Waiting. There are some places that give themselves better to waiting than others. And they aren’t always obvious. The waiting room in a surgery? The row upon row of back to back airport seating, in a shiny glass laden warehouse? An overgrown, purpose-deserted playground, whose slide and swing sit like hasty imports to transform a brick garden into a place of play. Weeds encroach on every corner and crevice, advancing their sovereignty at a calculated pace, biding its time like a Venus fly trap awaiting a catch.
This brick garden-come-playground-come-wild-kingdom is waiting, too, like you might…or I did.
At the throne – the wooden bench – you relive the various incarnations of this courtyard: pristine brickwork devoid of encroaching vegetation, freshly tarmacked and with its carefully contained garden patch beneath the tree; through the flown-in swing and slide atop the synthetic rubbery asphalt denoting ‘this is where you play, and you might fall unharmed – but outside of this the world is harder and we are not accountable to you’; and finally, as the playground fails beneath its grafted-on purpose, the garden, overgrowing, weeds snaking up the walls and protruding between the cracks in the mosaic tiling, and the dilapidated brickwork a shadow of its former self.
To what building is this space annexed? Has it, too, changed in time; its purpose and permanence a question in the wind? Is it, too waiting – like you, or I?
Outside of these four walls things change more quickly. To your rear, cars and people pass by, an affront to stasis; to the left and ahead houses stand stoical in their protection of life being lived: they do not wait: they act, or shelter the action of others. Still, we wait.
For a sign. For something. From my temporary throne – to which I would return at a later date to the weeds curling around my feet – I look beyond the slide, the swing, the plaque and the back wall to the blanched brickwork of the house in the distance. I wait. And behind one of its two windows someone waits; out of sight but not out of mind. To either side of its paned windows someone waits anxiously for their cue to act. The courtyard around you dwells inside them, with its imperceptibly encroaching weeds, until its purpose – a newly important and invigorating purpose – is reborn.
They pace the room. They breathe. They sit and ponder idly and yet alert; time quickens for the solitary while they scenario plan: the best and the worst possible outcomes played against the middle. I’m not nervous though. I wait, stoical and resolute. I have time on my side; and by that I mean a schedule: meticulous and binding. And in this person I do not envy their temporal uncertainty. I have two minutes: now less; still less – and we march towards purpose and action, against the backdrop of a failed playground and its surrounding wilderness.
You wait. I waited.
You are on top of, and in between, ‘Here’ and ‘There’. You are on the crest of a journey between two points; gazing out from the metaphorical bridge in both time and space. Others pass by at their different speeds and with different motivation, and you consider how coincidental it would otherwise seem that so many take this bridge, if it weren’t in fact physical. And necessary. For who takes a bridge between two points otherwise connected by more convenient or scenic routes? Such a journey would be pointless; though you would arrive eventually, nonetheless.
But the physical, again, impresses itself upon your notion of journey; implying, rather ignorantly, a Here and There that is a location on a map. Each passer-by may well be taking this bridge but they are taking wildly different courses in their thoughts. Their destinations, though conceivably close in physical proximity, are worlds apart. The young mother some few years into the great journey of motherhood; the child a few years into that grand bridge called life. The car that whizzes by with a haste that belies the driver’s heavy pondering over the health of their marriage. The man whose languid gait and cumbersome stride does not speak to his racing mind’s scenario planning for the moment he will tell her he loves her.
You are on top of, and in between, Here and There. As are all those who pass. Or are they? For what would it mean to be Below, and in between, Here and There? If each journey has its crest, then there is perhaps its corresponding trough. The husband whose few years of fatherhood unnervingly misalign with his wife’s, and the child who may-have-been but for the infinitesimal ripple in the universe at the moment of conception. The wife at home, towards whom the whizzing car speeds, awaiting her partner with a deep contentedness and deeply unprepared for the impending surprise. The woman who has not, for one second, considered the man might love her in anything but a plutonic way.
And the person who dwells in the shadow of your crest, on a bench under the bridge, who is not able – as you are, and have been – to think of others, but only of you. And what you know. Or what you don’t.
Where the crest and trough are at their peak, the events that will change the gradient of the downward journey on the bridge will be set: these are the seminal moments in your life. What if you could take a peek at the person below the bridge, before the event could occur?
Go on. Take a look. I did.
The red brick steps, to the right and across the road.
Don’t you want to see who’s down there?
Take a look. Cross the road. Perhaps see in to the future.
