BY: Robert Armstrong
He was so disfigured it was hard not to stare. One grubby knuckled-dustered glove stroked the other, checking its fit to the hand. Curious, I maneuvered myself closer to him, bent down and said something like, ‘Morning’ as we waited for the pedestrian lights. But he didn’t answer, just kept frowning, rubbing his hands with his ponderous movements which didn’t seem to be achieving anything much that could see. Maybe he didn’t hear me. I felt foolish and was coming to the conclusion that the might be mentally damaged as well as physically because of his non-response and his apparently pointless activity. His sinewy body, lean and muscular, looked clean except for the hands and wrists filthy from contact with the pavement. One would think that to maintain a head absolutely clear of hair it would require daily razoring, so someone must be looking after him. He wore a black backpack and I wondered what someone like that would carry in it. Not my business anyway and I resolved to walk on; remove myself from the throng of other surreptitious gawkers. At the next intersection, which was right down near the wharves, I waited, like everybody else for the walk sign when my left ankle received a tremendous blow. Aargh! Pain! Indescribable pain, right in the Achilles tendon! It nearly tipped me over on the pavement amongst the shoppers and commuters, which would have been an embarrassment. Reigning in my limbs from far and wide , I looked down behind me. Yes, there was the bald head and his backpack on his trolley board. I bent down t rub and soothe the smarting tendon still hot with pain. Somewhere in my consciousness I must have been aware of the sound of the blips and the mass migration of my fellow pedestrians across the intersection, but my primary focus was still with the pain. Although I felt the hot flush rising in my neck I can’t say that I has felt any anger at this point, merely shock and anguish.
By now there were only a few stragglers left around me and I realized I was going to be left here on my own with him unless I moved right then and crossed the road. As I made to move I felt another stab to my heel, worse this time, far worse, hot pain searing up my leg. The force of the blow tipped me over and I landed on my back on the road where it meets the gutter, my feet sticking out into the road , but at an angle to the left. I felt the something like tears welling at the corners of my eyes, but not from pain. I’m a full-grown man for god’s sake; but anger ripped through me now, hot red-room frustration that knew no reason, only the rules of self-preservation, and the wrath of domination. I could cripple this guy! But even as I thought it I knew it was wrong. Besides, a few witness’s legs still moved around me. But they were disappearing in a quieting pitter-patter as I squeezed my ankle trying to massage the pain away. I was on the roadway and the traffic was about to come. I had to get up, get away. As I rolled to my left side to get up, I saw skateboard man descending the ramp off the footpath towards me at speed, I imagine he wanted to make a last ditch attempt to bolt across the road. I don’t know what instinct caused me to do it, but as I got up I kicked a piece of broken bitumen or gravel with toe of my shoe; only a small fragment as big as say a toe, up into the path of his trolley and tried to make it look accidental. It was one of those times, like in football, when you know you’ve got no chance with the shot, the angle’s all wrong and you never can get these ones right, yet you give it a try and somehow you know this time it will work? And it does, beautifully. The little stone leapt, bounced once and lodged in his trolley caster, jamming it.
