Friday 1st September
The darkness of night is my comforter, a cloak I wrap around me, a winding sheet, a cowl, a shawl, a balaclava, a hood to hide my eyes, a shield against the harshness of day, a shroud of blackest black, a place to see and not be seen, a sanctuary – my very own cold and damp and stark-bare prison cell. In short….it is the place I feel happiest, where I am truly at home. Contentment seeps into my bones as the sun sinks down. When the last faint streaks of red or gold or purple fade from the sky and inky indigo descends like a heavy felt curtain and the trees become vague hulks, branches witches’ fingers and as more and more light seeps out of the sky all is black, delicious darkness, bleak blank sweet night. The darkness of night shepherds me in to its sheltering harbour, my place of refuge from the turmoil of existence. Inside this web of darkness, I can finally relax and become one, surrounded and finally absorbed into the very black soul of darkest night.
I like to walk in the darkness. I drive my car far out into the countryside, off the motorways’ yellow sodium glare, on to side roads and down unlit country lanes, or better still a farm track, the car bumping and swinging me from side to side as together we ride the ruts. I park up and douse my lights, the engine begins to cool. I sit for a while and think. I contemplate my existence; my chosen, but lonely life. My shunning of all friendships, all connections. I had children once, but they are long grown, vanished into the world – where they belong. They are no longer a part of me – I want, and make no contact. I have moved many times, houses, flats, a cottage once, and now a tiny bedsit in the darkest loneliest place I could find – London. Here, it might as well be darkness all day long. Nobody notices me, I am practically invisible. Not that I go out much, I like to stay safe, nested inside my four small walls. Even my neighbours ignore me. The man at the corner shop shows no recognition as I buy my cigarettes and bread and milk.
The engine is cold now. I reach into my pocket and seek the comfort of the little square box. Cellophane removed, I flip the lid and slide out a cigarette. My thumb rolls over the wheel and the lighter’s flame momentarily illuminates the car’s bland interior. I draw in quickly, and as soon as the tip glows red I snuff the light and am back alone with my old friend – darkness. I open the car door silently, fearful of waking anyone, or alerting them to my presence. I leave the comfort of the car and walk up the rest of the farm track. I haven’t been here before. I always try to choose a different place, a new location. Each night a strange road, a diverging track, an original adventure. And believe me, these nightly journeys are my adventures, the only ones I have. They are what I live for, they are my only interest in life. I simply crave the excitement, the thrill, the adrenalin rush – as nightly I fulfil my desires.
It is dark, blacker than black. No moon at all tonight – and cloudy, so not even the faintest glimmer of starlight. My feet are my only guide. I can feel the hard track beneath my feet. But slowly, and I have discovered this fact, even in the darkest of nights, moonless and overcast, after a few minutes you begin to see something. It may just be the merest imagining of a horizon, the suggestion of trees, a whisper of a hint of a building. Your eyes adjust to even this almost total lack of light. And then, suddenly, as if by magic – real light. The faint orangey-yellow glow of human habitation.
A farmhouse, I suspect. Just one light on downstairs and the curtains drawn, but enough light seeps through the weave of the drapes to show me the outline of a window. I kneel down and remove my shoes, carefully tie the laces together and hang them round my neck. The rough ground and stones bite through my thin socks but these pricks of pain, this hobbling of my old feet are part of the thrill. Going through real discomfort makes the whole thing somehow worthwhile. Almost on tip-toe I gently place one socked foot in front of the other. I am most wary of dogs. Farmers almost all have dogs – and they have very acute hearing, so I slowly transfer my weight from one foot to another and breathe shallow, quick, but silent breaths. I must be fifty yards away but still I am cautious. I stop and wait and watch and listen. I am very good at watching. I have learnt to watch. Watching is my thing. I like to observe, to see people and not be seen. And that is why I love the darkness, it gives me cover. It is a cloak for my activities, a shield for what I am about to do.
I wait and wait, and when I am sure that the dogs are sleeping I slowly creep to the window. I crouch beneath the sill and breathe in the smells, the minute sounds, the essence of human life. The TV, with its monotonous chorus of voices, the newsreader reciting the day’s deaths, the political stories that everyone will instantly forget, the earthquakes and bombs in far-off lands. I do not own a television. I have no desire to be connected in any way to the world, real or imagined. Above the televisual hum I hear the occasional murmur as someone gets up and suggests a cup of tea. Who in my life ever makes me a cup of tea? Who in my life have I to make tea for? So, this is what it is like to be a person, to be normal. The gentle hand on the shoulder, the smile as the tea is handed over or received.
No-one touches me. Ever. I cut my own hair, what little of it is left, and I shun Doctors above all others. I cannot abide the thought of hands upon my body. There was a time when I was loved. Or women said they did – for money, or security, or simply to re-assure themselves…maybe in the hope of some reciprocation. But love like everything else is gone from me now. I couldn’t bear to be loved – to have that cloying net of affection draped over my shoulders again, it makes me shudder.
But still I listen at the window. I crouch in the cold and the rain and the mud and wait as I hear these ordinary and unpretentious people heave themselves out of the armchair’s embrace, switch the lights and tv off and wend their way to bed. Still I wait and listen, the occasional bang of a door, or a tap being turned on, the water making the old pipes clang, the groan of the springs and the murmured night-nights. I crouch and wait for maybe an hour until I am sure they are sound asleep, then I fumble my way back to my car.
You may think that was boring, but you weren’t there, crouching and listening to real lives, feeling the warmth ordinary people have for each other. And for me, to be no part of all that, the watcher, the listener, the exiled outsider, the silent observer – you have no idea how exciting that is.
I finally get back to the car. I light another cigarette, slip my shoes back on and think about what I have done. Even though they were totally unaware of my being so close that I could almost reach out and touch them – I was invading their lives, I was intruding on their privacy, I was sharing the un-shareable closeness of their lives. And sometimes I have even been able to see through the cracks in the curtains, watching as they go about their mundane existence. Ah…..to see and remain unseen, to know that they cannot possibly know I am there.
Oh, I am no pervert, please don’t think that of me. Sexual desire died in me log ago. Once, a woman started to undress right in my line of vision. I was shocked, I got up and ran from the house, dogs barking, husband shouting “Who’s there?”. I ran barefoot, slipping and slithering on the muddy ground. I could hear the dogs yelping behind me, almost feel their rancid breath on the back of my neck. I nearly missed the car in my blind panic, terrified of being caught; I revved the engine and drove like a madman all the way home.
I was scared most of all, of being misunderstood. For none of you can possibly understand what it is to be the outsider, the stranger in this strange land, the un-welcome guest who is never invited in from the cold.
And only the night can share my feelings, the cold and dark may possibly begin to understand, the wind howling in the tree-tops may only just come close to knowing how I feel.
And so, I wait patiently in my bedsit, waiting for the evening light to fail, for the sun to disappear, for the moon to slip behind the clouds, waiting once again for the darkness, the darkness of night.