Archives

Ellen Bell

November 19, 2017

I watch the man walking ahead of me on the Prom. He is wearing a suit and has his hands in his pockets. It looks like he’s just left the Marine Hotel. Through the windows I saw the bar staff cleaning the tables. There must have been a wedding. The man walks with a slight lean. Just beyond JD’s Diner, he turns.

Are you following me? he asks.

No, I reply. You can put your mind at rest.

He pauses to think and then asks,You, OK?

Yes, thanks, I’m fine, I reply, increasing my speed.

Where’re you from? he calls after me. You from Aber?

Yes, I say to myself, leaving him far behind.

I didn’t want to talk. I never do, not when I’m walking, in fact hardly ever. I want my solitude. I pass through the din of students, of late night carousers. I am just a presence, that’s all, an observer. Mostly I’m invisible to the young, those bare-legged, mini-skirted girls and the brash young men, coatless and reeling. Today there were even people walking their dogs on the beach. I saw two dogs at least and then another along South Road. A strange time to do it, but then who am I to talk? I walked behind a couple along South Marine. Is this your usual route? he was saying to her. No, she replied, I usually walk by the Castle and sit for a bit. They were stiff, formal with each other. Was it a date? Had he offered to walk her home? She wore a tiny skirt over thick, straight-down legs. He was bearded and had on a red, hooded sweatshirt. There was no chemistry between them, no flirting. He was gauche, she sounded bored.

I listen to it most Saturdays. The writing is moving, enlightening. We are not supposed to say good. I like the stories. Real stories. Real lives. I used to listen to it in Bath, but sometimes I had to turn it off. It was too much, rather like being a Samaritans, sometimes I just didn’t want the knowing. One of the pieces on From Our Own Correspondence yesterday was from Myanmar. He began the broadcast by saying that he’d experienced some pretty dire things, but this was the worst. It was the way she described what had happened to her in such forensic detail, he explained. A woman from a small Muslim sect who are persecuted by the Burmese soldiers. They threw her baby in a fire, they bludgeoned her two sons to death, then raped her and left her for dead. She survived, as did her daughter. It is beyond comprehension. The people of this sect are seen as nothing, he said. Non people. I cannot take in such terror, such pain. How can you recover? How can she recover? He talked of the seeming indifference of the woman who now rules Myanmar. That holder of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is under the thrall of the army, he said at dinner, she is powerless. Is she? I’ve heard many journalists on FOOC dispute this. What do I know? Nothing. I thought of the Muslim woman, as I thought of the family who have just heard that that girl, Gaia’s body, has been found. Our bird has flown, said her cousin on the news bulletin. Rest in peace.

A testing day yesterday. I can see the piece in my mind, so clearly, but how to get there? I feel so foolish when it goes wrong, though I understand that that is the learning. I know where I have to go next. Something has come from it. It is enough for now. And it is nothing in comparison. I am so blessed.

As I walk I think about his death. I can’t help it. I need to explore it. Solve it. Which, of course, I cannot. I think about how I would survive. Deal with the practicalities. Get a job. What would I do? I think about being a housemistress. I thought of applying to a few posts before I went to Norway. I remember my own housemistresses. Their names have long gone. I recall the first one. Rake thin, an ex-opera singer with a scar at her throat from an operation that halted the singing. An elegant, woman, cold and frankly terrified of our high spirits. Girls, she’d call in her rasping voice, girls, calm down. And the other one, the one that followed. A gentler, rounder lady. Soft and kind. You’re one of my favourites, she’d say. Boarding school doesn’t suit everyone, she’d say, but it does you. She’d make me cocoa in her sitting room. When I started to see ghosts they moved me. I lost her then. As I’ve lost so many.

The question is can we still love? Can we, amidst all the terror? It must be so. Yes.