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Wheeling Himself Backwards

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic
Sunday 30th June 2019, Aigburth Village Allotments, Heatwave, 5pm:
Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom…

From: The Seven Scientists by H J Furl

Image of a homeless man by Leroy Skalstad at pixabay

Submitted: June 30, 2019

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Submitted: June 30, 2019

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Wheeling Himself Backwards

Sunday 30th June 2019, Aigburth Village Allotments, Heatwave, 5pm:

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom…

Fuck it! Shut up, will you? I came here for the peace and solitude. Not to listen to this shit. They’re banging drums in the forest. Tin drums. Skin drums. The weirdos. Banging drums in the forest. Driving me crazy.

I survey my allotment, 52B, my half-size plot. It is a dust-bowl, a snake-pit, a horticultural war zone. Weeds, thistles mainly, write their scriptures in the sand. I thirst, pluck an unripe raspberry, scoff it.

I imagine I’m in the desert, a flaming sun scorching my skin, searching for an oasis. This is my oasis. They’re my nomadic tribe, human flesh eaters, cannibals, come to hunt me down, to skin me alive, roast me: belly of pork.

This is my oasis. That is their jungle. Jungle drums.

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, drums of Aigburth, bubba, boom, boom…

My stone-ground shorts of yesteryear pinch my belly. I’d roast up nicely! I look around. Apart from screaming kids tearing around the scrub boundary performing wheelies, auld Pig Valve and his boy digging for victory in the distance, the infernal pounding drums, the oasis is empty.

I unbutton my brown chequered short-sleeved shirt, and take it off. Oh, my God, I take it off! There are moles on my chest! Thick brown moles! I feel safe, protected against the flaming hot sun. By my floppy grey Simms sun hat, my bush hat. I imagine that I’m in the jungle….

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, me on the spit, bubba, boom, boom, boom…

The drumming stops! I think of him, wheeling himself backwards. I often pass him in the high street. By the time he’s glanced over his shoulder, I’ve passed him. I am his shadow. In reverse. I dread passing him in the high street. He smells to high heaven: grime, dirt and filth.

And yet, I feel sorry for him. How must his world look in reverse? Where does he live? How does he live? Was he a boy at school? Did he hold his head up high? Command respect? How long has he wheeled himself like this? And why? It must be hard. Wheeling yourself backwards. To get about he must constantly glance over his shoulder, this way, and that.

Has he ever tried to wheel himself forwards?

I fear that he’ll fail, if he does. I really fear for him…

I hear chanting! From the forest!

‘La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him!’

The chanting stops! Hurrah! Peace breaks out!

Fuck it! The drumming starts! Accompanied by Ravi on sitar and vocals! Shut up, won’t you?  

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, drums of Aigburth, boom, boom, boom, me on a spit, boom, boom, boom, ‘La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him!’

I survey my allotment, 52B, a half-size plot. My stomach hurts. The blackcurrant bushes stand proud, heavily laden with ripening fruits, hidden under their green shrouds, like ghosts in veils. The gooseberries are plucked and frozen, leaving only bare, spiny thorns in their wake.

I kneel on my black foam pad, bareback, take my trowel from its creel, and start to lift the thistles. Feeling the burning sun cremate my moly back, I reach the lettuces, grown from seeds. There must be fifty: still in the ground, slug-eaten, yellowing at the edges.

I put down my trowel and pull lettuces, pull out twenty, pull off the gnawed, pulpy, browning leaves, the yellow-scarred, leaving just the hearts. Leaving just my heart, beating, like the drums. Tin drums. Skin drums.

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, my heart, beating boom, boom, boom, bubba.

Failure must be an integral part of his life. It must hurt so much when he tries to turn around. I saw him yesterday. I imagine he has no muscles in his arms and legs, his bones are smashed to pieces, his spine is shattered in tiny fragments, by the joyriders.

I suspect, he has no power to speak of, his legs don’t work at all, never will. Well that’s not true, he can probably dip paddle his feet after a fashion using the scuffed toes of his old beige trainers to tiptoe, but it’s painfully slow, the hardest kind of progress.

His arms are strong. They propel him, spinning the shiny-spoked wheels that take him backwards. I saw him yesterday, crying to the blue-sky heaven, about to cross the junction of my road and the high street.

‘Is It Today, Lord? That I find you?’ I heard him cry.

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, the drums are calling, boom, boom, boom, him on that spit, boom, boom, ‘La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him!’

I survey my allotment, 52B, my half-size plot, and consider myself fortunate. I have dug three rows of new potatoes. Only one row to go! How lovely it feels, lifting spuds, watching as they burst out of the soil. The red onions and garlic are lifted, drying out nicely in the garage.

I doubt I’ll ever reap such a bounteous harvest of broad beans; the plants are sagging so heavily. The beetroot grew to the size of cricket balls this year. I consider myself lucky, then I think of him.

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, wheeling himself backwards, boom, boom, boom, him on that path, boom, boom, ‘La-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him!’  

Did his miracle occur? It was hot outside. He loves the summer, loves it when it’s hot. He goes to the floral display tubs down the road from the old water tower and closed car showroom, sits next to the redbrick wall in the shade, and thinks how lucky he is to be alive.

He hates it when it’s cold and wet. Can’t go out at all then.

His family are either dead or they’ve given up on him. Life can be cruel, hard, painful, lonely, when you get old. He goes out at ten, after Kelly has dressed him, and aims to return to his flat by one for his cheese sandwich. He sleeps until six, then Kelly returns with his cheese sandwich and puts him to bed.

I imagine that’s his day?

Boom, boom, boom, bubba, boom, boom, boom, turning himself to face me, boom, boom, boom, across the road from me, boom, boom, ‘La-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-love him!’

I saw him yesterday, returning from the volunteers’ floral tub displays, returning from the shade of the redbrick wall, the blackened stump of the auld oak tree that was struck by lightning last October. The tree that fell across the road, closing the high street, crushing the joyrider in his stolen Audi A4.

The old man was dressed as one would expect for a hot summer’s day, except he wore the same clothes every day: a peaked olive cap, a grubby striped tee-shirt, grey shorts, thick black woolly socks. His face was puce with sunburn. His beard was white and bushy with age. He had hairy brown legs.

He halted at our road, looked left, looked right, looked left then…

I’d buggered up the paper shredder earlier by feeding it too quickly. I’d left the secateurs at the allotment, run out of foot spray, called into the cancer research shop to say hello to my friends, bought the paper, a naughty bar of chocolate.

I was in high spirits when I arrived at our road. I saw him spin around to face me. His eyes turned blue-sky clear. He spun his wheels of fate. He inched forward.

I stood motionless on my side of the road: Come on you can do this! I willed.

He wheeled himself forwards!

He crossed the road!

He reached safety!

He sat before me!

Overwhelmed with emotion, euphoric, triumphant, for him, thrilled to bits, for him, I spoke:

‘Okay?’

‘Yes,’ he nodded, or did he just bow his head? ‘Okay.’

Anna and I went on a forest walk with Steve this morning. I told him about the old man, the miracle that happened at the junction of our road and the high street. He looked at me, surprised.

‘He’s a tramp, Des,’ Steve said in his clipped, ex-army voice, ‘Lives in the forest. Often see him. Wheeling himself forwards. Didn’t give him any money, did you?’

‘La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him! La-ah-ah-ah-ah-love him!’


© Copyright 2020 HJFURL. All rights reserved.

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