…that which is everywhere, cannot be escaped, is useless to struggle against and will be around every corner     

Smith had enlisted the help of Oscar for the day, a day on which he had to see a man about something. Oscar suppressed the mild sensation of curiosity he felt regarding Smith’s “man” and this “something”. Oscar told himself that he would eventually meet this “man” and become familiar with this “something” before the day was out and that he should belay his disappointment until that point rather than ruin his whole day with the certain knowledge that what he was doing was completely pointless.

“Those black frames make you look too severe,” Smith said to Oscar, by way of starting a conversation, as they walked through the derelict land on the banks of the canal.

“I want to look too severe,” Oscar replied after a moment’s thought. After another such moment he added that he wished to “discourage other people approaching him.”

“What’s wrong with other people?”

Oscar kicked a pebble into the canal by way of reply.

“You know, you’ve got far too much of the negative about you.” Smith shook his white head and wrinkled his sallow brow. “You’re too full of opposition. Too full of “no”.”

“Too full of “no”?”

“Yeah, that’s right. What have you got against the world anyway?”

Oscar shrugged his shoulders and tried to occupy his mind with the search for another pebble which he could kick into the canal. He wasn’t in the mood for one of Smith’s philosophical lectures.

“You’ve got to face them. You can’t blink them away.”

Them? Oscar almost asked. But right then he saw a pebble teetering on the edge of the canal towpath and lunged at it as though it was the answer to all his prayers.

“You can’t look around you, but you see one. You open your eyes and they’re there. They’re everywhere.” Smith pointed about him in a random fashion in order to lend his words further significance, or some significance.

Who? Oscar almost asked, but he restrained himself, reminding himself that Smith would be just talking about nothing as usual.

“And you can’t do nothing without them. You can’t be rich and you can’t be poor without them. Because who are you richer than? Or poorer than? You certainly can’t be famous without them – who would there be to know about you? To hang posters on their wall about you? To chase after you down the street? To send you letters? To stalk you? To talk about you? Write books about you?”

Who the hell is he talking about? Oscar had to know, he had to ask, he had to surrender to this pathetic sense of idle curiosity. If only he had something worthy occupying his own mind. But he restrained himself yet again, which is unusual for someone with little or no self-restraint. Oscar gritted his teeth, he shut his eyes, he pressed his lips together and he even stopped breathing in order to suppress his impulse to shout out “who?” because he knew who this “who” would be, it would be a nobody, a no-who, a nothing – because that’s what Smith was talking about, was always talking about – how can you talk and talk about nothing? How can you have so much to say?

“And who are you going to talk to? Tell about what a great guy you are? And who’s going to read your books? Who’s going to congratulate you? Praise your work? Tell their friends about it? Talk to them about it? Read it again and again? Wait for your next book? Queue up for a signed copy? Attempt to speak to you?” Smith’s arms flailed about him in vague and erratic gestures. “Who will hope to say something clever to you? Spend six weeks working out, carefully thinking out, just the words to attract your attention? Make you smile? Make you think? Make you ask – what is your name? Perhaps we could meet up for coffee later? Discuss your ideas in more depth?”

So he’s talking about readers, Oscar told himself. Is he talking about readers? Oscar asked himself… who’s going to read my books? What is this obsession with other people? Why is Smith so hung up on other people, absolute strangers, barely acquaintances, distant family members, potential or actual customers, readers of any word anyone else writes, people walking past on the street, the millions of people in other countries, the neighbours, the community, the person driving the bus, the person about to jump to their death from the roof of a two storey building, people in books, pictures of people, dead people, living people, ancestors and descendants, the man on the radio, the woman driving the car in front of him, the hundreds of people living in the buildings rising up all around him, the thousands of people secreted away in offices, the millions upon millions connected to headsets on hectares of office floors, the homeless man who lives in the bank vestibule?

“They’re everywhere. And you’re nothing without them. Nothing!”

Smith and Oscar had by now entered the more civilised paved streets of the city and so would be obliged to obey the laws of civilisation – the primary one being keep yourself to yourself.

But Smith seemed unaware of such a directive, and continued to lambaste Oscar despite the steadily increasing numbers of people walking past, practically rubbing shoulders with them, bumping into them, turning around to look at them, passing them odd glances, irritable glances, walking towards them and just in time swerving out of the way of them, pushing past them, walking up to them, walking alongside them, one of them smiling at them, an old man cursing at them, a man on a bicycle clipping Oscar’s shoulder…

“My god!” Oscar cried out, seemingly in reply to Smith’s continuing diatribe which he had continued to boil and bubble over and which had continued to spit out at him and everyone else.

But Oscar had long since stopped listening to the words which were firing out of smith’s mouth at him. This became apparent at his next statement.

“They’re everywhere.”

This non sequitur stopped Smith in mid flow half way between the words “irresistible” and “inevitable”, delicately balanced on an almost elided “and”. Smith had to stop and he held Oscar’s shoulder to stop him too, disregarding the flow of people of which they were a part, disregarding the curses and bumps and nudges.

“Who?” Smith asked, his face contorted by a quizzical look.

“Will you get off me!” Oscar demanded. “We’re blocking the way. People are trying to get past – there are other people in the world you know.”

“Exactly!” Smith replied, nudging Oscar on, smiling, glad that he had finally got through to him.


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