…fellow feeling in both directions
Needless to say, but it will be said, it has to be said, here it is being said: Henry Bridgewater was not a lover of his fellow man… it has been said.
Standing at the window in the staffroom, looking out onto the green, Henry would smile on seeing his fellow man in an unfortunate situation, indeed, here he is now, smiling, actually smiling, the smile can be seen from the other side of the room (it is reflected in the glass of the window), so he’s not smiling inside, smiling slightly nor smiling wistfully, but fully smiling, the nearest thing to laughing, his teeth actually showing, his lips stretching over the smugness consequent of seeing his fellow man in an unfortunate situation, Bill Simmons, who was himself smiling, almost laughing, sitting on a bench, leaning back on the bench, so almost lying on the bench, practically lying on the bench, talking with his head close to the head, his lips almost brushing her ear, her perched on the edge of the seat, her smiling, her nodding her head, her laughing, a sixth form girl sitting next to him laughing, and Merryweather standing there staring at them both. This was certainly a situation in which Henry would have to accept a complete lack of fellow feeling with his fellow man.
But of course there were others. But of course. Of course. Others?
How about the full range of humanity sitting around the staffroom muttering nothing to each other again and again…like some kind of mantra. Was it a mantra? Or were they just randomly repeating inane comments? Wasn’t that what a mantra was? But it wasn’t giving them any kind of metaphysical gratification… is there such a thing as metaphysical gratification? But why else have a mantra?
With such questions Henry was to be distracted for a moment or two, but when he regained his awareness of the here and now and his place in it, he was again cheered up by the precarious position Bill Simmons, union man, was in. The sixth form girl was by now giggling in response to Bill’s latest witty remark, her long dark hair tickling his cheek, her hand resting on the seat just behind his back and Merryweather was huffing and puffing at a fierce rate on the other side of the green, pretending to listen to some person talking about some thing. From her perspective this must have looked all very inappropriate. She would be able to make out their laughing faces, probably see the mirth on their faces, the way their eyes met over each terribly funny remark, the manner in which her hair softly touched his face, his hands in his pockets, his whole body laid back, her arm finding support behind his back, perhaps on his shoulder, and above them to the right, or to her left, the beaming face of Henry himself…
Yes, he too appeared in this scene, an appearance which was to straight away dent his enjoyment of it. For a moment he saw his smiling face, framed by the window, held a couple of feet to the left of the offending couple, his enjoyment clearly evident, his lack of fellow feeling clear for all to see, his shame, his utter shame…
The face which replaced the shamelessly beaming face of Henry was a far more dignified face. It was the face of fear, touched by surprise, surprised by his own discovery of himself, the face of shame, the face of a man caught out, proven to be made of rather shoddy material, a face in which no trace of a smile, no enjoyment, malicious or otherwise, was evident. It was a face, if you didn’t know any better, and Henry didn’t, of quiet dignity. As an experiment, Henry adopted a faint look of disapproval. He liked what he saw. He allowed this faint look to become less faint, more evident, a look which defined his view of the world. It was at once proud and sneering. Relaxing his eyes a little he managed to soften the look and appear more conceited than sneering… it was a look he approved of, a look he could just make out in the glass of the window as the light shifted owing to a break in the clouds.
And it was as though this break in the clouds announced something in the world outside of the head and personal space of Henry… there could be seen, at first vague shapes disturbing his reflection, then dark bodies passing across and obscuring the reflection of a proud and haughty faced Henry, dark shapes which took on more definition as his eyes focused on the world beyond his reflection, the shape of Bill Simmons and the sixth form girl standing to attention, and the rotund and generous shape of Mrs Merryweather being very generous with her words and proximity, very liberal with her volume and tone, very angular with her movements, her hands cutting into the air, he shoulders jumping up and down, her jaw falling open and snapping shut, her head twisting and turning in jerky movements, nodding in time to some discordant melody.
Just as the words of Merryweather were becoming audible to him, one word must have reached the perfect pitch to resonate with the glass in the window frame, which framed Henry’s haughty and proud look, which shattered for a moment the world outside, rendering it opaque, and when the vibrations settled, what was revealed to Henry through the glass was his own reflection, jutting out over the right shoulder of Merryweather and levitating between the heads of Bill Simmons and the sixth form girl, one of whom was being lambasted on the state of their uniform.
Bill Simmons’s face, his round glasses, his neatly trimmed beard, at once revealed a man defeated, caught out, or some such thing. It is difficult to deduce what one face meant as opposed to any another. The sixth form girl’s face was hidden by her dark hair which the breeze had plastered across her face. Merryweather’s face was obscured by the fact that it was turned the other way. But in amongst all these half images and obscured meanings was a revelation. The revelation was the face of Henry, the proud and conceited face of Henry, the face as others saw it, how he appeared to the world, how he was seen. There he was in the middle of this scene looking almost regal, certainly above all of this tittle-tattle and bickering and what not. There his image floated, just a little above everything else, just about looking down, not quite sneering, perhaps a little patronising, certainly calm and sober, definitely reserved, most definitely dignified, with just a little, a touch, a spark, a faint gloss of…
That is who I am, Henry said to himself. That is who others see before them. That is the person who could walk out of a room and not hear a word, a titter, a sound… they would simply be without his presence.