Please believe me when I say I am not the kind of person who would ever taunt or attack a disabled person; as if that person’s life isn’t already hard enough. Also I am not a particularly well-coordinated or sporty person, nor a vindictive person. I am reluctant to admit to any intention on my part, however I do believe it was there instinctual with the anger. The momentum of the trolley tipped him over and he rolled off like a squatting Buddha, and I caught a glimpse of his flapping undercarriage, protuberances which once were going to be legs. I heard the roar of engines as the lights changed, then the squeal of brakes as those cars close to us made their voiceless, impatient way around. Now he looked like a very unhappy smiley-face with arms, righting the trolley and cleverly walking on his hands to hover above it before nestling back into the padding. He seemed suddenly surrounded by supporting arms, patting soothing hands and cooing voices while I suffered the disdain and reproving isolation reserved for the guilty. The pain must have been dissipating by now because I remember being worried about my clothes; that little asshole probably wrecked my suit and I picked up my pen off the bitumen and stood up and bent down to brush my pants and sleeves, looking for damage. All the while throughout the debacle of roaring traffic, the hurrying legs, the bending bodies and soothing hands, he transfixed me with his yellowy green eyes never wavering or blinking. I understood that anything I did or said in this situation would be interpreted as a further crime to be added to the list already accumulated; the best I could do now was to slip away unseen, unidentified. I resolved not even to look at trolley man any more, still glowering at me through the legs. As soon as I was on my feet again I felt less conspicuous. Newcomers to the crowd would find it difficult to point me out. I heard the pedestrian crossing blips again and knew that was my chance to hobble away across the street as best I could, and that I needed to do it now! If I could just join the main surge of people crossing and find some anonymity with them I would be safer. But as I glanced back he lifted his arm pointing at me in wordless accusation, the crowd parting like the red sea to allow the path of prosecution to find the accused, me! I turned and ran, a gaunt grasshopper hobbling after the crossing crowd, a conspicuously late hanger-on, the blips long-gone and the rebuke of the illuminated red man obvious to everyone. I knew that at last I was about to disappear from view of the scene, and risked a last look back. I also knew this would be perceived as a guilty look by anyone watching but I couldn’t resist. To my horror, and to affirm my worst fears, the path of accusation was still clear and I could still see his eyes still glowering, as well as a few pale sympathizers turned my way, though at least no-one yet was breaking away in pursuit. I turned away, in full flight now, striding as fast as my long legs could go, passing other pedestrians, despite that awkward limp. I nipped in through the main door of my multinational employer, yes the kind that everyone seems to hate, and scuttled into one if the lifts that had disgorged its load. I stood with my back against the rear wall waiting with fellow workers, for the doors to close. I even reached through to hit the button again to hurry them up, and I noticed I had been puffing conspicuously. I felt uncomfortable in the sheen of sweat forming over my entire body. I clung to the rail that ran around the wall of the lift. Come on! Hurry up! Finally the doors began to rumble across. But they clanged and rocked to a stop.
My gaze, which had drifted to the soft ceiling tiles in polite aversion, rolled over back in baleful apprehension towards the opening. The tip of a golf umbrella protruded through the gap. I crouched a little, to hide behind the others. Also I thought I could use the grip I had on the handrail and lash out with my feet, kick the bastard in the face. After pausing for a couple of seconds, the doors pulled back. I readied myself, settling and reaffirming my grip on the rail, a pointless thing to do, thinking back on it. I have never been so relieved to see our CEO’s big ugly head poke through the opening. The usually fearsome, bull-necked ogre seemed like a benign old uncle today, grinning, mumbling pleasantries. I bowed my head in relief, praying again for the rumble of the closing doors.
Back at my desk on the ninth floor I was happier. I felt safe. Was I scared of some legless street miscreant? I couldn’t admit that, especially not now that I was safe. What’s he going to do? Bite me on the ankle? Yeah, well, bad example. My Achilles still hurt like a sheizer any time I hit it against a chair castor or the desk rail, or my other shoe. Hey, I couldn’t worry about it, my trading was hot! A.J. McAllister and Sons was doing very well and some nice little bonuses were coming my way. Time for a caffeine. And as luck would have it, Judy was already at the espresso. I’ve been here two months now. It’s the way I travel, try out different place; I just ask my multinational for a posting and they oblige. It suits me. I never seems to be able to save enough to travel, like on a tourist holiday, like most people. But this is great. I’m getting to know people here, trying a whole new lifestyle. Maybe, when a year is up, I’ll ask for another posting. Somewhere exotic; maybe Hong Kong?
Hey, Jeff. Make you one?
Nah. I’ll do it.
White and none isn’t it?
Yeah, okay. thanks. I like the way you make it.
Judy likes me, and I like her too, as a person. If only she was, well, a bit hotter, I would ask her out. But then, if she was, she probably wouldn’t be bothered with me. Anyway, there’s the company’s non-fraternization policy.
I sucked air across the top of my scalding coffee.
