Image by Christine Renney
I have begun to recognise the others that I pass on my route. Their faces have become familiar; men and women, mostly making their way either to or from work. They are visitors. They stay for their shift and then leave, going back to their homes and families, to their lives beyond this place. But, just fleetingly before they disappear into their places of employment they and I collide.
I watch them as they trek toward the smaller units of the industrial estates, built in the Sixties and left to wither. I watch as they shuffle toward the larger factories and warehouses, those that have survived. They seem small and inadequate and I wonder how can they maintain these scarred and decrepit structures. How can so few of them possibly serve these ageing monoliths.
His disappearing was an impressive act and only I could see it. I saw him and also what was happening and it was as if someone had taken a giant marker pen and drawn around him. A thick and jagged line that separated him from everything and everyone else and this line was getting bigger and bolder whilst within it he was slowly diminishing.
When he wasn’t there I watched and waited for him. Unable to concentrate I wandered aimlessly around the office, making my way to the windows at the far end, time and again. Gazing down at the busy street below, searching and failing to find him amongst the passers-by.
And suddenly he would reappear. I would glance across at his desk and there he would be, sitting in his chair as if set in stone.
It crossed my mind on more than one occasion that he had been there all along, that he hadn’t moved and like all the others I just hadn’t been able to see him.
One afternoon as I watched him I began to consider seriously that this might be possible and I decided when he next moved, if indeed he did move again, that I would follow him; find out where he went and what he did.
I became aware that there was a flurry of activity over at his desk and he was at its centre. He had one of the drawers open and, delving in, he pulled something out and lay it on top.
For a moment I thought he was readying for work and once again I was disappointed. But why? What exactly had I been expecting him to do? Well, evidently it wasn’t that I expected him to start afresh, to simply come back as if nothing had happened.
But he wasn’t beginning again and now everyone was watching him, witnessing the disruption of his desk as he removed everything from inside and placed it on the outside.
I moved a little closer and could see most of these items. And they were an almost perfect mirror image of the contents of my own.
Collage by Christine Renney
Image by Mark Renney
After being out of work for almost a year Douglas had at last found a job at the local supermarket. He was a shelf-stacker and so, one at a time, he placed a particular item in its correct place. All the cans and cartons, the boxes and bottles.
Douglas found the work invigorating and that it was enough. After being idle for so long, after compiling so much, so many thoughts, he needed this and it felt like a break, like a good clean snap.
He threw himself into the job, arriving early, and was always the last to leave. Douglas wasn’t out to prove anything, certainly not to himself and so why was he so concerned about what others might think and worried about what they might say behind his back.
The work was tiring and Douglas wanted to be tired, to feel numb. He had gotten soft from sitting at a desk in an office. His body ached, his legs and his back were stiff and after a shift his arms felt longer than they should. But this weariness helped and Douglas felt as if he were a computer with a hard drive and could wipe himself clean. Through repetition and graft he could forget his failures and his loneliness and yes, for now, it was enough.
As often as was possible, Douglas worked the early shift. Increasingly he was becoming more and more anxious about working when the store was open. He dreaded running into someone he knew and in this small town, where he had lived for all his life, this was inevitable.
He was becoming accustomed to the work, to the bending and the lifting, and didn’t tire so easily. He tried to work harder and needed to work for longer and as the weeks progressed he was forced to enter the busy store more and more often. Keeping his head down he avoided interaction and contact with the townsfolk.
Scanning the aisles, whenever he noticed someone he knew, from school or a colleague from his old office, reeling around with their trolleys, he would scurry off in the opposite direction. Douglas was convinced that they were laughing at him behind his back and as he scuttled away he was ashamed of himself for not turning around to see if it was in fact true. And if they really were smirking and pointing at him then of course he should confront them, and if not then why couldn’t he simply say hello and pass the time of day.
Despite his erratic behaviour Douglas was left to his own devices and somehow he managed to get the products and the produce onto the shelves. He was able to tire himself, enough that he could sleep but he wasn’t able to achieve that former weariness and he couldn’t forget.
He was losing something. It hadn’t ever been more than an idea of who he was. And as he attempted to burrow unseen through the bright and busy store, Douglas was deeply and profoundly disappointed in himself.