Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What is remembered: Albert.

There is an old man lives not far from me, I think, he often gets on my bus a couple of stops from mine, in his late sixties, maybe, could be seventies, it's hard to tell when people are as unkempt as he, walks with a zimmerframe, his grey hair uncut and so uncombed it has gone into dreadlocks at the back, not a wino but surely he lives alone, everything about him speaks of an old man living alone, teetering on the edges of coping with life. The very edges. There is a distinct, unpleasant, strong smell of stale urine he brings with him onto the bus. Several times, he has sat in the seat in front of mine, and I have watched the back muscles of the person he sits next to stiffen, as we all recoil from his odour.

I pick through my thoughts and feelings, I find things I don't like, I find myself thinking oh no, not again, not him, not all the way into town with that smell around us, around me, invading my nose, my space. I think of his life, his home. He must live somewhere. I can't imagine his home. I don't want to imagine his life, his shopping, his lone evenings and lone mornings and lone dinners, does he wash, does he wash his clothes, does he read a paper or listen to the radio or watch tv. Does anybody ever call on him, on the phone or visiting-wise. Was there ever anyone in his life, women, a woman, a wife. Children. A mother, surely. A childhood. Fifty years or so and it could be either one of my sons. You can never tell, can you, beforehand, who's going to land up being that ill-smelling barely-coping lonely old man. It could, in another twenty-five years or so, be me, except I'm not a man, but I understand the conditions of loneliness, of life itself becoming too much of a task to master, apply to women as well.

Once, almost twenty years ago, on my street in London, I came across another lonely old man. Less unkempt than the one now riding my buses he was, his hair neatly shorn, and no zimmerframe, although one might have been useful for him. I found him half-kneeling on Sydney Avenue, just off the North Circular, a worn shopping bag standing next to him, its half-open state revealing its contents, a small bottle of Scotch and two chocolate bars. He didn't ask for help, his look was not pleading, in fact, he looked like he'd just half-knelt on the pavement for a reason, but people don't, so I stopped and asked if he was alright. His smile was one of embarrassment. I don't think I can get up, he said. That's alright, I said, I'll help you, and I can't remember how we managed it, I think I just offered him my arm and he pulled himself up, leaning on me, but I do remember his frame, his bone structure, his skeleton, tangible through his clothes and his skin and his negligible flesh, like a big decrepit bird's. In spite of the Scotch, there was around him no whiff of alcohol, just a faint trace of the same stale urine odour of lonely old men. I had to say something, feign normalcy, help him over his embarrassment. I was twenty-one, twenty-two. My name's Anna, I said, what's yours? Albert, he breathed, and in the two syllables I thought I heard a life.

30 comments:

NMJ said...

That last line, Anna, is so fu**ing powerful, I have tears in my eyes. You are a poet. This is much better writing than the two novels (highly acclaimed, but no good in my opinion) that I have just read.

PS. You are thoroughly deserving of the 'nice' award, but you are NOT nice to pass it onto me, where the hell will I put it, how will I put it, more to the point - how do I get the thing to display, I forget what you do. Can I save mine for a rainy day, while graciously accepting it.x

Reading the Signs said...

Very moving, Anna. Albert is a good name, one doesn't hear it so much these days. You have honoured him in the writing.

Anna MR said...

Sweetie, you have just made my point about how nice you are by being so nice about my writing. Ha. You bring it upon yourself, you really do. As for saving it for a rainy day, I should really say NO WAY, you post it girl and you post it now, but because I'm nice (dammit, I can't help myself), I'll say you do as you feel best about it, Cyberfriend.

(Shhh...thank you for what you said, really. I doubt I or my writing deserved the praise, but it is very much appreciated, regardless. x )

Anna MR said...

Signs, dammit, Madame Nice herself. Hello. Do you notice we posted on the same minute? Uncanny.

(Shhh...please allow for the smokescreen of the nonsense to cover up my going all emotional due to this big heap praise I'm receiving from you now, too. Ach, more bollocks, please, we're weeping. Mwah)

Merkin said...

Excellent stuff MrAnna.
In empathising with you, I shall post on my place something for you to read that was originally written for Mr Pike Bishop's site.
In my own current situation I am once again aware of the nature of 'Dignity' and the fine line that exists between espect and contempt.

