Somewhere to go

The man sitting on a bench in Dundee City Square was certain no one could see him. Okay, people sometimes looked in his direction as they walked past in the rain, with their shopping bags and pulling children, or young couples linking in with each other, their faces spattered with raindrops. They looked like they saw him, but he knew they couldn’t. Not even when they gave him a weirdo-look. Perhaps, they saw someone sitting on the hard, wet bench. After all, it was strange for anyone to be sitting on a bench in the pouring rain. But the man knew, as surely as he knew his backside was cold and wet, that it wasn’t him they could see. It was his impostor.

The man couldn’t remember when he first knew he had an impostor. It can’t have been when he worked at the polypropylene factory: there was only one of him there. He remembered the big machines humming all day on the huge factory floor. Long, long white strands of polypropylene  stretching out, like  the white strips in the centre of a long road, but all joined together, dripping wet. Clocking in.  Clocking out. Clocking in. Clocking out. What did it feel like back then? He couldn’t quite remember. A large drop of rain trickled down the bridge of his nose. People’s voices nearby, laughing and chattering. I bet they don’t have imposters. I bet they are just being themselves, like I used to be just me.

A pleasant warmth engulfed him unexpectedly. It was like a 3-bar fire switched on close by. All three bars at once. He saw Mary again, pottering about the kitchen. Then, she was cutting flowers and putting each one into the black and gold vase her mum gave her one Christmas. The one he thought was haunted, after everything stopped.

The cold on his face returned and the rain kept falling like it would never end. His forehead felt so cold it gave give him a headache. I should move, he thought. But how can I move if it’s not really  me that’s here?

A man loomed out of the rain. He wore a red jacket and had a kind face. “Are you alright mate? It’s a bit wet for sitting out here in the rain.”

The man on the bench looked up and said: “I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“Are you homeless? I can point you towards a hostel if you like. Do you want to go somewhere? I think you should get out of this rain. It really is far too wet and cold here. You’ll catch your death.”

The man on the bench tried to speak but the words he wanted to say were blown away and jumbled up in the rain and he couldn’t get them back. Raindrops, teardrops. What’s the difference? Maybe, it’s time to go to the bridge. God knows, I’ve thought about it often enough.

“I’m not homeless” he found himself saying. He said it in his own voice, so he knew it was him speaking and not his impostor. His imposter had a slightly different voice. Slower. Sadder.

“You should really go home pal . Or, get some shelter in the shops. It’s freezing.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I should go.”

Soaking wet, the man slowly stood up from the bench and smiled and nodded at the other man and then wandered off.

The man with the imposter realised, as he walked through the rain, that his  imposter had gone. He was glad of that. Traffic lights, street lights, buses in the rain. He saw his wife smile in sunlight, and then a car horn blared at him. He ignored it and kept walking. “I just miss her so much” he said into the rain and felt the raindrops on his lips. He walked on in the rain as more street lights started to come on. The lit windows of small shops projected impostors of their own onto the wet pavements and on to the puddles: unreal shops pretending to be real shops.

Passing a pub doorway, the man felt a blast of warm air and heard music and babbling voices reminding him of a world he once belonged to. It was a bit like remembering Christmas. Then he walked further and the sounds of  traffic and rain were all he heard. Rain lashed against his face as he walked across a busy road and when he reached the other side he headed to  the empty waterfront, to walk towards the bridge.

Another man appeared out of the rain towards him. The man was wrapped up well in a huge coat and hood. He looked faintly familiar.

“John?” the man said.

John looked up at the big man’s face as the rain fell on both of them and cars splashed by on the busy road,  and John saw it was Ian, from the factory days.  

“Hello, Ian. I’m sorry mate, but I can’t stop. See you later.” And, he tried to walk by and get back into the soothing rhythm of walking that he knew would  take him to the bridge. It wasn’t far, but he felt so tired,  he knew it would take all his energy to get to the bridge. He could stop it all there. He thought of sitting on the settee and switching off the TV late at night and the room went dark. And Mary wasn’t there. Mary wasn’t there. But something was stopping him from walking.

“Hold on” said Ian gently. He was standing in front of John and had placed a hand on his chest.

John  looked up at Ian. The lashing rain made it hard to see and his eyes stung but he could see it was definitely still Ian talking to him. He half expected it to be his own imposter.

“You were going to the bridge, weren’t you?” Ian said.

At the mention of the word “bridge”,  John felt it was like a lift that had been taking him down suddenly stopped, right there on the rain spattered pavement. And he remembered the two of them, sitting laughing in the works canteen and there was hot coffee, and it was a hundred years ago.  

“There’s  a place where we could go and get a coffee if you’d like” Ian was saying.

“A place?” John said. He felt lost. Where was he?

“They call it the Sanctuary, John. It’s open all the time. For folk like us.”

“Oh” said John, who was far too tired to ask what he meant.

“Well, are you coming? We don’t need that bridge tonight John.”

“Okay” said John.

Together in the rain, the two men walked through reflections of shops and street lights in puddles, back towards the heart of the city.

 

Harvey Duke

 

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