty bag on his back, which looked untidy with unfastened straps hanging loose.
Black jeans hugged long narrow legs and large grey sneakers emphasized their gangly walk. Incongruously, the leather jacket was good, very good, quality.
“Which is the main entrance?” my voice sounded too crisp as I raised it to break through a barrage of music to get his attention. He pulled plugs from his ears and pointed.
“Thank you.” The brief exchange was over.
“I would advise you never go out of that exit.” His voice carried to catch up with my back as I hurried away.
I turned, “Why not?”
“It could be dangerous.”
“Dangerous? In what way might it be dangerous?”
“Vandals, out of work with nothing better to do than accost or mug for fun, often targeting the elderly.” His voice rasped unpleasantly as he raised it to be heard over an approaching express train.
‘How do you know?’, I wondered as I fell in step with him.
“I am going to Lauderdale Mansions,” I said. “Is it safe for me to go there?”
“Oh yes, my father’s the doctor there. Come, I’ll show you the way.”
Without looking at him, I walked, aware of what an odd couple we were.
We talked, about him – a student of English literature – of his childhood in boarding school, then grammar school nearer to home, and of his prize-winning poetry. He quoted a few lines.
I was silenced by it . . . and was warmed because of it.
His cultured voice, as much as the beauty of the thoughts he expressed, held my attention and I knew this was a remarkable young man.
“What is your name?” I asked as I turned to say goodbye. “I will look out for your work.”
“James Joe Leigh,” and in the moment before parting ways, he smiled and we shook hands.
“I won’t forget you,” he said, and in that moment the curtain that was his hair, drew back enough to reveal that it was a wig, that he was albino. Cracked swollen lips, dry pink skin, thick lenses in glasses, and beneath it all, a beautiful soul.
At Lauderdale Mansions there lives an angel, and the memory of him remains with me.

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