covert

…that which is hidden away or disguised and is intent on remaining so

It was unlikely, owing to his rather outlandish appearance – his shock of white hair atop his rather sallow, or maybe dark rather than sallow, features, each of which, his features that is, being rather exaggerated in one way or another, particularly his eyebrows and nose which seem in some indescribable way wrong, his rather gaudy clothing, a sky blue three-quarter length safari jacket which was a favourite, and his unusual gait, which could only be described as ungainly and which was bordering on the comical… it was unlikely that Smith would succeed, for it seemed he was trying, in blending in with the rather mundane and drab background of an overcast summer’s morning.

Of course, Smith attracted quite a few stares, the most dramatic of which was the stare of a postman taking a step backwards in order to take him all in. On walking past a sheet of opaque glass which was one of many cladding an office block, even Smith himself felt he had little choice but to gape in wonder at his own appearance.

But Helen didn’t seem to notice him. Smith was quite assiduous in keeping at least twenty or so feet behind her, ducking into a doorway or behind a corner, crouching down behind a bin in one instance, if she paused or if she seemed to be about to veer off course. When Helen occupied herself with what one particular shop window had to display, Smith made a tactical move, darting across the street, where a row of saplings seemed to provide a more consistent source of cover for the surreptitious variety of gentleman.

Standing behind the inadequate girth of one of these saplings, his white hair and sallow features half-hidden amongst the young leaves, but only half hidden, which directly implies that he was half exposed, half un-hidden or half out in the open, Smith took in not only his primary object, the innocently wandering Helen, but the whole picture. His keen eye would have carefully scanned everything which the view presented and then this raw data would have been quickly processed such that any potential problems would have been flagged up, every likely eventuality – what might happen if Helen should take it upon herself to lunge into one shop doorway and disappear – was dealt with in turn – what if Helen should meet a girl-friend of hers, a friend from school perhaps, Smith assumed that Helen must have been to school for some portion of her life and there made friends with a group of like minded and similarly attractive people, perhaps even to university – maybe she was quite the scholar and didn’t like to brag, maybe her time at university was a dark period in her life, that which she hoped to leave behind…

And so Smith was lost in such thoughts, his bigger-picture, imagining Helen sitting on the grass on campus chatting with some friends over a nicely chilled glass of Chardonnay, his mind always voiced a preference for nicely chilled glasses of Chardonnay, a drink which he himself found unpalatable, a drink which he nonetheless insisted on having at parties, whatever the sophistication of the crowd, so he wasn’t prepared for what happened, which wouldn’t ordinarily have been a surprise of any great amplitude, when Helen threw her arms open and greeted a young man with a substantial hug and a kiss. Her feet left the footpath.

That her feet left the footpath during this embrace was what shocked Smith and he dropped his guard and didn’t adjust his position when a breeze blew all of a sudden and the young leaves of the sapling momentarily revealed him to the object of his investigations (he was now almost wholly on show, exposed or unhidden), whose face had just been turned in his direction owing to the swing of the young man’s hips whilst he was hugging her, whose eyes had just then opened to take in a view of the world from the vantage point of a passionate embrace, and whose features registered first a kind of confusion and then the definite lines of a person who is both disturbed by what they see as well as angry, but the anger quickly takes over, as feeling disturbed is only a mild and vaguely felt emotion.

“Are you following me?” were the first words which were shouted across the pedestrianised street, and they were certainly not going to be the last.

“You’re following her?” were the words which first came out of the young man, loud and clear.

Smith should have asked: why would anyone be following you? But he didn’t. Or perhaps he could have asked: have you got something to hide? Or even: are you following me? – a reply which was likely to trump the accusation just fired at him.

Even though Smith was hesitant when it actually came to speaking now it was because his thought processes didn’t actually engage, and when he did respond it was by some kind of delayed reflex on being asked a pair of direct questions: “Yeah, sure I am.”

“How dare you?” Helen either stated or asked.

But Smith seemed called upon to say something regardless of whether he was asked a question or not. “I was just seeing where you were going. You know… where you went. I just wanted to know where you went.”

Helen adopted the look of someone who was horribly violated, but the nature of the violation wasn’t clear.

“You know him,” the increasingly disgruntled young man asked. “You know her?” he asked once he registered that Helen was beyond answering questions which originated from him at that point, but he could always come across as threatening and masculine towards Smith, a role which he was to play with great aplomb, though he could be accused of over-acting just a little (even of ruining the scene) when he pushed Smith a little too hard against the large window of a charity shop, with rather predictable consequences, if this was a scene on a supposedly funny television programme, but which turned out to be a surprise to everybody now witnessing the scene, who all were in agreement after the show, on the lack of pliability and strength displayed by that pane of glass as well on the lack of foresight exhibited by the actors, particularly the irate man who was doing the pushing.

“I didn’t know it was a secret.” was the only grammatical sentence that could be extracted from Smith, as Helen and her gentleman friend picked glass out of his hair and clothes as they waited for the police to come to restore order and to solve the mystery.

Smith was a little more forthcoming to the police and gave his prime motive as “idle curiosity”, though it had to be said that one had to take into consideration his overactive imagination, from which he had suffered since he was a child.

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