The Art Thing
It is a scorching day in August, the Sun at its highest. It is the day when I catch the first conscious glimpse of that which lays claim to vacant possession of the interior of my cranium for the coming sixty seven years and counting. I am twelve years of age.
Sweaty and aglow, I am pelting down Lopez’s Ramp towards home in Devil’s Gap Steps after an exhilarating scamper along the rocky slopes above the neighbourhood. Visions of flowing water with chunks of bread and lard with a sprinkling of sugar loom large.
No portent marks the occasion; no comet plumes the sky; no hovering kite brushes my eyelids with its tail feathers in benediction; no searing light signposts a path.
Instead, there is the chap in the khaki shorts.
I know him though not his name nor where he lives. I often see him, sitting on the wide steps, with elbows on knees and hands hanging limp, gazing down towards the town.
The word from the grown-ups is that he is of doubtful character. It’s not just the habitual wearing of the khaki shorts, in itself sufficient to raise eyebrows, given the association with Scoutmasters. It is rather the shorts themselves which compress brows in consternation and alarm. Although of standard length to accord with their designation, they are however of inordinate width at the legs and highly starched, resulting in permanent flare. Well and good when the chap is standing or walking. Not so when he chooses to sit down on the steps. It is then that the shorts in their amplitude and starchiness rise to rampant, revealing unnecessary extent of shank and beyond. It is a spectacle which presents ongoing fascination for my more feckless fellows and these are under strict orders from the grown-ups forbidding proximity to the uninhibited sitter.
As I turn into Devil’s Gap Steps, I see a group of such fellows in compliance with the letter, if not the spirit of the law. They stand at some appreciable distance, downwind as one might say, from the chap who sits in habitual garb and posture in whose direction they sneak furtive glances alternating with bouts of shared sniggering.
I notice that the chap himself is alternating between staring intently ahead and occupying himself with something on his lap. My curiosity gets the better of me and I venture into the exclusion zone. As I do so, he begins scrubbing vigorously at what I make out to be a pad resting on his lap. He stops, blows on the pad and flicks a little finger across it. The thought crosses my mind that he is writing and has made a mistake which needed rubbing out.
With that in mind, I look down at the pad and get a shock. I can make out the flat roof of Mr Benabu’s house … the lamp-post with the goose neck at the corner of Lime Kiln Road … Mr Caetano’s courtyard with the large pots of Geraniums … the wide steps going down to Flat Bastion Road, although curiously on the paper they go up … the chap is not writing … he is drawing.
I am intrigued and strangely unsettled. I remain there gawping until abdominal rumbling demands my attention and I scurry indoors at No.4, my mind preoccupied with presenting a viable reason to account for my absence from barracks since breakfast.