A bit long, perhaps, but I hope you’ll stick with it (and enjoy!)
Only once did I go back. For only one moment did I find my mind swamped with nostalgia and feel its frond-like fingers clutching and clawing at me, trying to choke my future from me. It was only once, merely one, brief moment, one solitary idea which grabbed my thoughts, imploring, pleading, persuading them to take a different pathway; speaking softly in sweet, seductive tones of unfulfilled desires, aspirations unachieved, yet still within reach of my out-stretched hands – of opportunities whose doorways still remained ajar. It was one solitary moment in time, one glimpse of a half-forgotten time, which, in my madness, I allowed to place temptation on my lips; one moment, but still one which I felt inexplicably compelled to follow. Only once did I go back to Dale Street, to see the place where I was born.
The street looked as it always had done; worn, tired asphalt stretching endlessly before me, dead, grey paving slabs broken, raised and uneven, failing in their ceaseless battle to fight back the weeds which pushed insistently up through the cracks which ran between them. The weeds, it seemed, were the only thing fresh and different in an aspect that otherwise remained forever static. I walked onwards, letting my feet take lead me on a once familiar journey. I walked past doors that I remembered and those which I had never seen before, although I knew that they must have always been there. Gaping windows watched my journey with disinterest as I moved along the pavement, the heels of my black, recently polished shoes clicking gently as they struck the concrete. I imagined the sound echoing through walls, connecting with pasts that hung unobserved in the air deep within the houses, resonating with memories which had long anticipated my return.
The air that swept me along was warm, tempered only by a softly whispering breeze – a perfect summer’s day – which spoke to me in hushed tones of distant pasts. I could feel the sensitivity of its fingers stretching out towards me like electric wires, their fibrous tendrils crackling, urgently trying to close the gap between the past and the present, desperate to bring themselves close enough to bridge the gap and to complete the connection. I walked alone, aware of the life beginning to rise once more within me, past neatly tended gardens, low built, red-brick walls and alley-ways which stretched away from me like lost children exploring newer and newer connections of their own, making memories which would be unique to them.
The footpath fell away, almost without warning, opening out into a wider stretch of tarmac which was scattered liberally with cars – passers-through, people who had no connection to me, although of this I could not be sure – visitors; customers. From within the newsagent’s shop, which stood, as it had for generations, as a Mecca for the child with loose change to spend, money that had, at all costs, to be spent, I heard voices. I heard the voice of a boy, a voice that resonated with me. It was a high voice, its young pitch clean; happy, perhaps, but laden too with more than a hint of pleading. The woman’s voice was older, static and unmoving, and as familiar as the boy’s. The denial was final, unequivocal, and even without looking I could see myself in the scene – the turning of a shoulder became the turning of a back and a blocking of ways. The tone dropped lower to an insistent, menacing hiss, and the joy of youth was instantly diminished. One figure moved towards the door, steadily and with conviction. For a moment the second, younger figure was still, as if it were tied to the object of its desire. The boy waited in silence, but the force of his will was not sufficient to sway either his mother or the things that were the focus of his stare: nothing moved. Then, as if responding to the inaudible shrill of a dog whistle, he turned, his reluctance and disappointment hanging like a black clock from his shoulder.
Outside the grocer’s shop I saw a face that I thought I recognised from many years before. Briefly I was returned to a time that I thought that I had lost many years ago. Once again I was submerged in my teenage years, wrapped in youth and futures that I dreamed were real. I was in a time when options and opportunities were myriad, and I had no inkling, no concept of the fact that it would be me myself who would be the block to my own ambitions and be the one who stood in my way. For now all futures were possible, the table was full, and all I had to do was to select the meal that would fulfil me, and sate my needs. I felt a glow rise within me, filling my aching eyes, and with hope I moved forward. I recognised the girl, and as she turned around she looked into my tired eyes. By the time my feet had taken me nearer to her, however, my focus had been restored, and as we crossed one another’s paths, we passed as strangers. Words like daughter, niece and grandchild fell from my mind onto my lips and then died, tumbling unspoken to the floor.
I passed beneath the black-arched bridge which bore the weight of heavy trains as they too took treasures away from the town that had been my home. Its grime and graffiti stained bricks echoed with the sound of dogs as they barked their warnings. For a while I paused, half expecting the rumble of great metal wheels on tracks to awaken something that had been asleep for too long, but no sounds came from above me. And then I was in daylight once more, following Dale Street as it led downwards, its decline more severe than I had remembered. I crossed the gurgling stream, watching it as it continued its endless struggled against the broken undergrowth, discarded rubbish, plastic bags, road traffic cones and abandoned tyres. It bubbled words up towards me, and as they broke the surface of the water, they spoke to me; harsh words and tender lies, ignored advice and disregarded orders, words that I craved to hear, and those that I had never asked to be aired. My ears were ringing and, as I looked both back at the road along which I had walked, and forward to where it was leading, I realised that they had never told me which way it was that I had to go.
A small group of men walked past me, talking of trivia, filling their motion with empty words as if by doing this their time would bear greater meaning. In their eyes I recognised the expressions of boys, boys who had been forced to spend too long in the same place; boys for whom the novelty of the new had worn out its welcome. And now they were men, men who had lived beyond the point of leaving; men who lived in resignation and acceptance, trapped by themselves, yet within whom still lived the child who they could not quieten. I turned my eyes away and, in my own movement, realised that I had gone unnoticed by them. My voice wanted to roar, to make my presence known. I wanted the street to acknowledge my return and to be aware of my existence. I wanted the town to recognise the son who had come back to it. I wanted the Dale Street of my memories, my clouded, rose-tinted, faded, romanticised memories to take me back.
But my roar was nothing more than a whisper which floated gently into the air above me and then disappeared without notice over the town that I called home.