I try to live with my eyes wide open – partly because walking about with closed eyes is kind of dangerous, but also I don’t want to miss anything. I am a third year English and Creative Writing student, and I’m looking forward to writing for you over the coming months. What can you expect from this column? A collection of ‘noticings’ – anything from overheard conversations, to observations from the bizarre world of public transport. Hello, friend, and happy reading!
I thought I’d start by telling you about the man who walks past my house every day. He is stout with a rather gruff expression. What’s fascinating about him is his hair: it is striped. A white stripe runs from the back of his head down into his moustache, almost as though someone painted it there. My sister spotted this soon after we moved. ‘It makes him look a bit like a skunk, doesn’t it?’ We all peeked out the window, and: ‘Yes!’ It really did! Since then, we have always referred to him as ‘The Skunk’.
I walked past him recently. He was on his phone, and didn’t look up. As I was walking, it suddenly struck me how odd it was. I have seen The Skunk nearly every day for the past thirteen years – I have had conversations about him, I have worried he’s ill when no one’s seen him for a few days – and yet he probably doesn’t even know I exist. It’s almost strange how he has been going about his life for years, not realising that he has, somehow, become a part of mine.
It made me wonder how many people’s stories we all stumble into, unaware. Do people on my street notice me running like a maniac –buttons bursting open, scarf unravelling – to catch the bus? They must: I do it often enough. Maybe I have become part of their daily routine, ‘What’s the time, Marge?’ ‘It must be nearly half nine, Phil. That strange girl just ran past.’
It’s easy, especially in the city, to feel like we’re invisible – to feel insignificant in the midst of a crowd. It can be frightening to feel as though, mixed in among a hundred other faces on a train, we have lost ourselves; it can feel like we have become nothing more than shadows.
I have been thinking a lot, though, about all the people who have quietly affected me. I don’t mean friends, or even acquaintances. I mean the peripheral people – people like the Skunk, or the couple in my work who always order white coffees, or the lady I saw once lifting her little boy up to the post-box so that he could pop the letters in. I’m thinking about people like the boy with the blue t-shirt who played the harmonica while he crossed the road and who left music trailing behind him, or like the old man on my bus who I overhead talking to the lady beside him. He was telling her about his wife – about how she ‘made a great Shepherd’s Pie’, and how she was from the Highlands, and how she was a ‘good lass’ – and he was laughing. And then, his face suddenly fell and he became very quiet. And he whispered in a hoarse voice: ‘I’ve lost her now – I’ve lost her.’ And even though he wasn’t even talking to me, I found myself crying into my scarf.
All these people – they make up the story that is my life. They may not be major characters – I might not know their names, or even remember their faces – but something about them, the essence of them, has stuck with me. My life maybe wouldn’t be dramatically different without them. But it wouldn’t be the same either.
Our lives are constantly overlapping. We might not realise the effect we’re having on other people, but we do have an effect. We don’t just pass though life unnoticed. We are connected.
By Melissa Reid (columnist 11/12)
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