He doesn’t know it but the librarians in here talk about him all the time. ‘It’s that man again’ they whisper when they spot him beating it in the revolving doors, shuffling as usual for his library card in his greasy anorak pocket. He fascinates them, this man, in his own way.
Some say he has the face of a prophet – a modern day Moses, Isiah or Samuel, while others swear he is a kind of shaman, caught in a hiatus between the human world and the spiritual one. On a mission to mend souls then maybe or out to heal hearts, to salve pain either way and to bring about peace in a person.
Others are not so kind. ‘What are you on about’ they ask in high pitched superior tones ‘a down and out is all, a freeloader, only in here for the heat’. Whatever else they say about the man, the librarians, they all agree that he has two predominant features – his eyes and his hands.
He has wise eyes, this old man, watching eyes and listening eyes and talking eyes, almost always busy eyes. If they don’t like what they see, they make a dash to change it. If they do like what they see, they laugh out loud. If they’re not sure about what they see, they don’t look confused or upset straightaway but lonely, a little bit lost at the sight of something they don’t quite understand.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some things the old man understands completely – the colour of the sky first thing in the morning, the contours of the moon, the gurgle of an animal in fright or the cringe of a child in pain. Yet there are other things he knows he will never be able to comprehend – the crass commercialism of everyday life, the banker’s greed, the insincerity of man and the jealousy of women.
His eyes have seen both everything and nothing, have absorbed too much and too little, so that while they are full up of life in one way, these eyes, they are emptying the life out of them in another. Looking towards the end all the time now, thinking less and less about the beginning.
If the man’s hands could talk, they’d tell you tales though, catch you up on the beginning he tries so hard to forget. These hands would fill you in on all the hard heavy work they endured over the years. All the warm handshakes they enjoyed too and the even warmer touch of women. The long piano fingers would elaborate on their wish to write, would boast and brag unashamedly about the wealth of words they believe could have flowed from them if only the man had taken time out to write. They wouldn’t be able to remember any fists ever forming in their imprints though they’d talk forever about their knowledge of horse grooming and the weight of bottle after bottle of Mister Jimmy Jameson.
The hands would mention the man’s love of books too, the way he touches them, talking quietly to himself, all the while anticipating the contents and what the books might do for him, to him really, the way they might take him out of himself and into another world altogether where life somehow makes sense.
The hands wouldn’t tell you the ultimate truth but the eyes would. They’d give in in the end, those honest eyes, and admit their defeat. ‘He can’t read’ they’d whisper bravely. ‘Not his fault’ they’d continue, standing up for the man they loved so much. ‘A shame’ they’d mumble, losing courage now, diverting their gaze ‘an awful bloody shame’….