Anna MR said...

Merkin - watch out, any more niceness and you may find yourself troubled with that award, you know. Thank you, I am very pleased you cared for my tale of Albert, the Patron Saint of Lonely Old Men, and I will be nipping over to yours to have a look at what you have written. x

Kahless said...

Noswaith dda Anna,

Sut ydych chi?

My dads twin is called Albert, or uncle Bert affectionately. It was not the guy you helped though!

The old man who lives not far from you - maybe he is not lonely but living out his life exactly the way he wants to?

Hope you are keeping well.
x.

trousers said...

nmj wrote the words I was going to: astonishing last line, it made me well up. Wonderful to read the rest of it and then to get to that.

I recall someone who came to the day centre I used to work at, who had that smell; he also spoke with a stutter and was very thin and frail. Finally his health failed and he died a (presumably) lonely death. Two years later a colleague of mine was leaving the job: he gave a lovely speech and then dedicated it to the memory of this man, and that has always stayed with me.

Thank you for these amazing words, and the reminder they have given to me.
x

Anna MR said...

Noswaith dda i chi, Kahless - rwdyi'n iawn, diolch, a chi? (And since when did we move to the formal chi, hmmm?)

I don't know whether I could bend my mind to believing the bus man lives the life he chooses. But that may just be my tendency to see life through gloomily-tinted spectacles, of course - he may well be a very happy member of a virtual monastic order, and all my pain over his person is as unnecessry as the rich man's regret over the poverty of, hell, that dude...who lived in the barrel and asked him not to block out the sun (I always forget his name. How utterly embarrassing).

Anywayhow, yes, thank you Kahless, I am doing fine and hope you are too. Lovely to see you.

x

Anna MR said...

Hei housut, thank you. It's pretty astonishing to be getting such high praise, really, and I don't rightly know how to properly respond, except to mutter my thank yous and blush and look at my shoes a lot. Um, thank you.

(Thank you, also, for sharing your memory from the day centre. A certain self-exposure is very highly appreciated around these parts. Very highly. x )

That's so pants said...

Hei Anna

It's late. I'm very tired. This is the last thing I'll read tonight. And I will go to sleep knowing I've read something profound. Thank you and goodnight.

xxx

Pants

Anna MR said...

Pants - stop it, you're hurting me, that's just too much praise. (Glad you liked it, obviously, and thank you, but maybe you know what I mean?)

Hope you sleep well.

x

Merkin said...

Anna Anna Anna.
The Merkin has written the definitive on Mark E Smith.
.
http://tinyurl.com/2bv9l4
.
Pay attention, dear girl.
xx

cusp said...

Hah ! Gottya ! I've come over here now too see what your place is like, as you've been following me everywhere.

Lovely piece of writing and very touching too. I have a 'bit of a thing' about street people --- always have. There are several in our little town here in the countryside. I have names for all of them though I don't know ther real names.

Sometimes there is a kind of pity for their extreme state of shabbiness, addiction to whatever it is, apparent loneliness, Other times I just think, like Kahless, that in some part of their being, they chose to like that and should nlot be pitied but just appreciated for their freedom of spirit and courage.

(Very impressed that you knew about and played the murderer in the Red Barn!)

trousers said...

*off topic alert*.

Mr Szwag has the answer to the crossy-out lettering: it's over at the press. Bewilderment at italics has had a positive outcome :)

Mellifluous Dark said...

Beautiful.
x

Anna MR said...

Right then. Ms Dark, in a word, no, two - thank you. x

Hello everyone else - just coming. Need to nip out onto balcony for a wee moment first....

Anna MR said...

Merkin Merkin Merkin. A definitive case study on Mark E. Smith, eh? I shall have to go and have a look - not now, I think (you'll find it's really rather late in Finland), but sometime soon. Thank you in advance for putting me out of my ignorance. Although I must admit I have the attention span of a jellyfish. x

Anna MR said...

Hei and welcome and nice to see you, Cusp. I'm glad you liked the post, it is always a lovely thing to hear. Your comment reminded me of a "street person" I used to know in London - well, I didn't really know him, you understand, but he was always around where I used to live. I cannot tell you more, because I think he's going to become a post very soon. But I'll let it slip his name was Horace - and I believe it was his real name. This information-leak-scoop brought to you specially, Cusp, because you're clearly a good sort and it is very lovely to see you here.

