He was nonchalant about his abilities and discrete about his history. “We get by,” or “Done a bit” was all he said but when he looked at you his eyes had knowledge. “The thing about life is”, he said to me, “It’s not personal, It just feels like it is but it ain’t. We’re just the wire the current runs through”. He seemed to shine in the moment, bringing life to the tired and rudderless, making the agèd smile and the children laugh but that was it. How and where he came from was shrouded in mystery: he had no personal agenda.
He knew plants; could use their Latin names and talk their history: he might even point out a bloom or leaf and dwell upon its life 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 settling to its rest and wildlife easing through their unmapped rituals. All this I got from conversations but in no order: he was not interested in age or chronology, just in the experience time afforded him.
He had a reputation for competence as a carpenter and worked on recommendation but contract work only. Nothing permanent. When on a job his sandwiches always seemed to be the same. “Variety”, he said if questioned “is not a luxury enjoyed by many species”
You might ask him about his history, about children or look for scars from past experience but he was neither secretive nor revealing. When it was over he would be walking, job done, out of your life: a prophet without a fixed address. “Nice to have met you” was always his final compliment. The world was his neighbour but lived in without intimacy. He was not reckless, but seemed carefree of his personal circumstances.
I worked with him for a short while; shared a smoke after our sandwiches and nodded over music we both loved. “I do not dance”, he said, “but I know how to listen,” and he did. Music could transport him for a while to some secret garden from which he returned refreshed. His tastes were eclectic. I asked him if he had been in the army and yes he had. “I was a soldier. You do things because there is no choice, because you have to:” that was all he said, but the shadow lingered for some time in the room. Of course he was the subject of gossip and speculation 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 this 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 to make 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, using 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?”
“Anywhere I want” he replied. He didn’t do specifics.