Monday, 14 June 2004

It wasn't much of a killing

It wasn’t much of a killing, not like on television and I didn’t know he had died until someone told me. I’m not even sure if he did.

So, I was walking down the street and lots of people started running towards and then past me.

“Where are you running?” I said to one of them, a short man carrying a carrier bag.

“There’s been a fight,” he said, glad to get his breath, “and some fella’s just killed the other guy. I’m going to have a look, see what I can see.”

“Right,” I said.

It was just one of those usual fights where someone says something, not because they care enough, but because they care too little. They don’t mind. The shared arrogance comes to view and it’s all about looking for an excuse, searching for provocation, a chance to say he started it.

Everyone was too absorbed in the spectacle, as thought they were at home after closing time, and I hadn’t hit him hard, just a wayward swing that had had caught him off balance, and then he stumbled a little and fell. I turned away at that point, and I only heard his head split, I didn’t see it or anything.

I walked away, through the closing circle of breathy onlookers, no one taking any notice and thought it best if I went home and went to bed.

It was at this point I saw the people running and it never even occurred to me that they were running for me, or even past me, I just asked the question and carried on home.

It was a nice night, an early summer evening with no insects and no real heat, just a healthy fatigue brought about by the drowsy, hot day. But it had been a clear day, easy and pleasant, which made the long dark evening cool and many who went out in simply a shirt regretted it.

I continued walking up the street and looked in at the closed shop windows, sometimes seeing my reflection, but always trying to look like I wasn’t looking. The drain set into the gutter at the side of the road, was clogged with leaves and held a small pool of stagnant, dirty water. So, I continued to walk thinking about how tall I was and whether the birds in the cities actually roosted and where, and all other things in a lovely way and for a moment the front of the greengrocers shone like a lake.

The street stretched away round the corner, but I turned left into a little parade of shops, all closed until the morning rush, and there was no-one here, just lines of brown brick planters with overgrown, dull plants draping urgently over the sides like people abandoning a sinking ship. The path underfoot was laid like herringbone but every now and then the pattern of bricks didn’t tessellate and a brick had been cut in half.

The trees on the far side just beyond the railway line spoke in hushed tones, the tracks below gleaming in the city light but they did not quiver and shake as during the day. In fact a stillness approached the scene that held it, not like an oil-painting or watercolour which has fluency and movement, but like a planned photograph that doesn’t capture the gravity of the situation. Nothing looked as though it has any weight or depth but it of course seemed real enough, and I began to regret not wearing a jacket and quickened my pace.

I stepped down from the kerb and cut across the deserted street in a diagonal, scoring the path in my mind before tracing it with my feet. The bus shelter stood, only housing a tired looking cat that barely raised its head as I passed, and my eyes nearly closed for a second and I mumbled nearly home now. I’m not even sure if they were words but they seemed like they came from inside alright.

I passed the precinct with its semi-circles of coloured bricks all laid out and thought that bricklaying must be a profitable business, and then I passed the church with its hopeful recruiting message outside (I don’t remember what it said) and I thought how lucky, how lucky to have something. Like Robert Frost said, it just goes on.

I turned into the street and rows of vehicles, mainly family cars, lined the edges of the cracked pavements with cold early morning roofs, and I looked for my watch but I couldn’t see it, and then I looked for my house and I couldn’t see that either so I thought that I must be in the wrong street. The wind stopped and a fragment of a human voice seemed to drop but then the wind blew again and it was lost, and I think I thought that I was lost and then, and only then, did I notice that my breath was coming hard and fast, with a white outline and that my hand was bleeding and for a second I couldn’t remember what had happened or where I lived.

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