(Regarding the murderous dude I played - you wouldn't fancy going and taking a picture of what's left of him, would you? I would love to see...)

x

Anna MR said...

housut - thank you, handsomely, both to you and to Mr Szxczxwsag. Need to find a place to try out this almost-acquired skill, and then, once mastered, use them. And no need to apologise, this is a topic-free zone. But what is it exactly you have against italics, the poor wee things?

trousers said...

Nothing against italics whatsoever anna - it's just that there seemed to be a problem on one of my threads where everything went italic and there was no way to change it back.

To sound like a politician - I'm all for italics, but I'm all for choice in the matter!
x

Anna MR said...

General Secretary housut, of the United Nations, hello. That wasn't the thread where I was using a lot of italics, was it? I did so on purpose. I like italics.

(Glad to hear you're pro-choice, though.)

x

Reading the Signs said...

Italics are taking over - keep them out, I say, even though some of them are my best friends.

What?

cusp said...

Heh Anna dear, just for you I have posted a whole piece about Maria Marten and the Red Barn. Take a look x

http://lombredemonombre.blogspot.com/2007/10/gruesome-little-suffolk-tale.html

Anna MR said...

Oho. Signs the Italic Bigot, hello. Sorry to have kept you here unresponded to, for so long. I can imagine how you've been hanging on the edge of your computer chair, just waiting to read this, the most inspiring blog comment reply ever, in the history of them.

Ahem. "What?" indeed. Mwahs. Move along, nothing to see here...

Anna MR said...

Hei Cusp - just for me? That's really too sweet of you, although I do think you exaggerate somewhat - of course, I realise I have been the principal inspiration for this post of yours (which I haven't yet read, for reasons I am about to disclose), your, ahem, Muse, if you like - but surely, surely not just for me (I really dig my italics, at the moment, for some reason, don't I?). Anyway - that sounds brilliant and I am looking forward to reading it, however, Cusp, just for you, if you like, or at least inspired by something you said which triggered off a memory, and also because I haven't written anything here for a while and it really is high time I did, before you all think I have died or something, I need to go and write a post of my own - which, as I recall, I have already talked about, with you, upthread.

Right. So. Here goes. Gnawing nervously on the end of my keyboard, fighting bloggers' block bravely, I plunge into it. Be assured, however, that I shall hop over to yours very soon to read about fair Maria Marten's murderous master...

x

trousers said...

Hi dearest anna, this is off-topic so I put it on the previous thread (assuming you too have your comment notification switched on): a certain szwagier is unable to comment on your site and can't see the captcha text (I assume he means the word ver) regardless of what browser he uses.

Dunno whether you can offer any pointers for him on this? If so, he's avantgardening on my blogroll. Hope you don't mind my passing this on.

x

Anna MR said...

Hei housut, sorry in the delay in getting back to you on this matter, and no need to apologise for (or hide) off-topic comment postings (although comments can be left anywhere, that's fine too). Anywhere, Merkin already mentioned this matter (up in the most recent post) and unfortunately I'm utterly baffled by this. I have no idea why Szcsxqzxswagier would be unable to post comments (and this leads to a thought - how many other people suffer from this?). It's the oddest thing. Anyway, I have rather a lot to be getting on with today, so I am not likely to do bloggy visitations until some later time, but if and when you do see The S, tell him I'm sorry but unable to help.

Phew. I haven't the time to write you a short letter, so I'll write you a long one, is a quote my history teacher used to bang on about. Hope you have a lovely lazy Sunday afternoon, housut, I've been wishing it to all today, it feels like that sort of a day.

x

trousers said...

Thanks anna, I will pass this on. Apparently ario couldn't comment on my blog some of the time yesterday so I wonder if this is (at least in part) blogger-related glitches or similar.

Anyway, hope all is well with yourself and that your weekend has been a good one.

x

Anna MR said...

Thank you, housut, very sweet of you, I managed a weekend that was both relaxing and productive, which is quite a combination. Hope yours was good, too, and also hope everyone who wants to gets to comment wherever they want to, including here. Although I have become markedly slow in getting back to people, which I apologise for.