He stood outside the pub with a pint of soda and blackcurrant (ice and straw). It had been his local. He had been a wreck. During those days many things happened and now nothing happened. He heard the old voices, months later, still ringing in the beery, evening air. The same, old voices. He wondered who owned those voices and where they got them from. He stood there, feeling his feet become sore. He remembered, when he was a local, how his feet were always sore. He must have been too drunk to care. He pushed in his earphones and listened to some Arabic music and drifted off a bit. But never enough. There were always cars, buses, shirts, dresses. People who knew other people, groups of like minds swilling down beer like it was nothing. Like it was nothing. He remembered how people spoke to him. The things they said. And they said many things. He remembered.
“You’re such an open person.”
“You are so closed.”
“You’re so switched on.”
“It’s like you’ve switched off.”
He didn’t need to think anymore. It was, he thought, impossible to understand the language of people when they were always contradicting themselves.
Most of the time he just nodded.
Most of the time it was just him. Him, his work and the sea; a new, unfeeling, relentless element in his world; a world far away from the pub. Far away from old friends, old experiences and old love.
He thought, ‘Subtlety is missing here.’ He thought, ‘I am missing my shadow.’ He looked around and saw that his shadow was, certainly, there. But it was larger than he expected and grew with his breathing. Starting as a post box, it became a mountain. And with each breath it reached in for him, as he had secretly wished. He saw, like a video montage, his life during the past year as though lived through those he knew. It was as though he were no longer himself. And he wondered if he was still standing, or had been absorbed into the collective experience of others. He wondered if he were still himself. Whoever that was.
* * *
He drove and drove and wondered where he might end up. He drove in his small car through familiar streets. Though it was as if they, too did not exist. He might as well have been piloting an aeroplane with the undercarriage ripped out. First, his feet drummed against the tarmac until bone, muscle and nerves fizzed raw. Burst arteries traced scarlet spray along his route. He was eaten up by the journey. Was sucked underneath the car and deposited in the gutter. The car sped away, driven by who knew.
Traffic continued as normal.