My gaze drifted down to the street. Typical Friday afternoon, bumper to bumper, people going crazy with a pocket full of pay and a bellyful of beer. Would I go up the coast for a surf tomorrow? Maybe, see what the others were doing. In the streaming corpuscles on the street below one blob caught my attention, stood out because it was squat and stationary, the stream parting to flow around it. My brow furrowed and my eyes strained.
Here you go.
Judy put a piece of cake on the window sill for me.
What ‘can’t be’?
Huh? Oh, nothing. Hey, thanks, Jude.
But it was.
Way below on the opposite footpath was the tanned and dirty face of trolley-man, his head twisted awry to stare up this way, staring straight at me! I backed away from the window. Surely he can’t see me! These huge panes are mirrored on the outside. I edged forward for another look. Still there, the bastard. But then, as I watched, he reached down and pushed the ground with his monkey arms, turning himself away and trundled off in the direction of the corner crossing.
Good. Go away monkey-man! I went back to my workstation with the cup of coffee to reacquaint myself with the trading action; A.J. McAllister against the world. Jesus, the bastards had gone crazy in the few minutes I’d been away. I started buying like a madman, all the while the caution alarms screaming at me to hold off, could be a set-up. Yeah, but I knew from experience at this stage of the spree, those stupid bastards over at Miller and Pyke with their geriatric system would come bidding long after I had staked my claims. I would be able to sit back later to see what happened, but right now I had to go, go, go! I glanced up at a movement in my peripheral. Oh my! It’s Miss Gorgeous from the 8th floor walking past my partition and I would love to watch her sanguine saunter up to the communications desk but I honestly don’t have time to look up; right now it’s all buy, buy, buy!
He’s around here somewhere, she said.
Who she’s talking to I don’t know, but then it’s always hard to drag your eyes away from her to look at anything else. Then I get this creepy feeling and I lean down horizontal in my chair so I can see around the bottom of my office divider down the aisle, not to check out her legs this time, but to confirm or debunk a little fear I have. Shit! Shit! Shit! It is! It’s him! Right here! He’s working hard to push his casters through the carpet pile. Freak!
I return upright but slump low in my chair. Maybe she won’t find me. She doesn’t know I exist anyway. Maybe I could army-crawl to the men’s room.
I smell her nostril-twitching perfume, sense the movement brushing against my desktop. I’m forced to look up.
‘You’re Jeff McCrossan aren’t you?”
Sweet-lips herself, talking to me, knows my name!
‘Yep. How are you?
‘I thought so. Someone to see you.’
And with that she turned and grinned down at you-know-who behind her, one perfumed hand lingering on my partition for a moment before she walked off with her business smile towards the lifts. I swung back to face the head on the floor. He came up towards my desk and I rose in my seat to maintain eye contact as he came closer. He lifted a leather-bound knuckle-duster and showed me a snarling smile.
Freak you, I’m thinking.
I’ll come around the side, if that’s okay, huh! Better to see you, and all that, ha ha!
‘Freaking Ha ha’ I’m thinking and I took a firm grip of the Eiffel Tower paperweight.
At last I’ve found you!
I, ah, I just came to apologize for creaming your ankle.
Yeah. How is it? Must have freaking hurt! Hit it twice didn’t I?
Well, yeah, but it’s not too bad.
I pulled up my trouser leg to show him.
Ouch! Yeah, sorry. It was an accident. I got spiked in the back of the neck by an umbrella, made me arch back and…
It’s okay, I, ah, should apologize for kicking the rock into your trolley.
Rock? I didn’t see any rock.
Oh yeah. It jammed in your wheel.
Oh that’s nothing. I fall off it all the time, anyway.
We got to talking and he wanted to buy me a drink. We went down to a bar. It turns out Rick is well known around the city; a local celeb! He’s a courier for the inner downtown. It’s his own business. You should see him toss the trolley board against the bar and climb up a bar stool; a real athlete. I bought him a drink in return. That’s how it started. We’re good buddies now. But he’s a little outspoken at times and I fronted him about it, worried that he would get us into a bar brawl, like with him starting it and me having to try and finish it on my own.
Don’t worry, he said, I could always get down and bite them on the ankle!
Ha ha! I reckon he could do a lot more than that! He’s a good guy.