alas

pity, grief, distress, concern, disquiet, misery, unhappiness and/or disappointment being given voice to

 

 

 

“This is Barry,” Smith said. “You’ll be seeing a lot of him from here on in.”

 

Barry smiled up at Oscar.

 

But Oscar could only return a look of confusion. “From here on in to what?”

 

Oscar did try to vary how he looked on the world, and he really did try to avoid this particular look of confusion, because he wasn’t confused. Not at all.

 

“Please excuse this look of confusion – it’s not that I’m at all confused by this Barry person.” Oscar finally smiled down at him. “How are things Barry?”

 

Barry looked to Smith before he replied. On receiving a nod of assent, he mumbled something about being alright.

 

“He prefers the name Baz actually,” Smith said. He had adopted a tone which Oscar had heard before, a tone which made him wary of what Smith was saying, knowing that these were words which meant something to Smith, words with consequences hanging off them. This was the particular tone of voice, Oscar was sure, which preceded particularly fraught and momentous events.

 

But by now, owing to these reflections which absented him from the world in which Smith was putting forth, in which his voice was resonating, rising and falling, Oscar had lost his thread

 

“…because it’s more proletarian, isn’t it? Baz? Than Barry? Barry has a ring of… Well, a ring of something else. And Little Baz here is a proletarian, aren’t you Baz.”

 

The child beamed. “I am. I’m a proletarian.”

 

He must have been nine or ten years of age, maybe more if he had suffered malnutrition in his life, which was entirely possible. Because you just don’t know these days. Or any days in fact. You don’t know about anything, which didn’t mean you didn’t know anything. It’s just, well, you can’t discount anything – Baz here could have suffered from malnutrition in the past, or be suffering from it right now – it was a distinct possibility. Distinct, if no more probable than not.

 

“I’m the original noble proletarian,” Little Baz pronounced.

 

“Like the noble savage,” Smith said by way of an explanation.

 

Little Baz was all of a sudden on the brink of tears. His sniffling drew both Smith and Oscar’s gaze back down to his face.

 

“You said I wasn’t no savage,” he got out between rather weak sobs. “You said.”

 

“Indeed I did, Baz.” Smith looked genuinely pained. “Indeed I did. Terribly sorry to bring all this up again. It’ll not happen again. Because I have nothing but respect for my proletarian brothers. Let me assure you of that, Little Baz. Nothing but respect.”

 

“And for savages?” Oscar inquired.

 

Smith was quick to shake his head disapprovingly at Oscar, and then shape his lips into a few harsh words of warning, words that he had rather little Baz not hear, and words which, consequently, no one would hear.

 

But Oscar didn’t feel obliged to watch what he said as far as this Little Baz was concerned; he would speak as he chose within his hearing, within the hearing of a little child of no consequence. But… He looked from Little Baz to Smith and back again, just to be sure, trying to fit everything together, just in case, before he could say something about it. Because something had to be said. He began to say one thing and then another, but didn’t quite know what to say. What was this, this… what had he here before him? What strange convolution of the world had he found himself wound into such that proletarian little boys suffering from malnutrition were being hoisted upon his consciousness?

 

“We are embarking…” Smith was trying to say something to preclude the possibility of Oscar saying anything, what would inevitably be the wrong thing. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re embarking on a journey, a programme of study… Yet, it’s also an investigation, or maybe more of an experiment…

 

“What?”

 

“Are you a proletarian?” Little Baz had suddenly acquired the look of some innocent who might feature in a knitwear catalogue.

 

Oscar didn’t think he could say that he was.

 

“Is this man not a proletarian?”

 

The boy’s tone of voice had now risen into a deeply irritating childish whine. He might have been about to cry. At least, he was succeeding in making Oscar feel that he had done something wrong, something to incur the boy’s displeasure, such as stealing candy from him or tripping him up, or some such reprehensible act.

 

“Focus Little Baz. Focus.” Smith got down on his haunches to the child’s level. “Tell yourself your story Little Baz. Remember your story.”

 

And the boy was transfixed. A preternatural calm over came him, a state in which his gaze seemed to catch out some figure in the near distance, something which wasn’t there – Oscar turned to look just to make sure – and became entranced by that figure and its rhythmic movements through the ether.

 

“What have you done to this child?” Oscar wasn’t particularly worried. Was this now a genuine confusion that he felt?

 

“This kid’s got a story.” Smith smiled down on his little friend. “It just needed pointing out to him, and I was on hand.”

 

“Of course. I understand now.”

 

“It was yesterday morning, was that a Tuesday? I think it was a Tuesday. At Stretford Mall. Beneath the brass sculpture of the humming bird. There he was. He was stood amongst a throng. He was lost. He was no one. But what happened next marked him out and began a story that needed to be told.”

 

“I’ve not been to Stretford Mall for ages.”

 

“There was, for some reason, though I don’t believe in fate, nor the possibility of any kind of divine intervention…” Smith cast a nervous glance over his shoulder before he could continue. “…there was an unnatural calm, a strange quiet which had descended over the little world made up of the intersection of those two indoor avenues of shops. It was the quiet which struck me, as it must have done many of the others who had been there. And out of that quiet came the beginning of the story – an old man, a pensioner wheeling along one of those little trolley things that pensioners always wheel along. And then it happened – the poor man was rent asunder. Such that a moment later he was splayed across the ground, lying on his back, a look of horror marking his features. And his tins of beans – tins of beans Oscar – can you credit that. Oh, those tins of beans. If ever there was a better symbol for the working, striving, honest human being… tin upon tin of economy beans in tomato sauce rolling along that dirty floor.”

 

“Economy beans.”

 

“Now – this was the moment. Because there comes a time, not a time that’s orchestrated by the gods, or assigned by fate, but it comes, if we wait long enough it comes, and here it came to this group of scallywags standing on the benches beneath that brass humming bird sculpture. It was a moment to test them.”

 

The boy was in a daze, caught by the words that Smith was uttering, or still entranced by that non-existent figure a few yards away.

 

“Now some of us might refer to Greek Gods or Lord Jim or some such bourgeoisie learning…” Smith tutted derisively. “But this is knowledge as a barrier Oscar, a barrier rather than knowledge which enables our fellow men – but no, there’s no need for such literary references. Because there stood Little Baz, regardless of literary precursors, ignorant of any Icarus or Aphrodite, there he stood, stood tall, amongst his little friends, all bellowing in unison at this old man’s predicament, there he stood, and though he was no taller, measuring only some four feet as you can see, no taller than any of his friends, even probably smaller, there he stood, and he was standing tall. He was taller by a foot at that moment. He stood tall and he said: “Do not laugh!” Just like that. That’s what he said.”

 

“Do not laugh,” Little Baz now repeated, his eyes still unfocused, his head now swaying from side to side.

 

“That,” Smith concluded, “was the cry of a proletarian hero. That was the beginning of an inspiring story.”

 

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