Now working as a kitchen porter and being bullied by his boss, an unloved harridan, herself at the wrong end of an unhappy marriage, and easing her sense of bitterness by taking out her life on others, he knew that to be long-suffering was his last resource if the rent was to be paid.
In former times, after university, when life seemed to offer him limitless choices, he had been careless of strategy and other tedious practicalities. He was more interested, always had been, in noting how buds formed so beautifully in early spring or dwelling on an act of kindness involving helping someone across the road or anything which did not incorporate a plan for his personal advancement, protection or forging a career: whatever that mysterious word might mean.
Talented without a doubt, yet his whole life had involved a debate within himself on the nature of consciousness, and he used his observations always and only to enrich that conversation. Girls had come and gone and each one had concluded soundlessly that he had no moving parts as far as ordinary life was concerned. In earlier times he had seemed impervious to changing circumstances till, after some decades, he found himself trapped in drudgery and living in cellars among the forgotten, and far from those circles rich in love and celebration.
“What do you want?” a friend had asked some decades before and, as always, he had stared into space before finally saying “Nothing,” which was fine and noble in its way but of no use to him or anyone else who thought to build a life with him. Now he smiled at his naiveté, or was it deluded arrogance, which presumed the gods would protect him with their magic and keep him from harm by others or himself.
Walking along Oxford Street in central London his attention had been caught by a huddle of people and some booms and microphones indicating a film or modelling shoot: on impulse he wandered over to see what was going on. As luck would have it, the crowd parted briefly enabling him to stand quite near the front and see an actress deep in conversation with a man: he recognised her immediately.
Sandra Cartwright had briefly been his date many years ago while still at university; a noted beauty and someone with the air of a promising future about her even then. “You see things others miss” she’d said to him, and smiled at him as one does if you feel truly recognised. He’d taken her out on his birthday during their second year, and shared his sense of celebration with her, as yet undimmed by facts. They’d kissed and enjoyed a brief intimacy but soon her natural canniness became evident and she gently removed herself from his embrace and then his life.
In later years as fame rewarded her carefully managed talents, he had followed her career in the newspapers, and had seen her in the company of acting royalty celebrating her sense of having “Arrived.” Now here she was, lost in her work and filming a scene, no doubt, to add to her successes. As if by instinct, feeling his gaze on her back she turned around to look and her eyes widened in surprise because she recognised him immediately. He raised an arm in friendly greeting and then walked on.
To impose himself on her at this late stage, given his circumstances, would be less than fair, he understood, and understanding was all he had to offer.