A mugging

I saw him just before he saw me. And I knew, as animals know, that I was in danger. He saw it, he saw me flinch, make to run and then he was upon me. Darkness. The smell of him. Sweat, damp, fear. Give me money. I have none. And I didn’t. I never walk out in the morning with money in my pocket. I walk empty-handed. I waited for the feel of the blade. Would it hurt? Would I die? Then nothing. The darkness lifted and I was talking to him. Inside. Inside the University. He needed help with his project, a Graphics brief. I sat with him, talked it through, made suggestions. Good ones. He was calm then. The project subsumed us. Then we were in a student canteen. Other people. Should I get out some cash for him? I thought. He has a young family to support. No, said a woman sitting to my left. Don’t give him any money. I woke up.

A symbolic dream. I can read it, understand it. There is comfort there, I think.

I wanted to be alone this morning as I walked but no. First, there was a man sitting in one of the Promenade shelters. He was cross-legged on the bench, a woolly hat with hanging toggles on his head reading a magazine, his sleeping-bag and bagged-up belongings beside him. Then, just beyond Pier Pressure there was a woman sitting on the ground by a bin, her legs outstretched. She seemed to be building a kind of tower with several plastic food cartons. Then she opened one and began eating fast. Her back was to me, her parka hood up against the wind. Further along the Prom a woman walked ahead of me, smoking, a half-empty Morrison’s bag-for-life in her left hand. Later, a cat strode across the road.

The most ordinary, the most prosaic often seems surreal in that early morning light. Liminal time. People catch me unawares, I am too open. The other morning there were three lads, early twenties, possibly younger dancing in the road. Llanbadarn Road. A wild kind of dancing, legs kicking, arms revolving, bounding. In the middle of the road. Noiseless. They made no sound as they jigged about. The world felt slowed down, strange.

See, he said, emerging from his room at 1.30 am to go for a pee, not dead yet.

As I walked down the hill of North Road at 3.15 am a young woman came out of a doorway and crossed the road. She was barelegged and bare armed, wearing black shorts and high patent leather court shoes. A minute later a young man came out of the same doorway, shoeless and followed her. Coming back along the Prom I saw him again, in his socks, walking back to his flat alone.

The man in the basement flat below has bought a wind breaker. You know, one of those strips of striped canvas with wooden poles that you jam into the sand. He is using it in the little strip of garden in front of his flat. He sets it up, puts his reclining deck chair behind it and lies out, fully clothed, drinking from a glass tankard of beer. We saw him on the Prom the other afternoon. Watch out, he said, its the Welshie. You don’t have to say hello. I did. Or at least I nodded. He nodded back.

We sat in our cwtch watching the sea and I gave my usual Archers rundown. I told him about all the programmes I’d listened to that morning. The tears that came took me by surprise. The Reunion hosted by Sue Macgregor was about the ill-fated Challenger mission. One of her guests was the astronaut Dick Scobee’s widow June. Her testimony was so moving. I started to weep when I recounted her telling of the missing man flight pass. How I love the radio. It moves me like TV never can. It is the voice. It is all in the voice. All those stories. Some fiction, like Ann Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage and others life, like Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, telling of his childhood poverty and his mother pawning the same theatrical costume over and over again. It was all she had.

Learning to pay attention. I am learning to pay attention. Close attention. There is wisdom in it. It hold’s one in the present. You see the whole then. And the chatter, if only for a moment, stops.

I write these notes, trying to capture it all, all that knowing. A great shedding, I’ve written. A great shedding. What was that about? And now I remember, the maudlin thoughts of his passing. Not yet. I don’t want to go yet, he says, I’m having too good a time. That is good. That IS good. Amen to that.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.