He was nonchalant about his abilities, background and history. “Done a bit,” was all he said, but when he looked you in the eye his gaze was full of knowledge wrapped in history. “Life’s not personal,” he said to me, “It just feels like it is but it ain’t.”
He seemed to live always in the present bringing life to the tired and making the agèd smile: children laughed in his company but that was it. How and where he came from was not discussed and he apparently lived without agenda.
He knew plants; could quote their Latin names and discuss their history. He might point out a bloom or leaf and dwell upon its significance but more as an aside than as a lecture. He had sat on beaches the world over, and watched the tide come in: seen the sun rise over a thousand landscapes and wildlife ease through unmapped rituals. All this I got from conversations but in no particular order and he always seemed to talk without urgency: he was not interested in age or chronology but just experiencing.
He was a carpenter by trade and clearly experienced but with regard to his history but he was neither secretive nor revealing. When his contract was over he would be walking, job done, out of your life: a prophet without a following. “Nice to have met you” was his goodbye: the world was his neighbour but he lived without intimacy He was not reckless, but seemed uninterested in safeguarding his personal circumstances.
I worked with him for a short while: shared a smoke after our sandwiches and nodded over the music we both loved. “I do not dance”, he said, “but I know how to listen,” and he did: music clearly transported him to some secret garden from which he always returned refreshed. I asked him if he had been in the army and yes he had. “I was a soldier way back when: you do things because there is no choice,because you have to.”
That was all he said, though I sensed a shadow pass through him. Naturally he was the subject of gossip but he neither confirmed nor denied any intrusive questions: he regarded speculation of that sort as unnecessary. “You’re not lending me money, and I’m not dating your daughter so what’s to know” I heard him say to some lady whose flamboyant hat spoke of a disciplined and reflective approach to life.
Home was a camper van: neat and orderly. He parked it in the yard of the plot we worked on. “Don’t you ever want for roots I asked him. “I like a change of view” he replied. That seemed to be the last of it. He had stepped aside from ambition. He used the fruits of his competence for petrol and food. His clothes were always clean but ‘how’ remained a mystery. I never saw or heard him speak of any tending regarding himself.
At the end of the job I asked him, “Have you anywhere to go?” and he replied “Anywhere I want.”
He didn’t do specifics.