I’d entered the winner’s circle: wealth, travel and: ( check,check,check. ) women: mine and any one else’s I could charm. I could walk into any restaurant and they would say, “On us sir” and I would nod, because modesty is part of the package. I was a known speaker, whose financial visions had been aired on television. I had children by more than two women, all of them cherished and nurtured because that’s what civilised people do. My money was my own to spend, but my children could inherit my insights to light their future while trusting in their own abilities.
All, well and good: pat on the back for the big man, and mine’s a large one. Oh yes, I could ” Hang out” with the crowd and sniff a line of something: drink without regard to safety and spread the word that life’s a party once you find the invitation. Sometimes I might go “missing after action” and wander the streets recalling fragments of my childhood.
I am the product of Manchester parents, a cleaner and a decorator, later divorced. My childhood was scrapped together in those fleeting moments when my father was sober enough to remember he had a home, and my mother was not accepting her compensations from passing strangers. Me and my older sister used to sit up in the attic pretending we had parents, and that somewhere just out of sight, there really was a field of green.
My sister is my only friend: my constancy. She lives a quiet life married to a man of routine and then there is me. I have been that watchful, wild man, who knows more than he should and takes more than is his, because we are all bandits are we not: some braver than others? I walk through a landscape of my own making and leave others to talk of world peace and comfort themselves with new furnishings, until now that is.
Out late at night, and slightly drunk, I met a lady sitting on a step, and of similar mind to mine, staring up at what London street lights allow us to enjoy of the night sky. She looked at me, told me her name was Emma and then her face filled with recognition. “Your that famous fucker” she said and I nodded as modestly as drunks can do. Just as I was about to accept her admiration she followed up with “You’re full of shit, and the sad thing is you know it.”
Truth is seldom comfortable and often arrives unexpectedly so I was silent and then I asked her “What her grief was?” and she introduced me to her life. She had been a photographer in Afghanistan, recording the pain and trauma of a besieged population. She had travelled across the Arctic, and sat in deserts in India swapping languages. ” And as for you, ” she said, ” You made money and used it to avoid criticism: the coward’s victory. Do something better with yourself!” I offered to help her, of course, because that’s what patrons do, but she just laughed it off and walked away into the night. Brave and independent, she was a woman who travelled through life without the aid of maps.
The light does not shine on every diamond. Some jewels are wrapped in modesty and never worn for display, but in her anger, born of weariness and contempt, she brought me to a life of context: in her I found another sister.