Those years – did it ever really stick
In mind, this mire of brown estuarine mud?
A trick, forgot in ideals, thick
With thought: how? why? what? should?
There was no habitat here but the past:
The sweet chestnut and bluebells of a dream
A deluge of deliberations that never last
A ferry to a riverbank unseen.
And shrill, but strong, then it called –
A greenshank slits the sky across
And light comes tumbling, lives fall in
And settle. Being here now? No loss?
No rattling rail or kicking boots brought such luck
To have come here, and gained, and stuck
Let the man speak, said one.
No, said another. He has nothing to offer us. He should not be here.
Are we afraid of him? asked another.
There is nothing to be afraid of, said another.
There is lots to be afraid of, shouted another.
He is the one who is afraid, intoned another. He who wants to speak. He who wants to spread fear and intolerance. He is the one who is afraid.
Do not pity him, said another.
Expel him, said another, I cannot bear his views.
But the man was smiling. He liked to hear them argue.
He was a machine, that’s what people said. So powerful – and everything tested, tuned, synchronised. They said he was in perfect shape. He said it was all about the timing: it was in the mind, not the legs.
You looked at him and wondered what thoughts went through his head as he crossed the line, arms outstretched. Could you still feel joy? Or was winning the only possible conclusion? He would feel pain. You could see the anguish just before the grin. The years of training. Family pressure. Money. Perhaps people were right: maybe being machine was the only way.
It was for the country, not any individual. He was a friend not an enemy. He was on holiday not business. She did not want money she wanted help for a personal project. He was a political ally not a friend. It was not a closed enquiry, it was open and transparent. It was not uproar it was debate. They were escort girls not prostitutes. She was 18 not 17.
He could feel the other man’s eyes on him. He felt so tired.
You know what has to be done, said the other man: Hey, you can trust in me.
“People are scared. This is what I know. People are scared for so many different reasons. People think they deserve so much. They tell you so, saying they are good people and hard-working. People want to feel protected. They will confide this. They say they need protecting from all kinds of enemy and hardship. People want to be left alone. They are proud of their independence. They want people in authority to leave them alone. They say they don’t want to be interfered with or judged or have experts tell them how to live. People want to ignore the world.”
They were on the attack; shots rained in. Soon each side would assess the casualties, know who was defeated. It had all been going on too long; it felt senseless, stupid. Days ago he had felt optimistic but now reports were coming through on the radio about yet another loss. He wanted it to be over: for the whole thing to end. He might turn his back and try to forget. Was that what people did? There was a deafening roar. Elsewhere, a boy closed his eyes and started to cry, not able to watch as the final whistle blew.
Don’t worry, it’s on me, said the middle-aged man in the blue suit as the waiter came with the bill. I haven’t been out for a long lunch in ages. I’m breaking no rules and I should take advantage of my privileges: after all, they’re there to be made use of. My boss says that this year one of his big worries is that if we don’t spend the money they’ll think we don’t need it – and take it away. So keep your wallet in your pocket. Should we get down to business? Or would you like some more Champagne?