I, Him; We.
Tom Lavery, Year 12
It must have been the squeak of my new Enrico Santis on the mysophobicly over-polished vinyl – God they looked good! The classic all leather lace up and the crocodile skin pattern, you could tell they were Italian! – Or maybe it was the split second of piercing white fluorescent light reflected off the bottle of Botrytis as I pulled it off the rack and placed it, carefully, in the trolley atop the manchego cheese and the other weekly shopping items… He was clearly not from around here; one of them.
I wonder what he was doing. His warm bare feet leave footsteps of condensation on the cool white floor, a constant reminder of his unnecessary and vexing presence that followed him like a shadow, shrinking slowly yet enduring long enough to be a constant reminder of his presence; even if he was aisles away. But why was he here? Why stray so far as to become a disturbance to us? He must be up to something deceitful. Here to burgle or beg; to stain the white satin that is this community. We got ourselves good jobs that paid good money to get here – away from them.
Yet here he was, standing just checkouts away, he and his kind’s persisting continuation, normally existing on the fringes of reality, the peripheral, now so close and so assertive. His offensive being there a ubiquitous reminder of them: the blatant lack of ambition, his unkempt head of matted hair and pogonotrophy, and the scraggly, disproportionate and notably unbranded clothing, clearly chosen for reasons of comfort and convenience over respectability or social courtesy. His lack of inhibitions and disregard of edict unambiguously and confidently illustrated to all around through his selection of garments. His rustic scent an olfactory insult to anyone within a sniff’s range – I am always baffled by this kind: why make the lifestyle choices to live in such squalid circumstances? Why not make an effort to present themselves in an at-least more tolerable manner?
Whatever I have done, he is looking, watching. I find myself being scrutinized by two toxic green hoops resting in equilibrium between the soft blue crescents they lay upon and the furrowed brow above, glistening with soft perspiration. The hairs on the back of my neck perform a standing ovation, saluting his momentary glare. “Next please.” We simultaneously move forward one place in our queues. In his left hand he holds a discount coupon and in his right a basket containing what must be his dinner for the night: orange drink -not juice, drink, eggs – notably not free-range, and a loaf of pre-sliced white bread. Pitiful. After all, free-range eggs and actual orange juice would have only cost him another six or seven dollars. Seven dollars, that’s pocket change!
Tattoos too, he’s covered in them, overt depictions of his and his kind’s inability to logically reason. Dates, initials and crests stain his sun-tanned skin, each as meaningless as their predecessor. I keenly assess the flicks, tails and curves of his intricately mosaicked body. A form of vandalism in itself, his ink stained skin a documentation of the injudicious life he had led. I find myself particularly intrigued by one blotch of faded black and white, clearly the oldest piece in the collage, it unevenly and indiscriminately seeps out of its original confines and into the surrounding pores. Resting above his calloused left hand, it forms an imperfect circle; two drops of rain, one white, one black, chasing each other’s tales like dogs playing.
Suddenly I was back thirty years, back to my university days, a class in Chinese philosophy specifically. Mohism, Taoism, the Naturalists and Professor Callaghan. Back to a single lecture and a single topic taught in that lecture: the Taoist taijitu of Yin Yang. The pair of Koi entangled within each other symbolized the natural coexistence of good and bad, Callaghan said. The colours represented the sun and the moon, the assertive and the submissive, the warm and the cool, male and female, earth and heaven, summer and winter. They represented the duality of their relationship and their dependency on each other; the two halves that when combined make the whole, without one, the other was futile.
The application of this concept had been lost on me at the time. But now, as if rays of all-enlightening luminescence have made their way deep into the shadows of misconceptions that once shrouded my superficial mind, it has become clear as crystal. In a moment of reflexivity my self-entitled placement upon the perch of prejudice was realized to be the ignorant and fruitless mannerism it was. The preconceptions I had once allowed to dictate my life, and my perception on his, as he stood just checkouts away, now liquefied as the interchangeability of the two, the natural juxtaposition and harmony, parallel and unison, opposition and similitude, of our lives became incontestable.