Crossroads. How odd to dwell at a crossroads without designs on which path to follow. It almost feels absurd – unnatural at least. Cars, cyclists and pedestrians wait patiently for their turn to pursue their destination. But there is no space for all to move freely, at once, equal in their journey. There is an order and has to be, to avoid chaos and remain safe. Nevertheless, a system that will hold some back while others progress…
Except, of course, at the point where no such progression is required – the few moments where all are held back while the lights right themselves and just for a second the perpetual march of history is halted. And these moments are the most interesting, most intense, most nakedly reflective and human. Like so many other static moments in which all possible eventualities exist. That still moment pregnant with potentiality…and insufferably terrifying.
Remember the first kiss.
The lights change and for that briefest – and yet longest – time, nothing moves but the churning of desire and fear as they tumble over each other in a wrestler’s grip, rolling down a mountainside.
It is in these moments of pause that reflection is at its most vulnerable: when we cease to act human, and bare ourselves to being human.
Let’s sit here and watch. Let’s not avert our gaze. You and I. Stare at it. At each other. The first kiss: the crossroads.
I’m still staring. Are you? Have you survived? Have you looked away beneath the terrible weight of potentiality?
Here. Through the bushes opposite, behind the pane of window obscured by the tips of the upper leaves. Stay with me. Wait with me. We’re nearly there – the wait will soon be over.
But can you be sure it’s me? Can you be sure of anything in this pause? Perhaps it is not I you are seeing but another. And they are staring at you: waiting. What are they waiting for? More to the point: how long must they – you – wait? When the lights change, who will move first?
Perhaps they have all the time in the world, and you don’t.
What is this place? [You ask] And why is it so significant?
Why should it be the place that is significant and not the moment? When I sat here, as you do now, I asked myself these questions. I knew I was reaching the end and, I think, in a moment of weakness and regret, wanted to mark it with geographical significance. That is what we do, isn’t it? Where were you when… Do you remember when we were at…. Writers throughout the ages have first sketched out the location, whence the narrative follows. Yet, aside from the connotation and denotation of a certain place – and in a certain time – are not some details of place superfluous? Distracting even?
My journey – our journey – has seemed almost intangible and as it races to its inevitable end I find myself fearing for no anchor of place: for people being unable to say where I was when it happened, as though it might otherwise help explain in some aesthetic way what happened and why it had to happen.
That is what I want you to do. Now. The last encounter. That last touch. The last moment that floats intangibly and struggles with its own ephemerality in my memory – it needs a place. It needs a home. It needs an anchor that makes of it a portrait of permanence: of significance. I want you to picture it for me. Describe it to yourself. Build it in all its multifaceted beauty, form and terror: we stand a yard apart, face to face, heart to heart, mind to mind, at the epicentre of the circular garden. The three boulders mark the three corners of the triangle that is our brief but significant liaison: the waiting and first encounter; the kiss; the final and terminal encounter. A sharp and brutal triangle amidst the delicate beauty of the circle of life before, after, and long into its forever. Flowers in bloom on one side, empty benches of the departed on the other.
This is the picture.
This is the place.
And this is where it happened. Where I departed and they were left, terrified of their own solitude but unable to avert it.
I departed down the path into the park, and they retreated from the circle and into Number 7. Number 7 is a cage of solitude that protects from without that which I brought to bear on them. And, following the ironic curve of the circle we had forged, there they sit behind a window, anxious and afraid, and waiting. Another waiting. An equally timeless and terrible waiting that drags and drags, stretching hope ever thinner like matter at the fringes of the universe.
It was necessary to leave and never come back. I could not lead them here. But I needed to find out. And now I have sewn the terrible seed. For you have been followed; they had you marked from the start. I allowed myself to be distracted by you and my nostalgia – as I sought to make you understand and walk in my shoes.
They are closing in: of this I am sure. From the road to your right, the park to your left; perhaps around the other side of the circle or even already in Number 7 itself… I cannot be sure.
You will need your wits about you.
Now move. A new place. Nowhere is safe if you stay too long in one place!
Move past the booths and into the corridor to the court yard. Wait. Try to glance a look back. Have they followed? Is anybody too conveniently hidden in the most part behind a door, or a wall? Has somebody’s gaze lingered a fraction too long?
I need to explain – we need to meet so I can set the record straight. Before they get to you.
Sit at the large wooden table in the courtyard, and keep your eyes on the entrance. But don’t sit in full view. You need to be able to see them coming, and they not you.
Do not trust anyone around you – anyone might be complicit. I was naïve once and I shan’t let you make the same mistake.
Sit tight: I’m on my way!
Move! Go quickly! They’re in the alley you have just come from at the end of the booths – move out of the courtyard – to your right, quickly – down the driveway.
You’ll reach the street: Hope Street.
Remember what I’ve said: disappear, trust no-one: I’ll find you.