…someone who walks when everyone else drives, runs, races, hops, skips or jumps
Things happen, things happen to Oscar, in Oscar’s life – things happen all the time. But they’re not the stuff of literary fiction. Washing your clothes, the washing machine breaks, foam and bubbles gush out all over the floor, having to use the laundrette which is twenty-five minutes walk down the road, carrying a rubbish bag full of laundry along the main road, being mistaken for a homeless man by the newsagent’s daughter, being talked at by various malcontents, misanthropes and mentally deranged people who have taken up residence in the laundrette – it’s hardly Crime and Punishment, is it? Not that Oscar was considering murdering someone so that he would have something to write about.
But that was only half of the problem. The other half of the problem was entirely of Oscar’s own making (assuming that it wasn’t entirely Oscar’s fault that nothing literary ever happened to him). None of all this – this unliterary, vacuous, barely ticking over, random-thrown-togetherness, waking-up-till-falling-asleep existence – necessarily fitted with the random words which his finger randomly landed on when the dictionary was randomly opened on any of its two-thousand, four hundred and seventy-six alphabetised pages. This problem occasioned cheating – what was the likelihood of Oscar randomly selecting the words “nemesis”, “hubris” and “catharsis” one after the other, out of one-hundred and fifty-one thousand three-hundred and forty-six entries? The chances were nil or as close to nil to be effective-nil – a quantity so small as to raise the question what need do we have for nil, zero or naught, when effective-nil, effective-zero or effective-naught were just as good, effectively. But the chances were even less for Oscar randomly selecting a word which would suited what he had to write about – if by some chance he had something worth while writing about, that is, if something happened in his life which could be considered, in a certain light, from a particular angle, with just enough spin, to be vaguely literary, to be worthy of comment, to not mock the very words used to narrate its happening.
Surely being stalked by a store detective, in a bookshop, would be worthy of at least a chapter, certainly a paragraph, in most works of literary fiction. Not that there weren’t problems surrounding the putting down on paper of such an incident – what was the tone of the piece to be, where should it begin and end, should it begin in the middle of the action, should the store detective be a faceless actor or should he be coloured in, should his overgrown moustache be mentioned, should it be a feature of the piece, could it be a symbol for his surreptitious activities, what was the significance of the fact that the setting was a bookshop, and how could it be clearly established that Oscar was not, nor had he the least intention of, stealing books (he was just spending the whole of the day reading the book in a quiet corner of the shop)?
But to get landed with the word “pedestrian” raised a whole other set of problems.
Of course, it could be acknowledged that relative to everyone else in the book store, Oscar was walking at a very slow pace, in that he wasn’t walking, hadn’t walked, hadn’t moved for some time, being on the third chapter of a book whose story was set on a Greek island beset by modern day pirates.
The idea of how Oscar’s life compared to the lives of the other customers in terms of how pedestrian and prosaic they were, could be explored. But how was Oscar to arrive at any appreciation of how mundane, dull and unromantic everyone else’s life was. And besides, it was Oscar’s ingrained tendency to assume lives of mediocrity for those around him, those walking past him on the street, close acquaintances or famous people, so justifying this tendency in any way, taking any particular example of any particular stranger standing in the cookery or biography section of the store, never really appealed to him. And besides, the other people in the bookstore who all walked around as though they were late for an appointment and had only four and a half minutes to buy a particular book they really must buy – what a pack of completely mediocre bastards.
So amongst this banal and ordinary smattering of other people, Oscar stood, leaning against the side of the gay and lesbian shelf, absorbed in the plight of an old woman whose son had decided to join the pirates rather than suffer their wrath – quite a plight. When the old woman went on for a little too long about how sad and pitiful her plight was, Oscar discarded the book on a pile of special offers and began to saunter between the shelves of fiction looking for something else to strike his fancy when he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that he was in fact being followed.
Being followed, even in a bookstore, is the very opposite of pedestrian – it is high excitement, it is thriller, suspense and high-romance. And whereas it might not be poetic – the detective was closing in on me, I was trapped, there was no way out – it certainly wasn’t prosaic.
Although the detective did have the air of mediocrity about him – a dun coloured blazer and greying hair, an overgrown moustache, a plain face, dull eyes, a red and swollen nose, sagging cheeks, a bulging stomach and grey slacks which were just a little too tight and a little too short thereby revealing navy and maroon stripped socks – he did have to blend in; to that end he was reading, or pretending to read, the current bestseller.
And the manner in which Oscar reacted certainly wasn’t prosaic. Picking up a large hardcover book just before the detective’s line of sight was blocked and throwing it down just before the line of sight was restored, Oscar was hoping to give the detective the impression that he was on to a live one – his plastic bag surely a mine of incriminating evidence. Oscar’s thought process at this point – difficult to pin down precisely – certainly did lack the necessary banality and ordinariness for this supposedly pedestrian entry.
As did the chase which ensued: vigorous certainly – by no means at a walking pace. Three piles of special offers were knocked over before Oscar got to the foot of the stairs – his ascent of which was distinguished by its speed and agility. Despite his relative advantages of youth and his complete absence of responsibility, Oscar still didn’t want to be seen as the panicking, running, hurtling shoplifter. That he wasn’t, was amusing enough, when contrasted with the belief of his out of breath pursuer. But when he was to be caught, walking calmly through the exit, Oscar wanted to able to act completely surprised by the whole affair, before becoming loud, angry and offended.
It wasn’t often that Oscar could be legitimately offended by the actions of another person. Though he was offended by the actions of others on a daily basis, he would begrudgingly acknowledge after a lengthy and drawn out discussion that his taking offence wasn’t wholly legitimate – people couldn’t be blamed for their stupidity, their lack of perspective nor the shape of their heads. But now that he was nurturing a legitimate cause for deep offence – being wrongly accused – the excitement got to Oscar and he lost his concentration; running twice around the Science Fiction section he inadvertently ran into the path of his pedestrian pursuer.
The smile which curled beneath the detective’s overgrown moustache was worthy of more mediocre fiction and Oscar felt immediately deflated. What had been, for a moment, something beautiful and poetic, had become, for the acres and acres of time either side of the moment, something terribly mundane.